Salt Haribos and Light. Letting our faith become good news in the world.
All Age Holy Communion Service led by Revd J. Millington to include a welcome to our new Youth Pastor, Charlie Powell and the re-launch of Thank God It's Sunday groups for children and young people.
(SALT) HARIBOS AND LIGHT
(SALT) HARIBOS AND LIGHT
READING: Matthew 5, verses 13-16
You might say that faith has become an “alternative culture” in our society. Our nation now declares itself “secular” and whilst religious tolerance is more or less upheld (it seems to depend on which religion you are being rude about…), we are basically told to keep out of the way. When it comes to politics, medicine, economics, social order, education, leisure, Christians voicing opinions based on their faith are told, “this is our turf. You get back to your turf and mind your own business.” This has had the effect of making people in their churches feel rather small and rather insignificant.
It was only this week, having read for the umpteenth time, those famous words of Jesus about his people being salt and light for the world, that it occurred to me that he was actually talking “small.” If you do baking, just picture the spoonfuls and the cupfuls and the jugfulls of ingredients you mix together and then picture the salt- almost certainly the tiniest quantity of all.
Now picture life in Palestine two thousand years ago, when Jesus was there, and imagine what it must have looked like at night. There were no street lamps, no security lights, no huge buildings lit up. When it got dark, it was totally dark. And any lights shining would have been tiny little candles or oil lamps. Jesus was talking about small things: salt and light.
I thought then, well maybe faith has nearly always been an alternative culture. The Bible is full of preachers and prophets saying to God- look at these people. They are paying no attention to you. They do not want to know you. They think you are asleep or dead. They won’t take any notice of me. They say -this is our turf. You get back to yours. Stick to your prayers and leave us to get on with the important stuff.
There have been and still are religious “totalitarian states” where people were compelled by their governments to attend places of worship, learn religious doctrines and stick to religious rules. But that is not faith. It is coercion. And most people who escape the coercion end up rejecting the religion.
Our own nation has gone through times when more or less everyone attended church and sent their children to Sunday School either because the law or their landlords compelled them or because society expected it of them “everybody does it.” But that is not faith. It is social pressure. If it had been about faith, then there would be a whole lot more people still in churches today.
Faith, says the Bible, is about what we cannot see. And life is complicated enough dealing with the things we can see; like jobs, mortgages, relationships, crime, illness, Brexit, Boris.. we do not have time or energy to get around to that which we cannot see. So yes, faith- a determined search for God, a commitment to building up a relationship with God; setting out to walk the way of Jesus Christ is an alternative culture. There are not many people in the UK today who do this. You need a lot of courage and conviction to uphold an alternative culture. And even more courage and conviction to share it with your children.
But “small” is not the same thing as “insignificant.” Jesus knew when he chose these two illustrations of faith, that both salt and light, although small are very powerful. One commentary said that in the time of Jesus, you may only have had tiny oil lamps and small candles to light the darkness but one small candle can be seen as far as ten miles away. Remember Hodges, the Air Raid Warden in Dad’s Army shouting “put that light out?” He knew that enemy planes from miles away could spot the tiniest light.
And the pinch of salt can make a whole dish taste totally different and help to preserve it against mould and decay.
John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC wrote that, “Blessed people make a difference. When lives are lived as Christ teaches, the world is a better place.”
Naturally as soon he says this, angry people will list the wars and terrorism and abuses perpetrated by religion but that is not “living as Christ teaches.” In this sermon on the mount Christ teaches the power of forgiveness; the meeting of hatred with love; the value of humility as opposed to the dangerous lure of power; respect for human diversity rather than desire to become a control freak. He warns against abusing the vulnerable, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. He tells us that we can learn a lot about God from little children and poor people and those whom the rest of the world places at “the bottom of the heap.” In the world of his day, where power and money, gender and racial purity dictated your worth, he was indeed proclaiming an alternative culture. And religions that had sold out to the prevailing culture of power and money, gender and racial purity were not about God and they were not about faith. They had lost their “saltiness” and Jesus declared them fit for nothing but to be discarded.
