The sermon last Sunday ended with a story called "The Rabbi's Gift, used by M. Scott Peck in his book "The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace” In it a conversation leads a group of people not only to treat each other with "extraordinary respect", but to treat themselves with extraordinary respect--on the off chance that one of them might be the Messaah, as the rabbi suggests. "Or me? Could I be the Messiah? Could I be that much for you, Lord?".
It kind of seems the height of arrogance to consider such a thing. It is a kind of mental illness to think that you're God; it is a kind of childish narcissism to think you're the center of all reality. The people we have the biggest problems with are the one who can't seem to see themselves as one among equals, but act like rules that apply to others don't apply to themselves. And to make light of it--but still to recognize it--there is a series of jokes that explores this phenomenon, including one where Jesus and Moses are golfing, and Jesus keeps wondering how Arnold Palmer would play the shots, and then when he walks across the water hazard and someone asks Moses "Who does he think he is, God?" Moses answers, "No, he thinks he's Arnold Palmer". It would seem to wonder if you're the Messiah is in this same category of thinking way too highly of yourself.
But that's not the point of the story "The Rabbi's Gift". The point of the story is not to get all egotistical about how great you are--how superior to everyone else you are. The point is to respect that you indeed are a unique person, made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore not to sell yourself short as to your gifts and the vital role you can play in God's world. It is to recognize the importance of, as the story says it, "As the time passed, [they] began treating each other with extraordinary respect—on the off chance one of them might be the Messiah. And on the off chance that it might be “me” they began treating themselves with extraordinary respect" (underline mine). It means to take seriously that you have a unique contribution to make to a story much bigger than you yourself.
This is the perspective, the attitude, with which to hear and respond to Jesus' words here in Matthew 5. "You are the salt of the earth . . .‘you are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." You have something to offer to a story bigger than you are, and you need to move confidently in that--but not egotistically, not narcissistically, not disproportionately impressed with yourself, but respecting that you have a contribution to make, and part to play, in what God is bringing about--after all Jesus says that as your light shines, they indeed see the good works that YOU do--and give glory to GOD. It's not finally about you and how great you are. But it is about your doing what you can do, and not being shy about it, as part of the bigger picture.
As the Pointer Sisters sang, "Respect yourself". As Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let you light shine" But remember that it's not all about you.
GOSPEL Matthew 5:13-20
13‘ 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.
14‘ You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
17‘ Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 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. 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.