Fifth Sunday After Epiphany: February 9, 2020
Year A: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12], Psalm 112:1-9, (10), 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16], Matthew 5:13-20
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Which are we? Are we salt or are we light? What is Jesus even getting at with statements like these? Added questions might be where are we? Who are we? Why are we here? What are we meant to be doing? How are we to go about this thing we call life? These are the elemental questions that humans have been pondering for thousands of years and they are basic questions that form the basis of all human religious yearnings.
It’s easy to forget at first glance that this particular reading is part of a larger passage, one of the most celebrated Gospel stories, the Sermon on the Mount. It’s easy to forget because last week we didn’t celebrate the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, instead we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation, so we missed the scriptural Beatitudes and the blessings. What Jesus does in the Beatitudes is to call us to account for how we live in the world in which we find ourselves. And that call is based directly on the reading from Micah last week: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Pretty powerful words that so many of us would do well to remember this week. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.
I think that the message we hear today builds right on those words of last week’s Epiphany readings.
“You are the salt of the earth.” We are all salt. If you think about it, salt really is an amazing mineral. It enhances the flavor of our favorite foods. It acts as a preservative. It melts ice on frozen steps. It purifies. I also recently learned it’s something you add to a water softening system.
When we use salt to cook, the important thing is to use enough but not too much. After all the purpose of salt is to enhance a dish and bring out the flavors that would otherwise be missed. Salt is an essential nutrient in our body. Although some people need to be on a restricted salt diet, a diet with no salt leads to severe health problems with muscle contraction, water balance in the body and neurological problems. Without salt, we die. Salt can also be corrosive when it’s not used.
I think when Jesus says we are the salt of the earth, he is telling us that we have some function to perform, some responsibility in the kingdom of which Jesus has been preaching. It’s about bringing out the flavor in people, brining out the great and wonderful things of God’s kingdom in and to others.
To bring God’s kingdoms means we must be salt of the earth and light to the world. In this passage Jesus is making us, his disciples, a promise about our very being. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. He isn’t saying we should be, he is saying we are.
We must look deeply at the promise Jesus gives us. We have to look deeply into our lives, whether it’s over the last couple of weeks, couple of years or our lifetime and think of the variety of ways God has used us to be salt and light.
Sometimes we think we can’t possibly have much impact on what is happening in the world around us. Just remember – it’s in the small things we offer, that is how we are light to the world. The things we do for someone – we may not even know the impact they will have years later. If I’ve told this story before, I apologize, but it fits perfectly here. A Sister of Mercy once waived a year of high school tuition for a student. That small act of kindness was a) unheard of; and b) changed the life of the person for whom that kindness was offered.
As time goes by, it becomes clearer what the consequences of anyone’s action or non-actions might be. If we spend a life seeking to be compassionate and honest, merciful and courageous as we learn in following Jesus, then our light will grow.
Today, more than ever, it matters, because if ever there was a time when we need to be blessed with the gifts of salt and light its right now. Check the headlines; listen to the news; glance over social media – there is a growing pervasive sense of hatred and distrust in the world. We don’t dissolve that hate and distrust by offering hate and distrust – we only dissolve that by being merciful, just and kind, by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Doing good works, deeds of loving-kindness is not a matter of earning God’s love and grace, which are always graciously given. It has everything to do with living a new and transformed life. It is about living in such a way as to be a blessing, a light, to the world.
The Apostle Paul calls us to consider what it means to be “truly human” in his letter to the Corinthians. “We speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’”
What Paul reminds us is that God calls us to be salt and light in the world. That it all revolves around the love that Jesus Christ brought to a broken world, and a love that we need to continue to bring to a broken world in the name of Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, I met with a couple from Northern Virginia who want to be married. Her family is Lutheran and lives in the area. They want to be married in an Episcopal service – a large part of that decision, I think, is because they are drawn to the salt and light of The Episcopal Church.
Acts of kindness and love for all people great and small – define the very essence of who AND whose we are, which Jesus has summed up in just a few words about salt and light. When we live lives of justice, peace, and dignity for all people and all creation, says the poet Isaiah, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
God is not done with us and God will continue to bless the world through us as salt and light. We are to flavor the world and shine light upon the world. How? Through our prayers, our words and our deeds.
 Matthew 5:13, NRSV
 Matthew 5:14 NRSV
 Huston Smith, The World’s Religions
 Micah, 6:8, NRSV
 Isaiah 58
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