The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A - February 5, 2017

Preacher: 
The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Year A

February 9, 2014

The Reverend Amelie A. Wilmer

 

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." (Matthew 5:13-20)

 

 

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You are the Salt of the Earth.  You are the Light of the World.  These words of Jesus are a promise, not a command.  But, do you believe it?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about this week as I prepared for today’s Annual meeting, and something I would like us all to think about as we consider who we are, as congregation.

In Jesus’ day salt was a rare and valuable commodity, and would have had many different associations for his followers.  Salt not only enhanced flavor and preserved food, but was also used for currency and payment – that is where we get the word “salary” or the phrase “worth its salt.”  In ancient Israel salt was used to seal covenants; and was sprinkled on sacrifices, rubbed on newborn children and understood as a metaphor for wisdom, a sign of God’s grace.  Think about what salt means for us today.

In much the same way, light has had many meanings, not just in practical things like allowing us see where we’re going or enabling plants to grow, but in less tangible things like, insight, vison, illumination and, for many people, hope. In today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear “your light shall rise in the darkness.”(Isaiah 58:10b)  For those who feel lost, or in despair, or confused, who have no idea which way to turn, light represents the dawning of hope.

When I was growing up, the offertory sentence said in church – from the 1928 prayer book, before gender neutrality - was “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.”  That is, let the good things you do, rather than bring you glory, radiate God’s goodness and love in the world.  Madeleine L’Engle put it another way, “We don’t not draw people to Christ by loudly… telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."[1]

You are the Salt of the Earth.  You are the light of the World.

And here’s the thing.   In today’s Gospel passage from the sermon on the mount Jesus isn’t saying,  “You should be the salt of the earth and light of the  world.” Or, “You have to be,…” let alone “You better be,….”  But instead, he is saying, you are. As in already are. Even if you don’t know it. Even if you once knew it and forgot. Even if you have a hard time believing it.

In other words, he’s not commanding or threatening them about what they should or should not be doing to be salt or light, but telling them that’s who they are now. It’s a promise, about their very being.

And I think that is something worth thinking about, especially these days, because so much of what we hear from the so-called Christian media makes God out to be more of a divine law-maker and rule-enforcer, than a generous gift-giver. And while intellectually I don’t agree with any of these modern day Scribes and Pharisees and their concepts of a judgmental God, I am aware that many of us, myself included, have this deep sense that we are not living up to the expectations being set for us as followers of Jesus, people of God, members of the human family, members of this community.  And because of that there is this constant, slow drain on our energy (whether we are aware of it or not), on our inspiration, and our sense of value and worth. We begin to doubt that we are “worth our salt,” or that we can be light to anyone.

The other day, I read some statistics on the relationship between children’s self-esteem and the messages they hear.  Psychologists suggest that for every negative message elementary-aged children hear about themselves, they need to hear ten positive ones to restore their sense of self-esteem to where it had been previously.  Ten to one.

Or, to put it another way, children become what they are named. Call a child bad long enough, and he or she will believe you and act bad. Call a child (or teen or adult for that matter) worthless or unlovable or shameful, and eventually he or she - all of us! - will live into the name we've been assigned. In the same way, call us good or useful, dependable, helpful, or worthwhile, and we will grow into that identity and behavior as well.[2]

Which is what Jesus seems to be doing in today’s gospel.  You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.  This isn’t a command, or a reprimand, or a high standard to achieve, but a promise.  A gift.  And it is about our identity, our very being.  And from that, comes our doing, our behavior.  Our becoming even more salt and light to others.

But before we get to that “doing” part, let’s think about the ways that we have already been salt and light.  Think about how you have added flavor, or preservation, or have even been the melting agent of change…any of those salty qualities - in your family life, your place of work, in your friendships. And then how have you acted as light?  How has God used you to illumine a dark spot or clear confusion in the life of a loved one, or a stranger, or bring warmth in the midst of fear or sadness?  How has your light shined through prayers you’ve offered or protests you’ve been part of or promises you’ve made and kept?

Any one of these things may seem, in and of themselves small, but as you’ve heard me say before, small is what God most often uses to make change in our world.

Which brings me now to what we will be doing together right after worship today during our annual meeting, and that is, to take stock of all the ways that we, as a community have been Salt and light in our world.  Not simply becoming or hoping to be, but actually are. 

And by doing this, we outnumber those negative messages that our culture tells us, and we tell ourselves – that we aren’t large enough, rich enough, visible enough – replacing them, 10-1, with more positive messages.  Remember, what you hear over and over again about yourself is what you will become.  So let’s name and hear the numerous ways we do let our light shine so that people see our good works that glorify God.  The ways we are the salt of the earth.

Here are some, just to get us started.

You are a growing community – with worship attendance up 11% last year, and a steady increase in membership, year after year.  At least 60 new people have joined us since I’ve served here, from infants to 70-somethings!

You are prayerful – not only do you come here to worship on Sundays, but during the week, for Centering Prayer, Evening Prayer at the Atlee House… and our new monthly contemplative service here on Saturday nights.

You serve, in a great variety of ways – providing food, clothing, home improvement, mentoring, even parties, to people in need, to families and children who sure can use some light to shine in their darkness.

You are dedicated, offering your financial resources, your gifts of time and talent – your salt.  Every one of you has been engaged in some ministry or another, and since I’ve come here, pledges have increased by 50%,

You are a learning community….every Sunday, 15 -20 of us stay after church to learn something new, to give, receive, to grow spiritually, and then during the week, dozens gather at the Atlee house – for Wednesday programs, EfM, our seeker’s bible study.

You are a loving community, who simply likes being together, to play, to eat, to laugh, to shed tears.  You are welcoming and unpretentious, and people who come here feel comfortable being who they are.  Who they already are, salt and light.

And this really matters, because for many people and for many reasons, right now is a difficult time. Check the headlines; listen to the news; glance over the social media pages – there such a pervasive sense of dis-ease and division in our public discourse.  We need salt and light in this world. And the amazing thing is that God has already provided it…in and through the people sitting right next to you.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.  That’s a promise.

Amen.

 

[1] As quoted by Kathryn Matthews in http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_february_5_2017

[2] See study referenced in article by David Lose in http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1543

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