Just to keep you on your toes this morning I am going to start by talking about elephants!
Perhaps because I showed you this elephant last week – an elephant which, turned upside down, becomes a swan – like the beatitudes, which turn our thinking about who God’s favoured ones are upside down!
But thinking this week about our church goal of exploring what it means to follow Jesus today, of us (you and I) being the salt and light of the world, of hearing the beatitudes being spoken to us, I kept coming back to the old story of the blind men and the elephant.
I am sure you have all heard this story. There is also thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi’s version in which a group of people encounter an elephant in the dark. But in both versions each person arrives at a different conclusion about the elephant. One strokes the elephant’s side and thinks the elephant is a wall. Another touches the tusk and thinks it is a spear. Another the trunk and assumes it is a kind of snake. Another a leg and thinks it is a tree. Another just the tail and concludes an elephant is like a rope.
The moral taken from this story is that all of them are wrong; that there is a danger in coming to conclusions based on our individual experience. But thinking about the story it seems to me that the greater danger is not sharing what we know, not sharing what we have experienced – because how else will the elephant be discovered?
And this is what Jesus is saying here. You are the salt of the earth. Salt, in biblical times, was incredibly useful – as a flavouring, as a preservative, as a purifier, as medicine. And it is very very hard, if you investigate the science of salt, for salt to lose its flavour. So even though we and what we contribute might feel small and insignificant it can make a huge difference.
In the same way, you are the light of the world, Jesus says. It would be absurd to light a lamp and then hide its light. Who does that? In the same way it is absurd to hide this little light of ours – despite how little, how flickering, how inadequate we feel it is. As St Francis of Assisi said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
This is one of the things that have shaped our Baptist movement from the beginning – this clear insight that Jesus calls each one of us to follow him – irrespective of how influential or capable or attractive we might be as followers in the eyes of the world. That the church – the city on a hill – is made up those who have responded to that call – regenerative or living believers – believers who are salty and lit up.
And this is one of the things that I notice as I go about my pastoral ministry during the week. I see little children, little grains of salt, expressing their faith in beautiful art, in beautiful prayers, in the way they talk and play and share with others. I hear teenagers, lamps on lampstands, talking about the big issues while finding small ways to care for each other. And I listen to adults who are loving unlovable people, or finding joy in tasks the world calls joyless or discovering peace even in terrible situations in life. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Which brings me back to the beatitudes we read last week because what Jesus is saying here is that we can all find ourselves in that list – that it is as we are and as who we are that God calls each one of us – and calls us God’s own.
Blessed are you who are poor in spirit – who know you can’t face what you are facing alone. God is with you. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who mourn. Not all Christians are happy all the time. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who don’t grab the spotlight – who lift up others. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who long to see justice done. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who just try to help here and there even though it doesn’t seem like much. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who love God – who want to love God more. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you who try to sort out difficult situations. You are God’s own.
Blessed are you even when people turn against you for doing these things. You are God’s own.
Did you find yourself on that list?
It is as we are – as who we are – that God calls us to be salt and light – and it is together as that salt and light, as Jesus’ followers, that we reveal the elephant in our lives – in our world – God’s world transforming, world reorienting love.