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Carbon Monoxide Faith

Carbon Monoxide Faith

Feb 09, 2020

Passage: Matthew 5:13-20

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk


Last Sunday, at the same time as we gathered in this space for our 11:10 am worship service, Dallas Fire-Rescue workers rushed to The Bridge, a homeless shelter in downtown Dallas. They were responding to what they thought was a single ill patient, but soon other people came up to the rescue team, complaining of light-headedness, nausea, and headaches.

Within minutes a hazmat team had been called, 200 people evacuated from the building, and 16 individuals were transported to area hospitals, including 4 Dallas Fire-Rescue workers.

The cause of all this: carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas — something you can’t see or taste or touch. It’s also deadly. The timing was a blessing — had the same thing happened at night, many of those who slept at The Bridge may never have woken up.

Sometimes things that can’t be seen can do an incredible amount of damage. What looks like nothing is actually something – something bad. And what I want to suggest to you today is that Jesus warns us about having a carbon monoxide faith — a colorless, odorless, tasteless, invisible faith. A faith that is deadly.

Jesus, of course, did not live in a time when carbon monoxide was understood. He used different metaphors: salt, that has lost its saltiness. “You are the salt of the earth,” he says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored.” Throw it out; trample it, destroy it. It’s dead. If your life of faith has no taste — if someone who eats you… wait, that’s not quite right… if someone who interacts with you can’t tell that you have faith, then it’s no good, and the salt — i.e. us — is chunked out.

Same thing with the light of the world. “No one,” Jesus said, “after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket. But on the lamp stand, so it gives light to all who are in the house.”

Do you know what will happen to a lamp under a basket, besides not effectively fulfilling its purpose of sharing light? It will fill up the basket with carbon dioxide, and will eventually suffocate itself and die out.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine… because if I don’t, this little light of mine, this little faith that I have, is going to die. It’s our habit to focus on the evangelism angle to this — “let your light shine before others” — but this passage is even more about self-perseveration. The unsalty salt is trampled under foot, and at the end of the passage, verse 20, those whose righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is saying do this so you don’t die. Which is like a pretty good reason.

A colorless, odorless, tasteless faith – a faith that the world cannot see – is a faith that won’t burn brightly in us for very long. And the Dallas Fire-Rescue crew won’t be there to bail us out.

To mess every so slightly with the famous line from the Letter of James, “Faith without works is deadly.”

Isaiah gives us some concrete idea of what a faith lived out in the world might look like. Actually, it’s not really Isaiah but God speaking through Isaiah. The problem, God says, is that the people are willing to be personally inconvenienced by their religious obligations. They will fast, and put ashes on, and wear sackcloth. They’ll do the ritual, religious things, but they won’t let their faith change the world around them. Especially not change the lives of their neighbors around them.

And you can read God’s response to that, it’s there in verse 1-5 of your reading this morning. I’ll paraphrase, borrowing from the cinematic classic Billy Madison: God says, “What you are doing is the most insanely idiotic thing I have ever seen. At no point in your rambling, incoherent ritual religiosity were you ever close to anything that be could be considered the love of God. Everyone is now less faithful for having witnessed it. I award you no points, and may I have mercy on your soul.”

Instead, God says, do this (v. 6), “loose the bonds of injustice…undo the thongs of the yoke…let the oppressed to free…share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.” Cover the naked, care for your kin. You know, change the world. Love those around you.

Sounds a lot like the sort of things Jesus did (Jesus, of course, often spoke of his work by quoting Isaiah). And since it sounds like the sort of stuff Jesus did, it ought to sound like the sort of stuff we do.

Honestly, I’m not even trying to suggest that we should go and serve the world for the sake of others. Just do it selfishly! Do it because the depth of your relationship with Christ depends on the degree to which you go out and try to be Christ in the world. This is teaching for people who want to find God and know God more deeply.

Turns out that when you go out and do the sort of work God is involved in, you get to know God on the job. Go and be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world – in your families, with your coworkers, in your community organizations – and you’ll get to know Jesus. Ask Chuck and Cyndi Gore how going to Belize brought them closer to God; or go ask Naomi Brotherton, who is 99 and can barely see or walk, how her quiet praying for others as a Daughter of the King helps her know her Lord.

I was privileged to be at the HUGS Cafe annual gala last night, and Ruth Thompson, Hugs founder and St. Andrew’s member, gave this beautiful speech, a sermon almost, about how the work of God intersected with her work starting Hugs to employ adults with special needs. There before the mayor and city council members and all sorts of community leaders, Ruth said: God is working, and it has changed me.

You know this is true. Who do you know who has really received God without giving of themselves to the work of faith? I’m guessing the answer is nobody. In fact, I’m sure the answer is nobody. That’s not how it works.

Faith takes movement. Think about this knife as your faith. This knife is sharp, it’s ready for action. But it’s no use as long as its still. Look, I can’t hold onto it really hard; sqeeze it tight. Do you see my knuckles, they’re white. But nothing is happening to my hand.

But once it moves, once it moves just a little bit—that’s how it works. That’s when it’s worth something.

I want to finish this morning with a story of faith in motion, a parable maybe, or an allegory, about why this faith in motion, working out our faith in the world, which this is so important right now, in this historical moment.

For centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians were like a river carving a canyon — loud, bumping into things, on the move – the sort of movement you could see and hear, taste and touch – carving a path through the culture around them.

And then, as the church and state and culture all became one thing (at least in the West, and we call this Christendom) it was as though the river were dammed and made a huge Christian lake. Water, water, everywhere. It was deep, and beautiful in its own way, and everything around — art, music, literature, politics, scholarship — all of it was baptized in the waters of Lake Christendom.

But the dam of Christendom has broken. We no longer own the culture, no longer control the state. The lake is draining. In our neck of the woods there is still a lot of water left, but it’s happening. That’s ok. But it does mean that we have to be sure that we get ourselves out into the current where things are happening, where we’re doing things in the name of Christ. Because if we don’t, if we get caught up somehow in a local low spot or a side channel, we’ll dry out eventually. We won’t be salty, or bright, we’ll become invisible and succumb to the colorless, odorless life of faith that’s a game of the head, not a work of the heart.

Life in the current, where faith is moving and visible, salty and bright, will be exciting, active. We’ll be seen, tasted, heard, touched. And we’ll get to carve the culture around us once more. We’ll make a difference as we take on Isaiah’s challenge; Jesus’ challenge.

This is tremendously exciting, to be a city on a hill. This is the line of scripture that launched the Mayflower and inspired the Pilgrims to persevere through death and despair. Salt of the earth, light of the world – Christ is offering us here a single answer to two of our deepest longings as human beings: the longing to know God and the longing to make a difference in the world. The single answer is to let your faith color the world, fill it with a sweet, sweet scent. Go out and be Christ in the world, and you’ll come to know Christ as you scatter the world’s darkness. What and opportunity!