Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Worth our salt

Isaiah 58: 6-12; Matthew 5: 13-20
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
February 5, 2017 – Science and Tech Sunday

            The word technology comes from the Greek tekhne for art or craft and logia, for communications of divine origin, as in oracles from a goddess or god, all the way to the Word of God or what Jesus said. Which sounds like what it means to be a prophet: the art or craft of communicating what God would have us know. It’s from the same root for logos, which can mean word or theory or story. From the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the logos or the story or the theory, and the story or theory was with God, and the story or theory was God.” 

            In the 17th century tekhnelogia meant “systematic treatment”.  This is fascinating to me, because when we look up the word technology now, the definition is “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes”.  What I see is the evolution of knowledge, of how to do something, develop from being divinely inspired to theory to a rational logic system to how to apply that knowledge in practical ways, as in how to live.

            And yet in our use of technology we still need divinely inspired words to help us use technology and science wisely.  After all, we’re still human, which means any tool we pick up and use can be for good or for ill or for the inane or any combination of those.

            It’s only been two weeks since the inauguration and already many of us are reaching a saturation point when it comes to all kinds of news platforms, blogs, and social media.  Even if we’re not on the internet that much, we know people who are, and it finds its way into our conversations.  God forbid we ever do have another civil war in this country, but if we do, history will probably say it started on the internet.

            But that doesn’t mean that the tool, the internet, is good or bad in and of itself; it’s how we use it.  Many people use it to stay informed and connected as well as to escape and relax.  And of course this becomes yet another line along which we can divide ourselves.  Some cannot remain silent while others decry all the noise and some cannot hear anything other than their own viewpoint.  We can forget that true community, the Beloved Community, is not made in homogeneity or in unison, but in solidarity, in covenant, and with that age-old social science: learn how to share, be kind, take turns, offer to help, and when you make a mess, clean it up.

            There are times when I talk about Facebook, I feel like I’m using a dirty word because of how some folks feel about that particular social media.  But for many people Facebook is a source of community and support.  It’s a medium to exchange ideas, post news stories, share photos, even prayer requests, and yeah, fluffy stuff like kitten videos and food recipes.  Earlier this week I saw a number of folks who’d had enough of politics on their news feed, and they lamented that they wished Facebook was fun again.  Here and there it still is.  It’s the joy and the sweetness of life that sustains us, our loves, our hopes, our dreams of a future that is better than today.

            But when we witness our loves, our hopes, and our dreams, and yes our freedoms being chipped away, and not just ours but others; when it feels like the ground under our feet is shifting in ways we can’t predict; when we feel threatened and there are many who do, then it’s time to use those ancient technologies of salt and light.

            Jesus tells the crowd that they are the salt of the earth, but if they lose their saltiness, it can’t be restored.  It’s no longer good for anything and trampled underfoot.  If light is going to be light, it can’t be hidden but instead it must shine out in the open.  What I hear Jesus saying to this crowd is, don’t even try to get comfy with the way things are; you can’t lay low in an empire and be faithful to God and God’s law at the same time. 

When I hear the words “trampled underfoot”, I hear the boots of a legion of Roman soldiers.  When I hear the words “a city on a hill cannot be hid”, I hear Jerusalem and its temple mount, the center of Jewish faith, cannot be anything less than what it is.  When I hear the words, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, I hear Jesus drawing a line, daring his listeners to cross it, asking, “Are you with God or not?”  And from there, there is no turning back.

            Are we salty, speaking up, speaking out, and when we do, is it the truth in love? And yet not too salty, leaving a bad taste?  Are we light, shining justice into dark corners, reflecting, embodying the way of Jesus?  And yet not a harsh light, blinding the sight of others who need to see?  Are we living the commandments, that technology of practical knowledge which says in its simplest form, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor—all our neighbors—as ourselves? 

            And for you who finds the word God a stumbling block, hear these words from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Father General of the Jesuits from 1965 – 1983, who names God as what you fall in love with:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

            If we are to be worth our salt, we must be salt and light, live our faith out in the open, but with love.  If we are to do good science and apply that knowledge in practical and innovative ways, we must do so with love.  And justice is the public face of love.  Nothing less than a public love will loose the bonds of injustice, relieve those with heavy burdens, allow the oppressed to go free, and to break every chain.  Nothing less than love will satisfy the parched places in our lives, keep our bones strong, and nourish us like a garden whose waters never fail.  Nothing less than love will get us up in the morning, seize our imagination, and move us forward.  We are the technology through which love is made visible and justice is made known.  We are Church.

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