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When Nancy and I were talking about the theme for today and how we might connect the exploration of the strategic plan for the national church over the last few weeks to our life and ministry here at Mount Seymour, I was very excited. I thought oh great!! One of my favourite things!! I get to talk about how wonderful this community is!
When we think back to last week’s reading, what we call the beatitudes, or the blessings that Jesus gives to his disciples, he has given them the information that they need to be his disciples, but with that information, and with those blessings comes responsibility. It is one thing to know and claim our identity as Christians, it is completely another thing to live it. To learn is to put that information into action. The disciples have learned who they are, but now they need to know what difference it makes.
Jesus reminds the disciples and reminds us in this part of the scripture, that knowledge about God cannot exist as simply knowledge.
Really knowing about God is to know God’s presence in the world. Knowing about God as disciples is to BE the activity of God in the world.
It is knowledge without action that perpetuates the existence of racism in our world. It is knowledge without action that contributes to our silence about sexism and homophobia. It is knowledge without action that continues to oppress the poor, to ostracize the marginalized, to overlook the hungry, to ignore systemic injustice.
We are called to live out our identity as salt and light.
Sometimes we may have a tendency to lean toward comfort, conformity, and complacency when what Jesus really needs from us is to be the salt and the light—the salt that just might sting and the light that just might expose what we do not want to see.
Those who follow Jesus don’t merely sit back and receive abundant life, or simply tell others about what a great abundant life we have. Jesus is talking here about a life that makes a difference for others in the world.
We are the tastiness that adds salt to lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice way of the kingdom of God. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out.
Salt, present in good food, tears, ocean water, and the earth, is part of everyday life. It is also vital to the well-being of humanity. We need salt in order to be healthy. In Jesus’ estimation, the potential for discipleship was as deeply imbedded inside even the most common human as salt was in the seas that surrounded them.*
What that means for us is that our discipleship should be so ingrained in our being and our actions that were we to deny it, we would become as unrecognizable as salt that doesn’t taste salty anymore.
In this passage, God’s light is not external to humanity, leading the way for us to follow. Instead, God’s light, our discipleship, has become embedded in our being. In accepting our part in Jesus’ mission, we become the flame, the very light of God. The disciples can light up the very world.
So how have I experienced Mt Seymour to be the salt and the light?
People often comment on the welcome that we extend at the beginning of worship. It is one of the things about Mt Seymour that people most often comment about. Some people have said that it was the first time that they heard it explicitly stated that they were welcome in a church for who they are. Others have said that it was the reason that they came back. I get a really great perspective from the front as I welcome each of you each Sunday. It warms my heart, when I look around to each of you as I am saying those words, because many of you look like you are taking the words in again for the first time, in a meaningful way. Allowing the words to land and really sink in. I expect some to be distracted in thought as sometimes we are when we hear the same words spoken over and over – but that doesn’t seem to be the case – you look engaged in the words you are hearing just as if it were your first time hearing them. I have spoken to several of you about this, and you’ve told me that it is the way that you settle in to worship, being reminded that you are welcome and that you belong here. And that’s the part that I mentioned before about the knowledge – knowing about God that is fostered during worship. What you do with that knowledge, that’s discipleship.
We heard that the national church’s strategic plan includes Bold Discipleship as one of the three initiatives, and a few weeks ago Nancy talked about how that is not as comfortable or natural for us to do in the United Church – to invite friends to join us here. But I also know that some of you have been doing just that. We heard a lot through the Covid time when we were worshipping online, how many of you would share the link with your family and friends around the country and the world.
That is being bold disciples. Also when we watch you living out that welcome beyond this worship space, that’s what Jesus is talking about here and that is what it means to be bold disciples. When the new person or family comes to church, and some of you notice and want to talk to them to get to know them more, that’s being salt. Or when you invite friends to the chili cookoff or to meditation or yoga, or to have lunch at the café, or to volunteer with you at the thrift shop, or to sing with the Gospel choir, you’re sharing parts of who we are as a community and extending that welcome beyond this space. That welcome becomes more than the words that you hear each week, and when you all live out that welcome, it becomes the activity of God in the world.
