Fifth Sunday after Epiphany February 6, 2011–Matthew 5:13-20
This January, when he turned 50, The Globe and Mail ran a quote from Wayne Gretzky on the front page. I remember it because I read it to my sons at the breakfast table:
“You’ve got to teach your children that what you want in life you have to learn.”
Why do we lean so often on athletes to teach us about putting effort into life, about being motivated to succeed? Because they get where they are only through hard work and focus, from a sheer determination not to be mediocre. We know that it’s a complicated alchemy of talent and luck and a whole lot of effort that lies behind any success story – but with athletes it is just as easy for us to chart, to distill down into a season and goal stats. On that January morning, the quote from Gretzky was from a dad and his hopes for his kids to find their own fire and motivation. But one of his most famous quotes came from a much younger Gretzky:
“You miss 100 per cent of the shots you never take.”
In the end, that is really what being mediocre is all about. It’s not about trying and failing – which is bound to happen for everyone. It is not about putting the effort in and not being good enough – because, let’s face it, there’s always someone better. Being mediocre is really about not even bothering to take a shot at success in the first place. And the last thing the gospel calls any of us to be is mediocre.
Instead, in this morning’s gospel we are called to be salt and light. And not just any kind of salt, but the kind with punch that is not soon forgotten. In Jesus’s day, salt wasn’t reviled as it is now, seen as a spice that makes us sick, or a corrosive we track in on our boots. In Jesus’s day salt was considered a precious commodity – if you ate some, or tasted it in your food, you were a lucky person. And of course, the value of light goes without saying in a time before electricity. In those days, when the sun went down, if you couldn’t afford the oil for your lamp or wax for candles, you went to bed. Life stopped.
So Jesus is telling us to be that special thing that people remember and that warming presence that keeps life going for others. Jesus calls us out of mediocrity into the fullness that God wants for all those who believe: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the reign of heaven.” I don’t think Jesus means he’ll be measuring our righteousness. I think he’s asking us to put the effort into bringing the gospel to life.
Today we join together to make decisions about who we are as a group of Christians. We don’t have pressing motions at this year’s AGM. However, you people are the governing body of this community of faith, and every decision, big or small, is meant to reflect Christ, whose authority outweighs the pastor, St. John Council, the bishop, and Synod Council.
It would be easy for us to look at our track record over the last few years — the sponsoring of refugees, the building of a well, the near-completion of our anniversary project “1150 Reasons to Be” — and decide that this year we deserve a moment to sit back in our pew and relax. It would be simple to look at a $36,000.00 surplus and assume that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Jesus would sneer at this kind of mediocrity. It is the same place where the scribes and the Pharisees found themselves during Jesus’s time and he was not happy with them. In fact, Jesus calls us to something greater, to always be seeking that potential that lies ahead of us. There’s an old quote I often use with Erin, attributed to H.L. Mencken about the proper role of journalism:
“To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
And this is especially true when we happen to be the comfortable. Our time together as a community of faith can rise above the level of mediocrity into something inspiring and refreshing—into the fullness of God.
The same is true of our individual lives. Mediocrity cuts us off from the potential God wants for us. But we have to begin each day from a position opposed to being mediocre: to dream and then follow our dreams with a passion. To love with a vengeance. To appreciate good friendships and make it our goal to be as true a friend as possible. To go the full distance in commitment and seniority with our relationships.
That’s hard — and we spend too much of our time as individuals and as a community on the shots not taken, or the ones we missed. But we get a chance over and over again to choose to be salt, to choose to be light. The question is, will we let it pass us by? Or will we take that chance—big or small?
Martin Niemoller preached a sermon in Berlin in 1936 after he had been threatened many times by Nazi-controlled Church authorities. Earlier, Niemoller had a face-to-face confrontation with Adolf Hitler regarding freedom of religion. He took a very risky chance with that sermon. He chose to be salt and light for the people of Germany at a time when it would have been much safer to be quiet.
From that sermon comes one of the most famous quotes from that era:
“In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the homosexuals, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a homosexual. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — but by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
As Christians we are called out of mediocrity into the fullness of Christ. Jesus did not live life in half measures. Jesus was a precious mineral and that extravagant luminescence. Jesus was salt and light. Jesus was the fullness of God. And we are called to be the same. Amen.