I came across this particular reading and I was reminded once again of something we in the TLGBQ Christian community ought to hear again and read again.
“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 by people. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put in under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everything in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your God in heaven.”
Matthew 5: 13-16
I have taken a closer look at these words… more specifically the “who” in this setting. I have started asking the question of “whom” was Jesus talking to a lot these days.
To whom were these words aimed?
The religious right has waged an open war against our community and with their talking points have succeeded in making us a part of the crowd on the hill that day.
Who was sitting on the hillside or in the meadows listening so intently to the words of one who seemed to understand their hurt, their need, and their hunger?
Understanding, the “who” will change the message and its impact. Understanding the “who” can and does effect how we relate to our God and to ourselves.
Listening closely that day were the lepers. These were the people affected by a disease that was not understood and contagious. They were not allowed sanctuary within the mainline tradition of the temple. Instead, they were put off to some far corner of society to fend and make due for themselves.
There were prostitutes, in an act of survival sold themselves to other people so that they would have food to eat. They served a need of the rich, but they too were thought of as the dregs of society.
There were those women who were childless and therefore considered outside the realm of blessing by a God who demanded procreation as that sign of blessing.
There were the poor, who by their lack of money, land or prestige were outcasts in a society that demanded one have these things in order to be heard and to be genuine contributing members of that time.
There were the blind, the deaf, the emotionally distressed, and the physically handicapped. All of who did not measure up to the standards set by the religious leaders to be worthy of God.
There were the outcasts of the society because they were not married. There were those who were not pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough to be considered worthy of the great institution’s care and or concern for their welfare.
Yes, God forbid, there were homosexuals and those who expressed sexuality in ways that no person in their “right” mind would tolerate much less include as a part of the proclaimed good of society.
So has not the loudest and well-financed campaigns against our community made us apart of those who were listening that day.
Is the audience of Jesus’ words really all that different today? I think not!
Are we not a people who are affected by a disease that is in reality little understood, is contagious and thought to be of our own doing a curse by God? Before you object remember there are people in our own community who say AIDS is about our lack of sexual responsibility and promiscuity and therefore we reap what we sow.
Are we not a people who prostitute ourselves to eat and have shelter? Are we not a people who look for the rich, the famous, and the influential to feel good about ourselves? After all we can prostitute ourselves in so many ways aside from sexual encounters.
Are we not accused of not contributing to society through the act procreation? Yet at the same time accused of gathering and influencing children to our “agenda” on one hand and on the other hand denied the ability to give a child a home that is safe and loving?
Are we not a people who are poor? We are not allowed in many cases to get health insurance for our partners. In most states we can’t protect and pass on our property to our loved one without a fight and at the cost of ridiculous sums of money that any state recognized married couple would not have to expend.
Is not our love for each other defined as a perversion and therfore sick?
Even our own community participates in “horizontal violence” from those who hold themselves out as “holy than thou” when we allow certain parts of our community to be thrown under the bus for political expediency.
We are being told we must wait for the elimination of DADT, the passage of ENDA and many other privileges of being an American.
So, yes, the TLGBQ community is sitting on the hillside and listening to the words of Jesus. We are the “who!”
Jesus is speaking to each and every one of us.
Jesus is in fact telling all those people (us), that rather than outcasts and victims we are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world! We are front and center for all to see and celebrate the diversity of creation and life. We are to experience a new day, a new message. We do not have to justify our place in the world.
Salt is a common commodity today and it is relatively inexpensive.
Yet at the time of Jesus it was very costly. In Rome a main road is named “via salaria” or the way of the salt. That name is said to have dated from ancient times when Roman solider could have been paid with salt.
Salt in those times and having access to it was the difference between life and death. Salt was preservative, it kept food from spoiling. It added flavor and zest to that which otherwise was ordinary. Salt gave its recipient character and integrity. Salt was not potential but rather reality.
When Jesus called those persons on the hillside that day “the salt of the Earth” he paid them a high compliment.
Jesus pays us this same high compliment. We are a people who add a spice and a zest to life. By virtue of what and who we are then are preservative of life, that which gives flavor and zest to that which is otherwise ordinary.
Salt by its very nature gives to, rather than extracts from. We as TLGBQ people actually add far more to our society more than we detract.
In accepting ourselves we give and contribute to the beauty of creation rather than take from it. Just as salt adds and enhances everything that it touches, so do we.
We have added the beauty of incredible art, expressions of love, expressions of emotion not found anywhere else in our society. We add zest and flavor to life itself. We have even taught the world to die with dignity and grace.
Salt becomes apart of everything that it touches. Despite what some would have you believe… we are everywhere, and we are apart of everything.
We have touched, influenced, and participated in every part of creation. We are a part of the fabric of culture and society. Written laws, massive beatings, or even killings cannot extract us. We are in the DNA of creation.
No biblical interpretation will cause us to go out of existence and I really think this is what gets under the religious zealots skin; they know we are here to stay.
Since we have penetrated life itself, our world is having new discussions around sexuality and gender identity. We are discovering creation is far more expansive and evolving then we ever imagined.
Our world is discovering new ways of looking at relationships, how the roles of men and women in relating to each other are important. How roles within a relationship can be redefined to include and meet the needs of both partners.
Because we have penetrated the world in which we live, there are new ways of defining modes of dress, architecture, honesty and integrity. Oh, yes, friends, we are giving to the world in which we live, not taking from it.
We are the “light of the world!” Jesus tells us to not hide who and what we are, rather let it shine so that all may see.
When we are allowed to talk about our history rather than cover it up, we discover we have had a part in all facets of what we call life…leaders of countries, states and cities. We are the famous and infamous artists, teachers, lawmakers, scientists, and sports figures: the names and the list of accomplishments is endless.
These words of Jesus point out with certainty we are not to be ashamed of who and what we are, thereby living under a basket fearful of discovery. Rather, we are to stand as a bright light so that our world may see clearly that God is diversity, and the acceptance of the diversity will bring about wholeness rather than brokenness.
Salt penetrates and preserves. Light brings sight and penetrates that which is dark.
Yes, we are those on that hillside.
The religious zealots should take note: “We are the salt of the earth”, we are the light of the world.” Nothing they do will change this.
In fact the more they try to remove us, the harder they try to get rid of us the brighter our light will shine and the more zest and spice we will add to this world. My friends never forget who you are. You are “the salt of the earth, the light of the world!”
Rev. Paul M. Turner is the Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.gentlespirit.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org