Feb. 9, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Feb 9, 2020 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 9, 2020

This little light of mine by Angela Hsieh

The names of people who have died are in my calendar and as the anniversaries come around, I can pray for their spouses or families. So, I’ve been recalling Roland Harper’s wonderful way of storytelling and his knowledge of history, and about Wade Nixdorff’s brilliant sense of humor and the bottle of scotch he was given while collecting for the food bank. Sharon Boyd was a master craftswoman and endlessly creative, including her creativity in getting people to do what she wanted. Edith Harmon’s love of New Yorker cartoons paired so well with her humor and strong political opinions—shared freely, as was her wisdom and directness. The deep joy of Chuck Blondino’s scripture-come-poetry set to music, his courage, and his knowing smile are so clear. Nancy Cross’ love of birds, her wry (sometimes wicked) humor and powerful determination come to mind, along with my mother’s insightful gift of hospitality, her love of teaching and tendency to be an art snob. My husband’s mother Betty was outspoken, had an eye for antiques, and a gift for playfulness, and I can also hear her say “Katherine, do you think you’re being subtle?” I thought I was being polite by my obliqueness, though she clearly preferred directness!

We look back at the people we have loved who have died, and we see them in a different way. I don’t mean our tendency to canonize them; more the loving honesty we allow ourselves as we reflect on who they were. What we are remembering is their saltiness, the personal characteristics that gave flavor to our lives by their presence. It is somehow easier to acknowledge as part of a whole once they have died, and yet it’s there all along, and in us too. Jesus says, “You are the Salt of the world” —not “you will become the salt,” not “work hard on your piety or religious practices or careers until you achieve saltiness.” Not, “you should be…” You are the salt of the world. If you doubt this, you are doubting your uniqueness as a creation and a child of God.

Yes, we can over-do ‘salt’ and are at times annoyed by someone’s particular ‘saltiness’—as when the gift of truth-telling becomes critical disparagement of people. Like salt on food; a bit of it enhances flavors and makes us want another bite. Too much ruins the dish. Too little leaves things bland—when we try to hide our unique gifts and personalities, we are like that salt which has lost its flavor, at risk of being irrelevant. When one covers up with polite facades or never ventures to be truly themselves there’s a shallow flavorless-ness and they might as well be any other person we don’t really know. Jesus calls us to recognize that we are the salt of this world and as such we are made to give it flavor in our own way, to serve in those ways we are designed to serve.

Compare it to the lamp – it is made to give light! It has no other reason to exist. Lighting that lamp and then covering it makes it useless. “You are the light of the world” he says. Hiding our light devalues God’s creation of us, robs the world of much-needed light. Dousing that light, losing saltiness, has consequences, not just for ourselves but as Jesus is pointing out, to the world around us. Dark and bland is not what he is hoping to see. Notice also that his words are a statement, not a command or imperative to accomplish. They are a statement of what is, a promise of sorts, that each of us has what it takes to bring unique flavor to life, to bring light to the darkness of this world. Even if you’ve held back or been afraid to show your true light and zest, even if you’ve been taught not to believe you are these things—know that according to Jesus it’s who you already are!

Perhaps this is why Jesus follows this teaching by words about “the law and the prophets.” The whole of scripture is testifying to God’s presence and work throughout history, and yet Jesus is acknowledging that as good as that is, God’s work as related in the law and the prophets is not yet complete, Jesus comes to fulfill it. What’s interesting is that both the books of the Torah, the law, and the writing of the prophets all point beyond themselves to God’s accomplishing the promise of the future; the Messiah’s coming and the final judgement of the world. This is what will be the fulfillment of the scriptures. Therefore the law and the prophets are to be obeyed not because of their stand-alone greatness or for what they are, not for their ability to keep people in line in some way, rather obeyed because they mediate the will of God, which is still unfolding. Jesus takes this idea that he fulfills what is written in the law and says his coming isn’t meant to scrap those scriptures, and then says anyone who breaks these holy ways or leads others astray from God’s way will be the considered the bottom of the barrel or the least in dignity, standing. He says that such actions place you at the lowest possible standard and will affect you when that end comes – but if you do these things and teach others, raise the bar above what’s common practice, then you “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

For some religious traditions God is mostly a divine lawmaker and enforcer of rules. One fears they will never hope to live up to God’s standard or expectations, and we find little inspiration in scripture or joy in our faith community. They figure they’ll never measure up or achieve what God (or the church) expects. We need to leave that teaching behind us! In this part of the Sermon on the Mount we just heard, Jesus speaks of gifts; You are the salt of this world. You are the light of this world. All about blessing us, about being who we are. And that being turns into doing. Think over the past week, when have you been the necessary salt in the room, that which raises the flavor, improves the possibilities? When have you been light in a conversation or for someone’s day? I’m not asking if you have been, or why not – I’m asking when because I know you have been that salt and light somewhere, however small you think it might have been. Was it in words of encouragement or work which helps others? Volunteering, giving, listening in love, standing up to some encroaching darkness? Praying for someone? Saying ‘yes’ to a call for help? I know these things may seem inconsequential or too small to matter, but that’s how God most often works. You know this is true if you’ve ever received such a gift just when you needed it.

Since we already are salt and light, as Jesus says, take a moment and value it. I won’t make you tell it out loud. Just for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and give thanks for something about yourself which is salty or gives light. (Yes, now.) You are the only one who brings your unique gift, and this is exactly how God gives it to the world; by your willingness to share it. If you water it down or cover it with bushel basket God’s gift through you is not realized, and the world is a blander and darker place. Jesus said, “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.” Once we recognize how we are light, we want to radiate it and grow it.

You don’t have to look far for reports of weakness and darkness these days, and we’re often afraid to talk about it with people unless we’re sure they agree with us. Yet I’ll bet we all have someone we love who would define darkness differently or espouse a whole other direction to solve the problem. But you are salt and light, a gift of blessing from God to this world, so we need to shine brighter, not hide our light. We need to let our saltiness flavor our discourse, so they and we taste that of each other, see things illumined by one another’s light. Is there someone in your family or work or neighborhood, in the pew today, with whom you disagree? Well, we don’t have to agree about how much or what flavor of metaphorical salt is right, but it would be tragic to mistake declining someone’s opinions or politics for the discarding of them as human beings.

Most of us act on our principles and values, perhaps by volunteering or giving, some by protesting or organizing, still others by writing or political participation or by teaching, even by how we spend or invest or work. I think those are part of how we are salt and light. Isaiah says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house…? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.” We cannot see light itself, only what it reflects on, which is why sharing it with others is so vitally important.

Our actions help to lead us deeper when we consider how they reveal our faith or shine our light, when we look for the Spirit’s presence in what we do. Perhaps this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Corinthians; “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Because we are people who try to follow Christ’s ways, even uncomfortable conversations or relationships with those we strongly disagree with might strengthen our faith if they help us to commit to listening more and praying for God’s light to shine in our understanding. We are a people who believe in prayer, so can we pray for greater courage to speak truth in love, and the forbearance to stand still to hear theirs? These too are acts of faith and in them we honor God’s gift of us and one another to the world. Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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