Summary: Being salt and light mean being out there in the world, not pursuing a private spirituality.
How many of you watch Survivor? I never have. I suppose I should, to be in touch with contemporary culture, in order to be able to speak to it... but it simply doesn’t appeal to me. I have plenty of reality in my own life, thank you, I like my down time to be somewhat more elevated - to coin a phrase. But as I understand it, when the tribal council meets to vote one of their membership off, the torch of the unlucky one gets extinguished. Their light goes out. And they’re out of the game.
Now, cause and effect operate a little differently in Christianity... Nobody else can put your light out, nobody else can kick you out of the game. But the end is the same. Once your light is out, you are out of the game.
What that means is that it is impossible to be a Christian in private. John Wesley said that “Christianity is essentially a social religion; to turn it into a solitary religion, is to destroy it.”
Some people would take issue with that. “My faith is between me and God,” they say, “being in the world distracts me from God.” And, in fact, for much of the history of the church a special sort of admiration was reserved for the holy hermit, those who spent all their time locked away from the temptations of the world, spending their time instead in rapt and silent contemplation of the beauty of our God. Their whole being was dedicated to worship.
Still others point to Paul’s admonition not to associate with sinners, and withdraw from the world to a closed community to keep themselves from being corrupted by the world.
But think about it. What has Jesus been teaching us in the last few weeks as we’ve gone through the 8 Beatitudes? He’s been showing us the series of steps we have to take in order to become like him. And admittedly half of them do speak to our internal condition. To be poor in spirit, to mourn over our sins and the worlds, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be pure in heart... all of these are inward attitudes. But that’s only half the story. All of the other ones - and these, too, if you stop to think about it - are worked out in the world, as we go about our daily lives.
Meekness, for instance, is absolutely essential to Christianity. Now more than anything else a meek person goes along with God’s agenda, which may include patience in pain and sickness, or endurance of various kinds of loss or suffering. And certainly these qualities can be exercised wherever you are, in a desert or in a prison cell. But the central ingredient of meekness is the gentle, obedient strength which turns the other cheek, prays for enemies, and chooses not to retaliate in the face of injustice. And you can’t do any of those things if you withdraw from the world, or surround yourself only with like-minded people.
And what about mercy? How can you be merciful except as you are involved in a world filled with suffering? And how can you respond with mercy unless you feel for and with them, sharing their pain, being willing to give of yourself to give them ease? Well, even within Christian circles there is pain. Even today we are mourning with one of our own on the loss of her child, waiting with another as her husband lies in the hospital, praying for yet a third as her mother endures a long and painful dying process. So I suppose we can exercise mercy without exposing ourselves to those nasty sinners out there.
But how can we be peacemakers if we don’t go where the conflict is? We rejoice in being called children of God... Yet God will only recognize us as such if we have been makers of peace in the world he has given us. Now I realize that church conflicts can be some of the nastiest in the known universe - but I submit to you that most of those conflicts - if not all - only happen when we forget to practice the Beatitudes. So even if we want to hide from our clear marching orders, to follow Jesus out into the world as radical peacemakers, the world will follow us even inside the doors of the church. So we better just accept that being a Christian means being actively involved with other people, most of whom are quite imperfect indeed.
And anyway if we’re going to make it to the top of the Dean’s list, so to speak, the crowning Beatitude is one of thorns: namely, “blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake.” Granted, we’re not to seek out persecution, but we’re certainly not given permission to run and hide from the kinds of people who are likely to do the persecuting.