YOU, he says. In the south he’d be saying Y’ALL. Where I grew up he’d be saying youse guys. Blessed are y’all, youse guys, YOU, holy oddballs who hang out with other holy oddballs and had the dubious blessing of time with your snowblower and shovel trying to locate your driveway to make it here. Blessed are y’all, McFarland United Church of Christ. Blessed are you, for we offer this day the congregational not-quite-sacrament of coffee and annual reports.
Blessed are you, McFarland United Church of Christ. You ARE blessed. Not will be blessed. Not were blessed. Not “might be blessed if you make responsible choices.”
Blessed are you, salt of the earth. Light of the world. City on top of a hill. Blessed are you, because you are a new church, a renewed church, a community which is already providing seasoning, a light that is shining for all to see.
A pastor’s Annual Meeting sermon is often a close cousin to a State of the Union (or State of the Church) address. It is a good time to take stock, to telegraph where a pastor hopes she and her congregation will go together in the year to come. But I don’t need to remind you today about what we did last year (a lot!) or what our plans are (big!) for 2015. Instead, I want to tell you a story about us, about who we are.
We are salt to season the church and the community. We are a lamp on a lampstand, a community that cannot be hidden. I say this not to give you big heads or make you complacent, but because you need to know, that is who we already are. It’s not aspirational. It’s a fact.
Our ministry is - increasingly - being noticed. Just this weekend, our congregation’s use of social media was a case study at the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. We’ve been asked to present a workshop at the Wisconsin Conference UCC Annual Meeting this June about our church’s turnaround. Our youth ministry leaders are taking an online class together right now, and the instructor says she wants to come visit to see how we’re doing it! And Messy Church – that monthly time of storytelling and sacred chaos that you hear me keep talking about – is going to be spotlighted as an Inspiring Model of Ministry by the national setting of the United Church of Christ. That means word will go out across the country that McFarland UCC is doing ministry that is relevant, accessible, and replicable. People from across the country will be invited here this October because we have a gift to offer the wider church. The leader of the Faith Formation Team of the UCC’s national offices will be here in March to visit us for Messy Church and begin planning.
Salt, and Light. A City on a Hill cannot be hidden.
Lest you be tempted to Ego or martyrdom: this is not based on merit or hard work or some facile hashtag definition of #blessed. Salt, and Light. A city on a hill. Blessed. This is what Jesus says we are. You know how if you tell someone they’re “bad,” they’ll eventually come to believe it? We are – in some way – what we have been named. At one point, some folks in the community labeled us “the little church that could.” For the past four years we have labeled ourselves a “turnaround church.” So you can say – (echoes of Harry Potter here) we are “the church that survived.”
We are a THRIVING, VITAL congregation of the United Church of Christ and miracles happen here on a regular basis. Life-transforming ministry happens between and among the people that make up this community. We are A Church With Heart. And it has happened – through God’s grace, and for God’s glory – because we do church like we mean it.
Blessed are you, McFarland United Church of Christ, God’s quirky people gathered for oh-so-holy purpose. Blessed are we. So remember this, blessed ones, when the church’s to-do list seems a mile long and the agenda has you saying, “Isn’t this thing over yet?” and one more new ministry team has just been announced.
Remember this when you feel guilty about that thing you promised to do and can’t quite get to, and you take on the modern-day spiritual practice of ignoring the email from the person you made the promise to in the first place. Jesus is not adding to your to do list, not giving you another litany of oughts to keep you up at night.
Jesus isn’t saying “You ought to be the salt of the earth.” You ARE the salt of the earth. He isn’t saying “You ought to be the light of the world.” He’s saying, you ARE the light of the world. Not hidden, never meant to be hidden, but shining for all to see.
Maybe we’re so used to hearing things as a command, an addition to our to-do list, that it’s hard to hear the grace in these words. This is not some strange thing you have to try to figure out, not something you have to aspire to. This is something you are.
YOU are these. Not someone else. Not the guy down the street, or the person next to you, or the person you think is more holy or better at making good life choices. Stop looking at the person who’s been a member of the church forever…or at the person who just joined. Jesus isn’t talking to someone else. Jesus is talking to YOU.
McFarland UCC, YOU are these. Not the churches across the street, not the megachurches, not the churches with twice, five times, ten times or a hundred times the budget we will consider today. YOU are Salt and Light. YOU ARE these. You are already these.
For the glory of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, we are what Jesus names us.
Blessed are you, Salt of the Earth, Light of the World.