5 Epiphany: Saltness, Lightness, Suchness

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If you are salt
and loose your saltness, what
are you?

If you are light
and hidden in darkness
so that your light never appears, what
are you?

Jesus is pointing here, to the Buddhist idea
of “suchness.”
The nameless reality of something’s ultimate
nature, the thing itself,
is its suchness.

Or as Abraham Maslow described it,
”suchness meaning,” which
is the meaning of something
in and of itself.

You’re saying, “What?”
What the heck are you talking about —
suchness, saltness, and lightness?
You’re yammering philosophy and
we want meat, you might rightly criticize.

But I didn’t start it, Jesus did!

Philosophy was my thing, though.
First Buddhist philosophy, which
I studied my first two years of college.
But then I fell in love with 19th and 20th century European philosophy,
especially the Existentialists.
And in the midst of that I found Albert Camus
who wrote existentialist novels.
Novels that asked existentialist questions
and I thought, what could be better than this?

And in the midst of asking
post-modern questions
I re-discovered Jesus.
Actually, in fairness,
I discovered Jesus for the first time
because I only knew about him
growing up, never took the time to know him.
What I encountered in Jesus
when I came back to him,
was a down to earth
first century Galilean Jew
who was focused on ethical decisions —
which is of course, a hallmark of Judaism.

Stripped away from orthodox church doctrine
that wrapped him in elegant imperial robes,
Jesus was a mud-wrestler.

When I learned about focusing
on what Jesus taught
instead of what people taught about Jesus —
hear that now,
”what Jesus taught
instead of what people taught about Jesus” —
well, then I was captivated.

I mean, check out today’s Gospel reading:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

5:18 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.”

Remember, the “law and the prophets”
is what I was referring to last week
when I mentioned that those boring 613 laws
in Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
at least in part, form
a vast social safety net
for a society that aimed to be egalitarian.

It is exactly the opposite
of the American rugged individualist ethos

and Libertarian ethic
that believes we should
be able to make it on our own.

But then Jesus swerves
in a very tricky move, when he says,

5:19 “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.

5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Well, wait a minute.
Who are the scribes and Pharisees?
They are the keepers of the law.

Jesus is saying that whoever does
what the law and the prophets require,
and teaches them honestly
will be called great.

But at the same time
he is saying that those who are in charge of
interpreting and keeping the law in his day,
are not great.
The scribes and pharisees
have lost their suchness —
their salty light.

He’s a sneaky dude.

Jesus doesn’t ask about the meaning of suchness
he just says that if we lose ours
then we’re not good for much.

If that is too much word-play
on suchness, philosophy, and Jesus,
let me break it down.

Our lives have meaning, yours and mine.
We are not just here to consume
and eat away the forest
like a hive of termites.

Your life has meaning
and my life has meaning
and if we have lost the meaning of our lives,
then we are just a bunch termites.

I don’t know what names
Jesus would call us,
but he would coin some juicy ones for any of us
who have lost the meaning of our lives.

Now hear this:
no one
at no time
at no age
at no disability
at no stage of heroics or decay
is without meaning.
The trick is finding
the meaning of our lives
as our lives
and the circumstances of them
change.
What we once were sure
was the meaning of our lives
may actually be in the rear view mirror
and suddenly we look around
and feel that we have no meaning
or substance
to the life we are living.

But wait,
just because it is not what it used to be,
or that we are not what we used to be,
does not mean we are without meaning.

I have spent a fair amount of time
in nursing homes
and retirement villages
with step-down units.
There is always someone
who reaches out
from the confines of their wheelchair
and offers connection
to those who sit within themselves.
And there are also those
whose bitterness or despair
at their circumstances
drives them into isolation —
which none of us have a difficult time
understanding.
It would be hard to do otherwise.
And yet, some people do.
Some people make new meaning
in terribly limited situations.

I will confess
that in every congregation I have served,
including this one,
there came a time
when I felt despair about what the heck
I was doing — because it wasn’t clear to me.
I found myself spending inordinate time
on things other than what I had done
in the past, for my sense of purpose.

I’m sure you know
those moments of disorientation
when the guideposts and mileposts
you normally use to measure
how you are doing,
are not there any more
or not where they are supposed to be.
It makes us feel out of kilter
and a bit foggy
and as if we had lost something important.
And those moments
are a kind of in between time
when the meaning of our lives
has shifted
from what was
but has not crystallized yet
to show us what is.

It is easy to give up. Or just as bad,
to cling to what was
even though it isn’t what
we need to be reaching for.
Here is the thing.
The meaning of our lives
changes
but it never goes away.
There is always a new meaning,
a new thing we can do
to sweep the kingdom of God
a little further along.
It may seem like a really small thing
we have been given to do,
but we never, ever —
never —
know the impact
of those small things.
We cannot predict it
or estimate it
or value it.
All we can do is
deliver it.

So the meaning of our lives —
our suchness,
our saltness,
our light —
is not
a once and for all time thing.
It changes
just as we change.
We often do not get to know it
ahead of time.

So if you happen to feel like a termite just now,
a little foggy
or out of sorts,
start look around
and listening.
Start asking questions.
Get curious.
You have something
you can do or be, or
a presence you can offer,
that will nudge the kingdom of God forward.