5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 9, 2014
Who do you think Jesus is talking to? Do you think his audience is sophisticated? Do you think they know their Bible really well or are meticulous about keeping the details of the Law very well? Me, either.
I think they are just ordinary people, like us. Some of them may have grown up in the tradition of their forefathers and mothers and may be really familiar with their Scripture and tradition, but I I think that most of them are like the people you meet every day who may think of themselves as knowing and loving God, but probably only had a passing relationship with church. Maybe that’s you, coming back to church after a long spell of doing other things and having a lot of questions, but somehow deep inside, wanting something that you think you will find only from Jesus. May it’s you who after years of being a church-goer is still not so sure your faith is strong enough or your knowledge of the Bible good enough.
And Jesus starts just where most people are. With the hopes and longings of the ordinary. With people’s craving to feel as if who they are and where they are in life is OK. Poor in spirit meaning that you don’t feel as if you have any great spiritual gift to offer, meek and mourning, lonely, longing for something better in the world for yourself and others who struggle to make a way, weeping for those whose lives are wounded and displaced by the evil and egos of more powerful people.
“You,” Jesus says, “you are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth.” In a world where light against the darkness is a luxury and salt is used as wealth, this is a powerful statement. You are important, you are precious, you have the key to the most critical information on earth, and you are blessed simply because you not extraordinary. Mother Teresa is the one who said there are no great works, just small works done with great love.
We Lutherans have such an emphasis on grace being what makes us children of God, and saves us for all eternity. Luther wanted so much for his Roman Catholic parishioners to be sure that they were saved by God’s grace which came to them in Jesus’ death and resurrection, that he almost made too much of it. At the end of his life, he was really aggravated with his Wittenberg congregation because they didn’t seem to feel that they needed to do anything anymore. I remember a story about a 90-year-old Lutheran man who liked to brag that he’d never done a good work in his life. This is not where Jesus is going. In this first of Jesus’s sermons, the Evangelist, Matthew is beginning to tell us what righteousness looks like. It is not the scrupulous nit-picky spirituality of the elites of the day, who are so careful about purity that they have lost their humanity and their care for outsiders.
Jesus expects those who follow him to be the hands of God in the world. He expects that his people will be attentive to God’s law and live with generosity and compassion in a world full of people who need to know that God cares about them. Jesus also is fully aware that we are so much less than perfect, and that even our best attempts to care and heal and protect and serve are paltry and will seem to us be so feeble compared to what’s needed. Nonetheless, it is us who bear the light, who are the salt.
And if not us then who? If the salt is no good, it just gets thrown out. If the light is covered up, it’s a waste. The smallest deeds done from love of God are the zest and the light that God sends to give hope to the world. Do not ever think that the simplest things can have a great effect and offer the opportunity for people to see God at work in the world through you. “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and praise your Father in heaven,” says Jesus in John’s Gospel.
So I want you to think about what you have done or seen in the past week. Was there a moment in which you were the salt that flavored a conversation or gave someone a smile or encouragement? Was there a moment when you brought a light into someone’s life, even just a tiny spec of light? Maybe it happened to you, and someone else was the salt or the light to you. Take a minute to reflect on some of the transactions in the last week that are still in your mind or on your heart. I invite you to write them down on the piece of paper provided in your bulletin and drop in into the crystal bowl next to the salt lamp on the table in the back of the sanctuary. Or as you go forward into the week, when something like this happens to you, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share with us. Or go to the pastor’s page on our website and leave a comment to share.
Don’t ever think that you are not something special in God’s kingdom. No matter how inadequate or unsure you may feel, Jesus says that your trust, your longing, your hope for yourself and the world are just what’s needed to be salt and light.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.