Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 5, 2023

YEAR A 2023 epiphany 5

Epiphany 5, 2023
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I love when this gospel reading comes up, because I get to talk about two of my favorite things: salt and light.  Salt and light.  You and I need both salt and light to survive.  Every teardrop, every drop of sweat, and each drop of blood has salt.  Blood, sweat, and tears . . . salt.  Two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered with saltwater.  Before refrigeration, salt was the only real preservative.  And salt is all over our language, from salty dogs, to throwing salt in your eye, to taking things with a grain of salt.  The salt metaphor goes on and on, twisting and turning all over the place.

When it comes to food, salt stimulates taste buds.  Of course, you have certain taste buds that detect saltiness.  But the reason we judge that salt makes something “taste better” is because salt stimulates all your taste buds, by removing bitterness, meaning the flavors of the food are enhanced, because you’re experiencing them more fully.

As a child, I learned this lesson the hard way, because salt does NOT hide the taste of peas and lima beans.  In fact, quite the contrary!  Instead of smothering the flavor, salt brings out the full flavors of peas and lima beans, in all their delightful nasty wretchedness.  Salt does not improve the taste of food; salt decreases bitterness, and improves your ability to experience the full flavor of food, for better or worse.  We’ll return to salt in a minute.

And light is another powerful image.  We obviously need light to see things, to read, to recognize our location.  But you can push it further and consider that light is why we have any food to put our salt on in the first place.  In today’s 10 second science review, the reason we humans have to eat food at all is because we cannot directly process the energy given off by the sun.  Everything we eat in the food chain is food for us because the sun’s light shines on it, or shines on what it eats.  It all starts with light.  And, going back to Genesis, the first thing God creates?  Light.  And it was good.  

Skip ahead to the first chapter of John’s Gospel, In the beginning was the Word . . . “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

An interesting thing about light is that it shows us what is there, rather than what we think is there.  The obvious example is our fear of the dark: we’re afraid of what we think is there, not what is there.  Shining a light shows us what is really there . . . a bathrobe hanging on a closet door, a stuffed animal on the floor.  Light shows us things as they really are.  We’ll return to light in a minute too.

But, back to Jesus . . . The 5th chapter of Matthew begins like this: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying “Blessed are the poor . . .”  You know, the Beatitudes—which we didn’t get to hear last week, because we were celebrating the Feast of St. Timothy.  The Beatitudes are what comes right before today’s Gospel reading, which we picked up at verse 13, where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.”  

And at this point, Jesus is talking to the disciples.  They are gathered around Jesus, and he is teaching them.  And he is telling them that they are salt and light.  The disciples of Jesus are salt and light.  And that means, as a disciple of Jesus, you are salt and light.

But lately, there’s been a movement among some Christians to try to be salt and light in the culture.  It’s usually a way of interpreting these verses in a condemning or adversarial way . . . from what I’ve seen at least.  Their point is that Christians are called to be salt and light in the world, and need to get out there and be salt and light.  This call to go become salt and light is a call that typically challenges the world, lays down firm ethical standards, and shows other people their inability to measure up.  And it’s always a call to do something in order to be salt and light: go and become this salt and light.

But here’s an important thing:  this is not what Jesus says.  He does not say go and be, or go and become, or why can’t you just be salt and light in the world?  No, Jesus says you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  It is what you already are, not what you go and do.  Salt does not make itself into salt.  It is salt.  Its “saltiness” is because of what it already is: salt.  

And, in a similar way, light shines because that is what light does.  Jesus says, you are the light of the world.  You are a city on a hill.  You can cover your light under a bushel, or try to poof it out, or you can let it shine . . . all around the neighborhood.  But what you cannot do is go and somehow become light through your own efforts.  You do not become light the world; you are the light of the world.  

And when we look at today’s first reading, from Isaiah, there’s an interesting little gem hidden in there.  The prophet writes that what God commands is “to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them.”  And then what?  If we do all these things, what?  God will love us more?  We’ll get a gold star for doing what God commands?  No.  If we do these things, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”

Your light shall break forth like the dawn.  You see what that means?  The light is already in us.  Doing these deeds to help those who need us lets that light break forth, and to shine like the dawn.  It’s what we already are; it’s just a matter of letting that light out into the world.  Not covering it up.

Now back to the two points I left hanging a few minutes ago.  Keeping in mind that you already are the salt of the earth, consider this . . . One of the things salt does is wake up our other taste buds.  Salt on our food increases our appreciation of what’s already there.  Salt gives us the full flavor, the nuances of what we eat.  Salt brings out the flavor by helping us to be fully alive to what’s going on.  Salt increases the joy of food, the pleasure of eating, the gift of a meal fully appreciated and a life well lived.  You are the salt of the earth.

And since Jesus says you already are the light of the world?  Light shows us what really is, rather than what we think is real.  Light exposes dangers and dirt and decay, yes.  But light also shows us color, and beauty, and acts of kindness.  Light takes away fear and doubt.  Light gives energy and courage and confidence.  Light, as God declared in Genesis, is good.  Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.  You are the light of the world.

So what does that mean for us?  What does it mean for the people of God to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world?  Well, it could mean that we use our salt to sting people’s eyes.  And it could mean we shine our light on things that embarrass and shame those we meet.  Salt and light can do those things, sure.  But salt and light do these other things so much better.  Bringing out the flavor and appreciation of God’s gift of creation, shining light on forgiveness and reconciliation to those who need to see it.  Helping others to see and taste the goodness of life.

Again, we do not have to do something in order to become salt and light in this world.  Jesus has already declared that we are salt and light.      

But, since Jesus brought it up, how do we keep our saltiness?  We keep our saltiness by sitting at the feet of Jesus, as his disciples.  How do we keep our light shining?  We stay close to the source of all light.  Being in the presence of Jesus is what makes us salt and light.  And Jesus is present where he promises to be: in the sacraments, and in the community of the gathered people of God.  And that means here, today.

Being in the presence of Jesus is what makes us the light of the world.  Our light shines before others simply by being his disciples.  And here’s a little secret:  being the disciples of Jesus naturally brings out good works in us . . . especially the good works of waking up the world to the abundant flavors of life, and shining a light on what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ.  You are salt;  you are light; and the world needs you.


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