Sermon on Matthew 5:13-16 for Epiphany +5A, February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13-16
[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 hidden. 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.

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-32-01-amCormac McCarthy wrote a novel called The Road.  It is a dystopia; we are never told what happened, but the world is nearly totally destroyed.  A surviving man and his son have to make their way down the road headed south, knowing they will not survive another winter.

Nothing grows, most people are long gone.  Survivors compete with each other for the final scavegings of a lost civilization.  Some become bands of predators, literally feeding on anything they can find.  The man and his son are almost killed by some of them.

They eventually make it to the southern coast, but then the father’s health breaks, and he knows he is dying.  What will his son become, as he tries to survive?  Will he loose his humanity, as some have, or will he maintain a moral compass in spite of everything?  His last exchange with his son is this:

The Father: “You have to carry the fire.”

His son:  I don’t know how to.”

Yes, you do.”

Is the fire real? The fire?”

Yes it is.”

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”


Who Jesus Looked At

I cannot imagine what Jesus saw as he stood there looking into the faces of the people who screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-44-27-amgathered around him to hear him teach.  They would have been dressed in the clothing of poor people.  The men’s faces were probably all deeply creased from too much work in the sun, and their hands toughened by hard labor.  The women were probably exhausted by childbearing, childcare, and food preparation that started with gathering firewood and pounding grain by hand.

If he wold have asked them, “Who are you?”  What would they have said?  “We are Israelites, under Roman oppression.  We are peasants.  We are poor.  We are powerless.  We are tired.  We look around, and everything is going downhill.  That is who we are.”

But Jesus looked at them and saw something else.  He saw beyond the rags and callouses. He saw beyond their outward distress.  He saw them as people; people made and loved by their Creator, whom he called Abba.  He saw beyond their  assumed powerlessness to the huge capacity to be a force for goodness in the world.  He saw another identity.

He looked them and said:

“You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.”

Salt and Lightscreen-shot-2017-02-04-at-9-15-48-am

We don’t think much of salt today – it’s everywhere.  In fact we get too much of it, our doctors keep telling us.  But imagine a world in which it had to be imported by caravans of camels.

Imagine also a warm part of the world, without refrigeration in which the preservative function of salt was crucial.  Imagine how Jesus could look at those poor Galileans and say, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Imagine being inside one of their homes.  No glass windows.  It would be dark.

They used small oil lamps about as strong as wax candles.  Imagine going from a home like screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-9-15-58-amthat out in to the midday Middle Eastern sun.  You would squint for several minutes before being able to see anything in the light that fills the world.

Jesus looked at those squinting people and said to them,

“You are the light of the world.”

You are the salt of the earth – that is who you are.

You are the light of the world – that is who you are.  That is your true identity.

There is no “should” here.  This is not an aspiration Jesus is laying out for them.  This is not a goal, it is a fact, already settled.

You are the salt, you are the light: in other words Jesus was saying, you are necessary; you are needed.  You have something precious, something valuable that the world cannot live without.

In a world in which power and wealth justify just about any evil under the sun, Jesus was saying, you have a vision of a better world.  You have within you, a vision of a world of compassion and screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-9-23-22-amjustice, in which the “poor in spirit” are blessed with the kingdom of God.

In a world in which nobody who matters notices the cries of the poor, no one who can do anything about it sees the tears of the mothers who are unable to feed their children, or of the fathers who cannot provide daily bread for their families, you know that those who mourn over the current state of affairs, are blessed, because they will be comforted.  The last word has not been spoken.

In a world of rule by the prideful, the arrogant and the wellborn, you have an alternative vision.  You believe that it is the meek who are blessed, for they will inherit the earth instead of ruining the earth for everyone.

As badly as everyone needs salt, and as crucial for existence light is, you all are necessary for this world.

Why?  Because the world that does not know that the ones who hunger and thirst for justice are blessed, that does not recognize that peacemakers, not enmity and division makers are blessed, that those who are pure in heart, who have pure motives and nothing to hide are blessed, that does not get it that those who are willing to be persecuted for the cause of justice and righteousness are blessed, is a world of self-destructive darkness.  It will not stand.

People here today, hear this: you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  The world desperately needs the light you live by; the fire you have within you.

Light is Stronger

The world, if it is to survive, needs to know that, in the words of Desmond Tutu of South Africa:

Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

Imagine those words being said by and to the poor, marginalized, oppressed, powerless black people of South Africa under the brutal boot of apartheid.  But look at what happened!

Why is victory possible?  Because you are not just a middle class, Caucasian Protestant Americans, any more than the people Jesus looked at were merely Palestinian peasants.  You are people with a light in you.  You have a fire in you.

You know that a God of compassion and justice made you in God’s image.
You bear the salt of compassion and the light of justice deep within you.
You have a vision of a world of compassion and justice that can fire a movement of people who, together, can literally change the world.

Don’t cover the light with a basket of timidity or hopelessness. Light up the whole house.  Put it on a stand.  Stand with those who are being stood upon. Shine the light of compassion on justice because it is, we affirm, God’s light in us.

We did not light this light ourselves.  This is not our own achievement.  And therefore, being true to a higher calling than any human claim on us, we will let it shine.

The danger to us, is just like the danger feared by the father in McCarthy’s novel  for his son after he passes.  The danger is that when things are bad, when we feel threatened, when the world as we know it bears scant resemblance to the world we wanted it to be, we will forget that we carry the fire.  In bad times, how will we deal with it?  What will happen to our humanity, to our moral compass?  Listen again.

The Father says: “You have to carry the fire.”

His son replies:  I don’t know how to.”

Yes, you do.”

Is the fire real? The fire?”

Yes it is.”

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

Listen to what Jesus is saying to you:

You are the light of the world.  

Let your light shine!

You are necessary; you are needed.

You have something precious, something valuable that the world cannot live without.

When?

When:

– they would shut out, instead of welcoming Jesus in the guise of the stranger, the refugee,

We  are the light of the world.

when they would incite fear and suspicion of other religions,

We  are the light of the world.they would permit and encourage the desecration of our planet

We  are the light of the world.

they would endanger us all by putting deadly weapons into unstable hands,

We  are the light of the world.

they would open the doors for banks to gamble with our economy

We  are the light of the world.

they would make health care harder to get

We  are the light of the world.

they would make bribery and corruption abroad more likely,

We  are the light of the world.

Let your light shine!

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