The strange thing was that the alternative culture preached by Jesus Christ turned out to be what huge numbers of people were looking for. They were searching for God. They were looking for a faith that would give meaning and purpose to their lives. And they were prepared to sacrifice homes, friends, jobs, security, freedom, even life itself in the face of death threats to pursue this faith and to live in this alternative culture. Early Christianity promised none of the things we would call essential to good living: not money, not social credibility, not political power, not protected status; yet men and women all around the Mediterranean Sea embraced it.
Only a few years ago when visiting Poland, I was in one of the main streets of Warsaw on a Sunday afternoon and there were at least six large Roman Catholic Churches holding services of worship and they were all so full that people were standing out on the pavement, going through the ritual. I had never seen anything like it. And I asked my son, Chris, who was living there how a modern European country could have so many seriously devout people, prepared to worship on the street if they could not squeeze into the building.
He said that he thought it had all started during the years of Communist rule. The people saw it as an alternative culture, and they needed an alternative culture. They needed to believe in something better. And despite the fall of Communism and evidence of a growing economic prosperity, they still clung to this alternative culture.
You see, no matter how well prepared or fortunate we are, we cannot entirely prevent life from being very harsh at times. Nor can we prevent life from making other people harsh or the world a dangerous place. Power, prosperity, success, health, intelligence, structured society, political justice, even friends and family are all good things to strive for and to have but they cannot keep us safe from pain and loss; failure and betrayal; disaster and devastation. And when that which we have worked for fails us; when that which we have trusted lets us down, it is easy to give up on life, to give up on ourselves and take the way of anger, cynicism and despair. We are seeing it all over the country right now……
Faith is what gives us hope: that there is more to life than we can see; that there is a power greater than ourselves and that this power is on our side. And for me, Jesus Christ is the proof and the means of this hope. What he taught, what he did, what we proclaim him to be- the ever-living Son of God- gives me hope for life, for myself, even for the world. And it is people with hope who make a difference: it is people with hope who believe in cures for illness; solutions to social problems; justice and peace in the world; saving the planet; the personal dignity of every human being; belief even in life beyond death. And it is people with hope who will keep believing no matter what the discouragement; it is people with hope who will inspire others to live in hope; it is people with hope who will not give in to greed or corruption; to self-doubt or bullying tactics.
But hope without a foundation for hoping; a reason to hope will quickly burn out. So I go back to what John Proctor said, “Blessed people make a difference. When lives are lived as Christ teaches, the world is a better place.”
We and our children still desperately need an alternative culture which will give us hope in what can be a difficult life. That is why we are here today. That is why we are re-committing ourselves to inspiring, nurturing and building each other up in faith. For we have it in us to be salt and light for the world: small, maybe, but incredibly powerful. But we need Christ in order to do it.
And just where do Haribos come into this? In Spring 2010, I was visiting Chris, who was at that time in Madrid and I became stranded by the Icelandic ash cloud, which brought air travel in and out of Europe to a halt. The airport was filled with long queues of frightened, angry, stressed out people trying to get home. Chris has this amazingly buoyant, happy disposition (which he certainly did not get from me) and I remember him walking up and down the queues with a large bag of Haribo sweets, greeting people- “Hello, where are you trying to get to? Been waiting long? Would you like a sweet?” He could not do anything about the ash cloud. Nor could he sort out the administrative nightmares faced by the airlines. But he did bring a smile to a few faces and a sweet can be very comforting to chew on when you are stressed.
Haribo sweets come in a large variety of shapes, colours and flavours. They are mixed together in all kinds of containers from tiny bags to large tubs. The only thing they all have in common is that they can be eaten safely by people suffering from food allergies. So, they are good things to share. Like all sweets, they can be a sign of friendship and comfort. Maybe they even offered the people at the airport a little hope that one day they would get home and the world was not entirely hostile. You don’t need me to keep on about this, do you? You “get it.” As Jesus used to say, “if you have ears then hear, and work it out for yourself…..”
Even the smallest light can transform the blackest darkness. Even the smallest number of people with faith have the power to transform a dark world. So, embrace the alternative culture. Stick with it. Stand tall and live as a child of God.