Living in the Grey Sermon Series #5
Am I Offensive if I Talk about Jesus?
Pastor Leta Behrens
Sermon Scripture: Matthew 5: 13-20
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Read here (remembering a sermon is the preached word and this is an approximation! )
Am I offensive if I talk about Jesus?
To get at that question let’s first think about the word ‘offensive’ because it has several layers of meaning: to cause someone to be deeply hurt, upset or anger—or also just a sense of deep unfairness like when we were training for a run and I had kept my mileage steady throughout the year and Pr. Michael didn’t run for 6 months and then just started one day and STILL could run faster and further than me;….
Offensive also can mean something really disgusting-like the congealed milk at the bottom of my coffee mug sometimes;
it can also mean to act aggressive or to attack—this can be a sports or military term to use your offense—something we hope the Broncos can pull together next season. It can also be an organized or forceful campaign to achieve something—often this is in reference to political or social actions. To go on the offensive is to take a position and execute it, play it, live it to the fullest extent.
When we are thinking about who we are as Christians and core of who we are—beloved of God, redeemed by grace, sent to live out this mercy and grace in the world, we can think of this as an offensive approach, a sending, a commissioning to the world in love. That we are not called to be passive or to hide who we are but to live into the light of Christ that guides us.
And yet to be offensive would not be the goal. The goal is not to cause hurt or harm or force others into a defensive position. The goal is certainly not to be disgusting or attacking and while we are an organized community who at times must stand and speak clearly the blessings of Jesus we heard last week in the beatitudes to the poor, outcast, and marginalized; the goal of our mission in Christ is to open up doors, not close them. To honor and hear our neighbor, not shut them out.
So when we consider how we talk about Jesus, we bear in mind our identity, the promise of Jesus, and the opening of hearts and minds through our actions, words, and love.
As a pastor, I would say my experience of simply stating what I do for a living has at times unintentionally offended people or at least put them off a bit or made them uncomfortable. When my kids started school, I was not the mom the other moms hung out with. I am often caught off guard with the stares or looks when I enter a store on Sunday afternoons until I remember what shirt I have on and try to smile brighter! When we moved into our home in Wellington, we were greeted fairly warmly by a few neighbors and then once my love of Jesus was revealed.. well we have not seen them since. Before you feel sorry for me though, it has probably saved me from much angst of being on the HOA !
Still, I did not really consider my profession offensive until Sophia started high school and started making new friends of all different kinds of backgrounds. First off that her mother was a pastor and her father a science teacher was mind blowing to some. How could that possibly be right? Science and faith going together? Of course this utterly confused her because our faith does not dismiss science nor does science dismiss the mystery of faith. She has grown up in a different worldview than what is ‘out there’ about Christians. But the most confusing statement that was said, was ‘oh wow. so your mom since she is a pastor must really hate a lot of people-don’t Christians hate Muslims and gay people?’
Whoa. Ouch. That really put me on the defensive, it is so not me, how could anyone thing that. This is the first thing that came to mind for this young person about religion? Heartbreaking. Fortunately, another friend of hers who knows me said at that moment, ‘what, no, she like loves everybody, it’s true, she put up with me on a choir trip.”
This is not just out there for pastors, it is a part of the world we live in. A part of how Christians are portrayed and a part of how some forms of Christianity actually do believe and practice. And it is offensive, it’s offensive to the gospel, it’s offensive to those who end up on the side of persecution and it’s offensive to our Lutheran understanding and theology about who we are and who God is in this world.
A friend of mine in Oregon has had a podcast/radio show for a few years now called Stumptown Christian. Stump town is a local nickname for Portland and she brought many different spiritual, religious, faith-filled, speakers on her show. Recently she has stopped all together and is regrouping to change her name—not because she wants to change focus but because she does not want to have anything to do with the name Christian. She feels that in her time and place it turns people away, it communicates something of division and not unity and so she wants to get rid of the label that she sees has harmful.
While I have empathy for this response, I also want to challenge it. Shying away, backing off from who we are is like taking that light and shading it a bit under the basket. Now is not the time for silence. Now is not the time to throw in the towel and become something or someone else. Now is the time to claim our voice and our ears and our passion and our message of the grace that comes through Jesus, the open doors that come through Jesus, the refuge for those who are weary or hurt or outcast that comes through Jesus. And yes, this might be offensive, that God’s grace is open and leaves no one untouched. God’s grace can be offensive because it declares that You did not DO anything to be a part of it. There is actually nothing you control about God and God actually works beyond our human perceptions and strips of our egos and our consistent efforts to make things fit how we want them. Grace is offensive because it goes out in front and lives God’s promise of love and mercy all the way, to the full extent.
AND you are called to bear witness to that offensive grace. In her book, Reclaiming the L word (L word is Lutheran), which we will be reading in Lent and encourage you to join a small group, author Kelly Fyer, asserts that the world need what we have to offer and Silence is not an option.
She writes, and I am paraphrasing, “On Palm Sunday Jesus says that no one can be silent because even the rocks will cry out in the name of God. Jesus tells us “ You Will be my witnesses. Your Job is to tell people about me and invite them to come and get to know my Father. Your job is to feed my sheep and care for those in need and heal the sick and share with everyone who will listen to you the joy that come from following me. Your job is to be my hands and my feet, to be the salt that changes the way everything tastes, to be a light that shines in the darkness of the world…. The church may be the only organization on the planet that exists entirely for the sake of those people who do not belong to it yet.”
This reminds me of many years ago when my husband and I were traveling with a friend in Namibia, Africa. We took an overnight train to Swakamound to avoid the heat of day and did not know until we arrived that the train stops literally in the middle of nowhere. Just ends on a platform in the desert. Others who got off had arranged rides and before we knew it we were alone, in the dark, on a train platform in the African desert trying not to image the animals that might be out looking for dinner. We could see the lights from the city in the distance and we could see which way the cars drove off into the darkness. And so we walked towards the lights, about 5 miles we guessed later, just watching the lights, letting them guide us and reach out to us like an oasis and promise of refuge.
This is an image I carry with me of the church, of Jesus, of why our faith matters and what it looks like to be a city on the hill, light in the dark, salt for the witness to the gospel. We are light reaching out for those who do not even know it exists yet. We are a refuge, a witness to the promises that Jesus makes. The promise is that YOU are the salt of the earth. The gift is You are the light of the world. Total, complete blessing and statement of who you already are and what you already have to offer. Think about where in the past couple of weeks you have been used to be salt and light, to offer refuge like a city on a hill. Was it words of encouragement, volunteering, faithfully working at your job or learning in your school? Was it hugs given out or listening well to another person’s pain or struggle? What prayers have you offered, what organizations have your supported? How we are salt and light together may look differently daily and person by person, but how we show up and speak up matters not just for our own selves or our own community but for the offensiveness of the gospel. There are big ways and smalls ways that we do this And as theologian David Lose says, Yes, any of these things may seem, in and of themselves, small. But please don’t forget: small is what God most often uses to change the world.
Will you offend others by talking about Jesus. Maybe. Are you called to live that promise of Jesus to the full extent. Absolutely. Silence is not an option. And the noise that we make by acting in Love, speaking with Grace, Listening with open hearts and minds is the very noise that changes us, opens us, and sets us free.