SERMON Epiphany 5A 02/06/11
Jesus said, “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.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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. 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.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In today’s gospel, the writer records Jesus’ use of of salt and light as metaphors, to describe the mission of the church. Salt has many uses one of which is to preserve and purify. Salt has been used as a means of preserving fish and other foods for over thousands of years. Salt preserves foods by creating a hostile environment for certain microorganisms. Salt by itself, even in small quantities, will not only preserve food, but it enhances the flavor of the food. It doesn’t just make things salty, but even when combined with sweet treats, it enhances its flavor as well. You can ask any good baker and they will tell you that a pinch of salt in a cookie recipe makes it taste so much better. Salt enhances, it makes things better tasting, it adds life to any recipe.
The key with salt is, it must be poured out. I love to cook and for Christmas one year, all I wanted was a nice salt crock in which I could keep sea salt near the stove. After a long search, Terri found the one I wanted. It was a nice ceramic container and I now use it all the time. Anytime I cook, 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, I use it frequently and its contents impact all my gourmet tendencies. Jesus calls the disciples then and the disciples now the “the salt of the earth, because we are to be poured out so that we can mingle with the rich complexity of the world, so that we can bring savory spice to all those around us.
Jesus calls his disciples the “Light of the world.” Light, even a small glow, pierces the black of the darkness and brings hope and direction to those around it. As a flight instructor, quite often I flew the coast of Florida at night with students, and to be honest, night flying can be terrifying. On a moonless night, with very little ground references, the darkness poses a great threat. A 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. The unsettling darkness is overcome by the glimmer of hope of the safety of the airport, which the beacon provides. Most of us have experienced some form of the unsettling darkness. We may have looked for a flashlight or candle during a power outage due to a storm. We may have awakened suddely at night, and subsequently struggled to find a light switch on the 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.
The faces of hopelessness and brokenness are all around us. There are so many uprisings in the world, so much war, so much hunger, and so much devastation. People are truly groping in darkness and walking the shadows of life throughout the world. Locally, right here in our neighborhoods, we have folks in need, folks who are groping in darkness looking for glimmers of hope. Folks are just struggling with life: a mother may be trying to afford medication for her son, folks 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.
Jesus said that we were the Light of the world. Some people who are traversing the shadows and obscurity of brokenness come to us here at St. David’s with outstretched arms asking for help. Our light shines brightly before people because we reach out with food, with clothing, with knitted goods, with childcare, with affordable goods for their home. We as a community serve as a glimmer of hope revealing God’s restorative, reconciliatory love.
Some people traversing the shadows and obscurity of brokenness, show up at our doors of ministry, not asking to receive from the church, but they come to the community with something to give. People come into the community seeking how they might be engaged in 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 our community, 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 being a place from which we can in kind can receive from the abundance of others, is truly being a light to the world; a beacon of hope.
Salt and light. Salt must be poured out and light must shine brightly. Imagine, the mission of the church as a love witnessing and a benevolent intrusion into the life of the world. Salt, even in its smallest quantity invades the soup, the salad, the entrée and brings to it a saltiness that permeates the entire dish. Salt doesn’t change the dish and make it into more salt. No, salt enhances the flavor of the dish. We are salt. We are to move into the world as the love of God, and enhance the beauty already there. We are preservers of God’s dream in the world; a dream of loving God and loving neighbor. Denying our mission both corporately, as the entire community of God, and individually as Christians shining their light in the world, is like salt without usefulness.
The way of Christ is to take the initiative and rather than hide from the world, we are to let the light shine in the hopeful trust that the praise of God will be increased. Light, even in its smallest glimmer, slightest glow, invades the darkness and brings clarity to all upon which it shines. Light doesn’t diminish that which is in darkness, but it enlightens, shines upon, and reflects the beauty of that which is already there. As beacons of light, we are to serve as a “city on the hill” a metropolis of God’s people with open arms willing and ready to accept those who are traveling in the shadows. We are a refuge and a place of comfort that invites, welcomes, supports, loves, and sends out those who come to do likewise. We all can take our part in the mission of hope. 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 a small and seemingly insignificant measure, can bring about a great transformation in the circumstances of all that it touches. The key is that we must shine the light, sprinkle the salt, and be that which Christ called us to be.
The difficult part of the Christian journey is that the Church lives for the sake of the world that may very well persecute it. How easy it is to lose our motivation and desire in mission and setup defenses especially if we have suffered verbal or social persecution for our faith. We live in a country where freedom of religion is one of the important tenants of our rights, so we may have never suffered direct persecution, but that’s not the case throughout the world. Christians are living their faith actively, by bringing healing and restoration despite persecution, torture, and threat of death. Today, even here in America, calling ourselves Christian may not be the praiseworthy declaration it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. The landscape of the religious affiliation is changing dramatically in our world. Those who claim no religious affiliation has increased from 8 to 15%, just in the past twenty years. We live in a time when faith is becoming less and less prevalent in our society, but this should not deter us from our mission. Taking the risk of rejection and denunciation because of our faith, is not something new to Christ followers. Our Lord, through his death on the cross, faced humanity’s rejection of God’s never-ending love, but that was not a deterrent for him. We must keep to our mission.
It is easy to become comfortable and complacent and lose sight of the mission to which we are called to live out. We are called to be the light of the world, to be the salt of the earth. Despite the potential rejection we might face, we must be ready and willing to welcome the least, the lost, and the lonely. We may have to let go of our fear, we may have to face risks, we may have to do things differently. We are salt and light when we open our doors wide and invite, embrace, stand with, and support those folks whom God will send our way.
We are not a light hidden under a basket. We are light, a city on a hill that serves as a beacon of hope shining brightly. We are not a cask 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 are salt and light when we go intentionally into our community and invite, embrace, stand with and support those whom God in mission, sends us out to love. We are salt and light when we invite, embrace, stand with and support those whom God has gathered right here in this place.
We are salt and light. We are a community gathered, fed, and sent out in peace to love and serve the Lord. As disciples of Christ we are sent out in mission to be the loving, reconciling, and restoring family that pours itself out and shines as the beacon of hope to a world that may very well reject us and persecute us. It is Christ’s mission of self-giving love, despite the response of those to whom it is directed, into which Our Lord invites us to participate. The invitation is ours, the needs of the world are great, are we ready?