Well, next Tuesday seems like a pretty important day.
Here’s the situation we’re in. Let’s just put the cards out on the table. Statistically, we’ve never had two more unpopular candidates running for president of the United States, and rather than getting better, it seems to be getting worse the closer we get to the election.
On one side, we’ve got continued scandal around emails and Wall Street speeches and a checkered political past and questions about integrity and honesty and transparency, and on the other side we’ve got questions of character and “fitness” for president, with instances of some of the most outrageous, offensive, inexcusable, indefensible words ever attributed to a presidential candidate.
I’ve not heard any good arguments for a candidate based on anything other than, “Well, at least it’s not the other candidate.”
And so, the question for me continues to be, in a time like this, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? That’s really the question for me today and every day: what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus on a day like today?
What I’ve been attempting to do over the past several weeks as a person of faith, and what I’ve been asking other people to do is to use the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, as the plumb line, the standard of measurement, for everything you see and hear in the campaign. It’s kind of like the “stump speech” of Jesus, the Platform of Jesus, so to speak. If we’re followers of Jesus, that means by definition that Jesus is primary for us, and so his words and his vision for his kingdom should be above and beyond any other vision that we hear.
So after having read the words of Jesus and after thinking about their implications, and after finding myself in a place of hope rather than despair after reading his words, what I want to say is this: Everybody take a breath.
This election doesn’t matter.
What you do next Tuesday doesn’t matter.
Sure, it matters in the sense of democracy and current policy, etc., etc., etc. I’m not at all discounting the power of our democracy. But in the grand scheme of the narrative arc of history, this election doesn’t matter. Nothing that happens in this election will make a major difference in the grand story of world history. Over the past two thousand years, the vision of Jesus hasn’t played out in world history primarily through elected political leaders and their policy decisions, but through ordinary people who hear his words and put them into practice.
I think that reality can be traced back to something Jesus says where he describes his vision for what it means to be his followers.
If you read the “stump speech” of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, here are the defining images that Jesus uses to describe his followers:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
BEING SALT AND LIGHT
When Jesus compares his followers to salt and light, what does he mean? What’s he talking about?
In general, light enables us to see things and is a kind of energy that gives things color, helps vegetation to grow, provides solar power for electricity, and can be focused for specific uses, such as a laser. A light is meant to be seen. A light is a guide. A light is something that makes the path clear. Light always shows the way.
And salt, there are so many uses for salt. My grandma is the most prolific user of salt I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never been sad about that. Her cooking is so good. Salt enhances the flavor in things, it makes things taste better.
Salt is also used as a preservative, and it was especially used as a preservative during the time of Jesus. Without a preservative, things decay. They rot. They stink. Salt has an antiseptic quality to it. Salt enhances. Salt preserves.
Jesus is insinuating that life as we know it is bland, it’s tasteless. It’s dark. People in general are searching for meaning, for purpose, for fulfillment, but finding those things in the world as we know it can be like walking around in complete darkness trying to find your bearings. Have you ever tried to walk around in a dark room? You ever stubbed your toe or hit your shin on the corner of the bed when trying to sneak in from the bathroom in the middle of the night? It’s not pretty.
Jesus goes on to say what happens when his followers are salt and light: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”
Follow me for a minute while I geek out about words and language. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. There are two Greek words for “good.” The first is the word agathos, which simply defines a thing as good in quality; and then there is kalos, which means that a thing is not only good, but that it is also captivating and beautiful and attractive. The word Jesus uses here is kalos.
When Jesus says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, when he talks about the “good deeds” that other people should see from us, he means that we should be the most creative people on the planet. We should be the most joy-filled people on the planet. As I heard someone say recently about being salt and light, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you need to “bring the flava, and get your gleam on.” Bring the flava, and get your gleam on.
If you’re salt and light, it means your life should be so beautiful that when you’re around other people, your presence makes them better. When you’re around, people are less likely to gossip, they’re less likely to make inappropriate jokes, there’s less corruption. If you’re light, it means you expose decay and darkness for what it is.
If you’re salt and light, it means you bring joy to people. It means you throw random Thursday dance parties at your office. It means when you go to a wedding reception, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you outdance everybody on the floor.
If you’re salt and light, it means you go into any place or any situation and say, “How can I make this better?” How can I make this situation better? How can I make this neighborhood better? How can I make this the best possible school? How can I make this the best possible office?
REFLECTING THE LIGHT
One of my favorite stories is a story about Robert Fulghum, the author who wrote Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. He tells about a conference he attended where the peace advocate Alexander Papaderos was speaking. He raised his hand when Papaderos asked if there were any questions: “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?” Fulghum remembers people laughing at his question, but he said Papaderos took the question seriously. He fished out a small mirror from his wallet as the room shushed. He began to tell about a day when, as a small child in a poor, remote village during WWII, he found the pieces of a broken mirror from a German motorcycle. “I tried to find all the pieces and put them together,” he said, “but it was not possible. So I kept only the largest one. This one.” He held up the mirror.
“I began to play with it as a boy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.”
Papaderos then looked at Fulghum and concluded, “I am a fragment of a mirror whose design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
Our call as followers of Jesus is to reflect his light into the most inaccessible of places. There are many dark places where the light of Christ will shine only if we reflect it there. Hear this: you are strategically placed to make an impact for the kingdom of God.
So, where’s the darkness where you hang out? Where’s the darkness in the hallways at your school? Where’s the darkness in your office? It could be somebody making really poor choices. It could be somebody going through a horrible situation with their family. Where’s the darkness at home or in your family? Maybe somebody’s really sick. Whatever’s going on, you are strategically placed to shine the light of Christ, to bring hope, to offer comfort, to lovingly challenge someone to consider a different course of action.
Where’s the darkness in our culture? On our streets? Where’s the hopelessness? Where are things decaying, relationships decaying? Salt preserves. Light shines a way forward.
I’ll just say that in a season like this, I’ve never been more thankful for Jesus. I’m thankful for his words, for his vision, for his kingdom. I’m thankful that when things have devolved to the point where we see them now, that he is still solid.
A thousand years from now, no one will have any clue who you are. They will have no clue who I am. No one will remember our names. But a thousand years from now, when no one has heard of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, people will still be following Jesus.
In so many ways, this election doesn’t matter. What matters more than anything is that in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, that there are people who see it as their task to be salt and to be light.
That’s what it means to follow Jesus: to be salt, to be light. Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been planted, to “bring the flava and get your gleam on.” That’s our call, that’s our challenge, not to wait on someone else to do it for us, but to join Jesus in bringing the kingdom life here to earth as it is in heaven.
The real work of followers of Jesus isn’t in the voting booth on November 8, it’s in their neighborhoods on November 9 and every day after that. What you do next Tuesday doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do next Wednesday and every day after that.
So vote however you want to vote, but in the end, live like Jesus is king. In the end, that will matter more than anything you do next Tuesday.