By Bryan Owen
I had the good fortune of growing up next door to my grandmother. Her name was Lily Pearle. Does it get any more Southern than that?
Grandmama’s house was a refuge whenever I needed a getaway. Even when her friends were there, she would welcome me into the circle. And the backdoor into her kitchen was always open, leading to a refrigerator stocked with ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola.
Grandmama was kind. But she could be stern when necessary. Once when I was about 10 years old, she confronted me with a question: “Did you use crayons to draw on the wall of my carport?” I promptly denied it. To which she responded: “Then who signed your name on the wall?”
Instead of getting angry at me or shaming me, Grandmama reminded me that I was her grandson. And I was taught to live by higher standards. So she made me apologize and clean up the mess. And then she sent me on my way with the admonition: “Remember who you are.”
There’s no indication that they had misbehaved. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his disciples who they were and what they were supposed to be all about.
In words addressed just as much to us as to the first disciples, Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13).
Followers of Jesus are called to be seasoning that brings out the zest of life, making each day come alive with the joy of God’s love and grace.
Salt also acts as a preservative that keeps food from spoiling. So as salt of the earth, followers of Jesus preserve and promote God’s love, mercy, peace, and justice in a world whose evil threatens to spoil hearts and minds.
But Jesus goes further. For not only are you the salt of the earth. “You are [also] the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
Followers of Jesus are light-bearers — persons whose words and deeds shine forth in witness to the love of Jesus, a love that shines so brightly it dispels the darkness of despair with the hope and joy of abundant life.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
So what does that look like in daily life?
In the Book of Common Prayer, we have an outline of what it means to live as salt of the earth and lights of the world. It’s called the Baptismal Covenant.
The Baptismal Covenant gives us a snapshot of what it means to follow Jesus, so it’s worth taking a quick look at how it helps us live into our true identity as salt and light.
The first part of the Baptismal Covenant is the Apostles’ Creed, one of the most widely accepted statements of the Christian faith. In this creed we affirm God as one Being in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we affirm the saving work of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming.
So if we believe in God as Trinity, and if we believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ, what does it mean to put those beliefs into practice?
That’s where the five questions of promise in the Baptismal Covenant come in.
The very first says:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Before we get on with anything else, we commit, with God’s help, to making attendance at worship, reception of the Eucharist, and prayer the foundation of our lives.
It’s true we can commune with God in the woods or on the golf course. But this Baptismal Covenant promise reminds us that if we are to be salt of the earth and lights of the world, then we must make regular attendance at Sunday worship a top priority.
Next comes this question:
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Notice it does not say “if you fall into sin,” but rather “whenever you fall into sin.” There’s a recognition here that we’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to miss the mark. We’re going to fall short and sometimes fail to live into our true identity as salt of the earth and lights of the world.
In this promise, we commit ourselves to being proactive when that happens. We commit ourselves to the vulnerability of repentance — to acknowledging and confessing our sin without making excuses. And, with God’s help, we commit to making our way back to the right path.
Then comes another question:
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
That question brings up a word that makes many Episcopalians uncomfortable. And that word is evangelism.
This really doesn’t have to be scary, because evangelism is not about beating people over the head on street corners with big black Bibles.
No, evangelism means sharing good and joyful news. It means letting people know that God loves them so much that he sent Jesus. It means letting people know that Jesus came not to condemn but to save. It means letting them know there’s a place for them to belong and to experience God’s love in the body of Christ.
By promising to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, not just with our words but by how we live our lives, we acknowledge that all of us are preachers. For in the things we say and in the things we do — whether it’s a word spoken in person or behind someone’s back, or in a Facebook post or a Tweet — we proclaim a message.
Before we speak or act, we can stop and think.
Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Above all: does it build up? Or does it tear down?
This takes us to the fourth question:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
This sounds so easy. But it’s incredibly challenging.
“Seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Including people we don’t like. Including people who have hurt or offended us. Including people with whom we passionately disagree.
By seeking and serving Christ in all persons — and not just people we like and agree with — we act as salt and light. We show the world a better way than the ways of division and demonization.
And that leads us to the final question:
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Every person is created in the image of God. Every person has intrinsic worth and dignity. And every person thus deserves to be treated with respect. Even if they’ve done terrible things, we are called to respect their God-given dignity.
And while this business of striving for peace and justice may sound out of reach — as though it means everybody has to march in the streets waving banners for a cause — it’s often simpler than that. Justice and peace issues pop up every day, sometimes in the most ordinary and even comical ways.
I remember when I was a kid my mother had to weigh bowls of ice cream my brother and I had for dessert to prove that they were equal. It was a peace and justice issue that had to be dealt with!
Think of the peace and justice issues that arise in your homes, workplaces, and schools — whether large or small, trivial or serious. How can you help address them?
We live the Baptismal Covenant promises by starting within our homes, within our marriages, and with our children. And then we expand out into relationships with friends, bosses, and coworkers, and with fellow church members, and with every person we encounter on any given day.
That’s how we live into our true identity in Christ.
So, to quote my grandmother: “Remember who you are.” You are baptized sons and daughters of God. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
So name it. Claim it. And live it, that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.