Bold discipleship also involves the kind of discipleship that Jesus talked about in todays’ scripture – the activity of God in the world. Going out and doing God’s work in the community – sharing love and peace and hope with your neighbours, especially the ones who need it most.
Discipleship is seeing how our lives are a sacred calling and, out of our faith, connecting our gifts with the world’s needs. Discipleship is how our lives become avenues of God’s love and presence in the world. Let us not be hesitant in understanding or embracing this but rather bold in claiming every moment of every day and every activity as an expression of how God is caring for the world through us.
In the second week of this series we heard about Daring Justice.
Justice is what moves faith from the individual experience of “me in my small corner” to all of us as the church together in the world. If discipleship is what shapes our lives, justice is what shapes our world.
Justice is when the gifts of God’s people come together to seek the transformation of the world. I think this also is one that we do fairly well around here in a number of ways. Just this week, a family who lost everything in a fire, were told about our thrift shop by someone who knew that we don’t just sell items, but that we also provide items at no cost to help people in times of need. They came by the shop and left with a vehicle full of items that they needed to get set up in their new place.
When we advocate for refugees, we are seeking justice for those who are escaping often life-threatening situations. I told you last fall about the ways that we have recently helped a Palestinian woman that I met, whose husband is still stuck in Gaza and has not been able to join her and their sons here in Canada. Through Mt Seymour she received support and advocacy through her process, and life-changing financial support through our congregation’s refugee fund, and is closer to being reunited with her husband.
Every time that you hear the challenge and opportunity for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by participating in book studies, having conversations about Indigenous issues of injustice, or coming to hear Indigenous speakers, like when we had Flavio Caron share with us a few years ago, and recently when Billy has shared about his heritage and experience, and in two weeks when Rev. Murray Pruden will speak with us, we are expanding our understanding. When we acknowledge the land that we gather on each week, the unceded land – the land that was taken as their own by those of us who were not the first peoples of this land – that is an act of justice seeking. Justice is when the United Church admits our painful role in residential schools and commits to reconciliation. Justice is when we in the thrift shop raised $2000 by the sale of face masks sewn by one of our members out of Indigenous fabric, in order to support a local basketball team for Indigenous youth.
Justice is when we donate to the Giving Tree at Christmas time for the North Shore youth Safe House and for First United, or when we support the Coldest Night of the Year team in support of First United. Justice is when we send a portion of our total sales from the Thrift Shop to First United to support people who are unhoused and live with many other challenges, or when we directly support local families with Thrift Shop gift certificates to choose items that they need.
Justice is when the congregation looks out beyond ourself to the needs of the community and responds to that need, which is what was the impetus for the mental health ministry many years ago and more recently the project we are currently working on, trying to improve access to mental health treatment for folks who have limited funding and also to increase awareness and understanding of mental health challenges in the general public through a speaker series.
Justice is when our response is collective and transformative. Justice is bringing our different gifts together to move the world closer to God’s intention for fullness of life for all. Daring justice is when we respond to the world in faith, not out of fear.
Deep Spirituality is one that we are quite familiar and well-tuned to here at Mt Seymour as well. So much so that it is explicitly stated in the values that we live by here – we call it Nurturing Spirit. It is what builds us up and guides and informs the basis of our actions. Strengthening our faith gives us the foundation to act out of our best and most grounded selves.
At Mt Seymour we deepen our spirituality through worship and music. We deepen our spirituality through participating in intentional group experiences through Pilgrims’ Path currently and Meeting the Beloveds previously, through the meditation group or yoga practice, through our personal devotional time and through group Advent or Lenten studies, like the one we are about to begin.
When we are committed to bold discipleship and daring justice, rooted in deep spirituality, we have everything we need to be the salt and the light on the hill that is not hidden, that shines in the darkness.
So, let us be daring as we glimpse God’s vision for a world transformed, trusting that the God we know so well, whose ways we seek to follow, will not forsake or forget us but will dare us to leave our fears behind to be the activity of God in the world as people of deep spirituality, bold discipleship, and daring justice. May it be so.
*inspired by the writings of Chrissy Cataldo and Dr. Karoline Lewis