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In 1997, Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple after having been run off 12 years earlier. Apple was nearly bankrupt and in desperate need of a new vision and direction. Later that year they released this commercial “think different.” It was a called arms for their staff stating their mission that define the standard they had for themselves, and what they were striving for. It was a call to action for their customers to pursue inspiration and creativity and to buy all their stuff. It was a manifesto of who they were and who they were hoping to be.
I don’t think it’s what we think of when we hear the word manifesto. We mostly think of the famous ones that have the word manifesto in the title. The Communist manifesto or we hear it when terrible things happen, like the Unabomber had a manifesto. But a manifesto is just a statement of intent of how you see the world or how you wish the world would be. What is more manifesto than that than the Declaration of Independence or the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights?
As we go through the gospel of Matthew this Winter and early Spring, the sermon on the mount that starts here with the beatitudes, with salt and light, with the law are Jesus’ first teaching in Matthew. It’s here first for a reason. This is Jesus’ manifesto, his statement of intent, his understanding of the world, and his vision of how the world could be.
You read over them quickly and just assume they’re nice statements about being nice people. But from the very beginning there is a challenge, what does it mean to be blessed? So much of our culture tells us that being blessed it’s living in a sense of inner peace and calm, surrounded by people and joy, the abundance of wealth and riches. And I’m sure the ancient world worked in similar ways, that those who were #hashtag blessed by the gods were given power, wealth, access, and victories. So it ought to surprise us and it ought to be jarring when Jesus’ word that follows blessed isn’t the powerful, the wealthy, the influencer but the poor. And I wonder if in this moment the disciples and the crowds realized that everything they were about to hear was going to subvert everything they knew about how the world worked and that it would change everything about how they moved in the world.
Now, 2 quick things: 1 That the beatitudes are found in both Matthew and Luke spirit, often it’s thought of as a more spiritual text. Luke is more in your face more clear when was written blessed are the poor Matthew blessed are the poor and spirit, as if they are separate. Some have translated poor in spirit as “poor and hopeless,” that it is not just having insufficient for what one needs for the day but what that does to one’s soul: the weariness, the crushingness, and in some translations, the hopelessness that can come with poverty. The beatitudes aren’t just spiritual, emotional, in your head but a lived reality of people he was interacting with and folks throughout time, and now.
2: Often we read Jesus’ teachings and then particularly the beatitudes as individual statements, statements to individuals, for our own growth. And we can do that in times when we are grieving or seeking comfort for ourselves, but we have to remember that this is a collective and communal culture. And so when Jesus says you we could read that as y’all.
This is the start of Jesus’ manifesto based and rooted in the teachings of the law: a law based on love, on community, on mercy and justice, on righteousness and peace. The beatitudes tell us about how the world is, and how the world ought to be. Jesus is explaining what is and painting a picture of what could be. Those who grieve for how the world is will be comforted. Those who thirst for righteousness, for how the world ought to be will see that world come to into being. This is about those who are in pain, who are struggling, who are in grieving, who work for peace, who hope for a better world and afraid it will never be, they will see Christ’s vision, they will work toward equity, they will bring the kingdom.
Those who are meek will live well in the earth. Sometimes in our time is told to humble, to stay small. While written in Greek, the Hebrew word is anavah. Anavah is this Hasidic story:
“Every person should have two pockets. In one pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “I am but dust and ashes.” When one is feeling too proud, reach into this pocket and take out this paper and read it. In the other pocket should be a piece of paper saying: “For my sake was the world created.” When one is feeling disheartened and lowly, reach into this pocket and take this paper out and read it. We are each the joining of two worlds. We are fashioned from clay, but our spirit is the breath of Adonai.” Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters, Martin Buber, p.249-50)
Anavah is a call to live fully into our who God has made us, you and me and us. Our whole selves, honest about our place in the world.
And you are salt and light.
Now, there are silly videos that suggest white, Midwest seasoning is only salt and pepper. I grew up in one of those houses where salt wasn’t supposed to be avoided or at least as little as possible. To the point where, sometimes I realize I made a mistake when there isn’t enough… or any salt. Kelly is the opposite, she’s made movie popcorn inedible.
It’s not really just her… we make a lot of soup. Sometimes we just make it up and try things out. Sometimes we try a recipes. Our broth is always powered bouillon. Of course, the recipe called for salt. I was tired. I was following directions! The chicken bouillon… salty. And then there was also salt. I’m not going to lie, it was not really edible. I tried. There is something about salt when there is too much. Too much salt ruins the whole soup.
Salt is a right size seasoning.
And Jesus talked about salt losing its saltiness, I never thought about it, I just assumed that it could lose its saltiness, it can’t. Salt has less flavor when it is deluded but the Salt Lake and the Dead Sea are a reminder that when water evaporates, the salt is still there. Salt without saltiness has been changed on a molecular level, it’s not longer salt. Light that no longer shines isn’t light. It’s smoke, it’s ash, it stops being light.
You are salt and light. You cannot wish it away, will it away, sin it away, shrink it away. It is who you are, it is who we are. The world was made for you and you for it. The world is made a better place, a more kin-dom place, because of the seasoning, the saltiness that you bring to it.
It is about the seasoning that you bring to the world and to the church. I think the problem with salt is when it tries to be something else, like chicken bouillon. When we try to make ourselves like someone else, when we try to blend into the crowd. It’s about all us, all our seasoning, this recipe of people bringing the church to the world, being present, being love, caring for those on the margins. To love God and love God’s creation. To free the oppressed and heal the sick. The church has a call to avanah to be present in the world, to reveal love, to strive for justice, to work in making peace, and living in the world in equity. And we are called to live into the avanah that doesn’t impose upon others, but makes the world one of Christ’s vision.
And look, Jesus knows that there are consequences for living this way, not that we should strive for persecution but that it happens. The powerful don’t really appreciate when they are questioned, when power is shared, when the people are united in a cause that lifts up everyone. Jesus knew this from the stories of the prophets and the path that he was on. And while in 1997 Steve Jobs might have put them in a commercial, we have killed our prophets too. That’s probably not our future, but to love extravagantly all that God loves, to seek justice and love mercy, to live in a way of righteousness that is love, to be fully the person God has made you to be, mourn the world as it is and make peace for the world as it could be, well, they may call you names, talk about your bleeding heart, question what you believe, call you naive. We? We say you are blessed.
You are salt and light. The church, the world, Lake Country, need your seasoning. Need you to take up the space made for you, no more, no less. Need you to show up in love and justice, with all your gifts, no more, no less. Needs you to bring more compassion and live in righteousness the fullness of who you are made to be, no more, no less. You are light. It doesn’t go out, it doesn’t fade. We, together, live the manifesto of Jesus revealing a world more loving and more just.
You are salt and light. Who you are and how God made you unique matters. Your favor is important and made for this world. We need you, each of you, to live fully in it, that we will go into to the world to bring our own flavor of love and kindness and hope, to shine a light.