SERMON Ephiphany 5A St. Monica’s Naples, FL
Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]; Psalm 112:1-9, ; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]; 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.” Jesus used everyday language to explain to us the complexities of a life of faith. He used salt and light as symbols to describe vividly the mission as God’s people (the church) in the world. Let’s start with salt. Salt has many uses, but one prevalent in Jesus’ time was that of preserving and purifying food. They used it preserve fish and meat to allow it to last for months, so it could feed many people.
Salt preserves by creating an environment repugnant to nasty microorganisms and bacteria. Salt even in small quantities not only preserves, but it enhances the flavor of the food and it makes the dish more than it was alone. Even when salt is combined with sweet treats like cookies, it enhances its flavor as well. Salt enriches, it makes things better tasting, it adds life to any recipe, and it really does not take much of it to change the whole dish.
Now here is the lesson for us; salt must be poured out, and it cannot remain in its container to be effective. I love to cook and for Christmas a few years ago, all I wanted was a nice salt crock in which, I could keep sea salt near our cooking range. After a long search, Terri finally found the one I wanted, a nice Le Creuset crock. Anytime I cook now, I just I open the lid, reach in, take a pinch of salt and add it to whatever dish I cook. It’s more than merely a decorative piece in the kitchen, its contents impact all my dishes and makes my gourmet tendencies shine. We are supposed to be like that, not mere containers sitting on a shelf. Jesus calls us to be poured out, to be the “the salt of the earth, because we can blend with blandness and tastelessness of broken relationships, injustice, and oppression in the world and bring savory, spicy, spiritual transformation to all of life. You are salt!
Jesus also tells us, “You are the light of the world.” Most of us have experienced some form of the unsettling darkness. I am sure most of us have looked for a flashlight or candle during a power outage in a storm. Like me, you may have awakened suddenly at night, and subsequently struggled to find the light on your smart phone, so you can find your way to the bathroom. Traversing the darkness can be frightening, and so many people today travel a spiritual and emotional darkness that often is overlooked by the church. However, it only takes a little light to turn darkness into a path of peace, love, and joy.
As a flight instructor, when I flew the coast of Florida at night with students, I recall how terrifying night flying can be. On a moonless night, with very little ground references, the darkness poses a great threat to a pilot, who must rely on seeing their way, trying to distinguish starlight from streetlights. A great comfort for most pilots is the sight of the rotating beacon of light that is located at every airport. It can be seen for miles. Light, even as a flashing glimmer that small, pierces the bleakness of the dark and brings hope and direction to those around it. All unsettling darkness can be overcome by the glimmer of hope of the safety of the airport, which the beacon provides.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.“ The faces of hopelessness and brokenness groping in darkness are all around us. There are so much pain in the world war, hunger, and devastation. Locally, right here in our neighborhoods, we have folks in need, folks who are searching for a lighthouse of hope to show them the way. Folks are just struggling with life: a mother is trying to afford medication for her son, children are living on the street, marriages are on the rocks, unemployment abounds, and relationships are being torn apart. This is darkness; emotional and spiritual darkness. Some people traverse the shadows and obscurity of brokenness and they come to us here at St. Monica’s with outstretched arms asking for help. Two people came to us the other day, hopeless victims of the unfortunate circumstances of their lives. They had lost their house rental because the landowner went into foreclosure and never told them. They were living in their truck, hungry, almost out of gas, and trying to make it day to day. We gave them some food, some gas money, and offered them a small glimmer of hope.
Now, some people who are traversing the shadows and obscurity of darkness, show up at our doors, not asking to receive from the church, but come here with something to give. People come seeking how they might do ministry with the gifts God has given them. They too have a light within them that is ready to glow and shine brightly, but they need the spark of hope that this community can ignite, in order to light their torch of love. We have to be ready to receive the diversity of gifts that people bring to St. Monica’s, and we must engage them in service along beside us. Giving and receiving is the mission of love to which God calls us. Being a place that gives from its abundance and at the same time, being a place from which we can in kind, receive from the abundance of others is truly what it means to be a light to the world, a beacon of hope, a lighthouse and not a clubhouse.
Salt Crocks and Unlit Wicks
Christians are not mere salt crocks and unlit wicks, Jesus said that we are salt and light. Well, being salt and light means (as the prophet declares) that we “Loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke?” It means, “we share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them.” When we do these things, we are loving our neighbor and we are loving God. When we do these things, God promises that “your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden.” You see, when we take our place in God’s mission to do these kinds of love acts for others, we experience the Kingdom of God and it becomes real and present in front of our very eyes. Then, we can proclaim that we are not mere salt crocks and unlit wicks.
Salt must be poured out and light must shine brightly. Can you imagine the mission of the church, if we merely showed up and received and never poured out? See the love of God must be a benevolent intrusion into the life of the world. Salt, even in its smallest quantity invades a soup, a salad, an entrée and brings to it a saltiness that permeates the entire dish. However, salt does not serve its purpose by trying to change the dish into more salt, its purpose is to enhance the flavor of the dish that is already there.
When light shines you cannot contain it. Light a match in a darkened room and you see everything around you. The church is never supposed to be an LED high beam intensity spotlight overshadowing everything in its path. No, to do its mission, the church must let our light shine to clarify and reflect. God’s light in us does not diminish that which is in darkness, but it clarifies it, shines upon it, and makes visible the beauty otherwise unseen.
Our mission is to move into the world with the love of God in us and enhance the beauty that is already in God’s creation. We are preservers and sustainers of God’s dream in the world; a dream of loving God and loving neighbor. We cannot merely hide in the shadows from the world, acting like a mere respite for our own saltiness and brightness. We are supposed to go and serve, so that the praise of God will be increased. The great Helen Keller, whose challenges with sight, sound, and speech once declared, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” Light and salt, even in small seemingly insignificant measures, bring about a great transformation in the circumstances of all that it touches. We are supposed to be change agents.
You are Salt and Light
Christians are not supposed to be bearers of tastelessness and darkness, Jesus said we are salt and light! Our mission is not to become comfortable complacent containers and unlit wicks, people who have lost sight of God’s mission to which, we are called to live. We are not a light hidden under a basket. We are a city on a hill that serves as a beacon of hope shining brightly. We are not mere casks of salt sitting as a decorative piece on a shelf. We are a diverse and flavorful spice that must be abundantly poured out into the world bringing about intense and lasting transformation. We come here each week, and we are fed, so that we might intentionally move into our neighborhoods and invite, embrace, stand with, and support those whom God in mission, sends us out to love.
St. Monica’s shines as the beacon of hope to a world that may very well reject us and persecute us. St. Monica’s mission is that of self-giving love, despite the potential rejecting response of those, to whom it is directed. God has given us the gifts of ministry and yes, the spiritual needs of our neighbors are great. Where these two things (gifts and needs) meet, well that is what we call ministry. Your ministry is to be salty and spiritually flavorful. Your ministry is to light your wicks and be abundantly glowing. So go out this week and let God through you, bring a little salty brightness into someone’s life, maybe even your own.