Sunday, February 5 – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12 Psalm 112:1-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20
Hearts of Salt and Light
It’s possible that the current political atmosphere has something to do with it, but all week I’ve been picturing the disciples sitting here on the mount, overwhelmed and bewildered. Gathered around Jesus as he preaches his first sermon, I imagine them wondering how they got here. Just days ago he came walking along, and called them out of their boats, out of their former lives, out of families and jobs. In an instant – he extracted them from all they knew, all that was, to a new life and all that would be. From life as they knew it, to life as one who follows Jesus; life will never be the same again. They will never be the same again. And I wonder, did they know it? That from the moment the fishing net slid from their hands, that they would be changed? By that decision? Jesus tells them as much, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” But did they really believe it?
Because now when Jesus has gathered them, finally taking this opportunity to really teach and preach to them… it’s all coming a bit quickly, as the radical blessings of the beatitudes come spilling forth – as if Jesus can’t hold the words back a moment longer. Imagine our fishermen, trying to take all those blessings in, blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers, the pure in heart … The blessings keep coming. And while they are still taking all of that in, Jesus declares to them: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. They’ve left their boats and nets, their livelihoods and their families to follow him. Jesus is telling them who they are now – You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Because you are disciples; you are now these things, this is what your new identity entails, I promise you. And with this identity, comes responsibility – to follow through on this identity, and I promise that you will be able to do so.
Like the disciples we are overwhelmed and bewildered. This change in leadership makes our heads spin, and the volume of executive orders spilling forth is staggering, though they are far from being an outpouring of blessings. They sound more like the very behaviors we are warned to change in Isaiah, who then carefully instructs how we might do better:
“If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.”
Make no mistake – we are called to lose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, to house the homeless, to welcome the stranger, help the afflicted, repair the breech and restore streets to live in. Be light of the world, salt of the earth.
Salt and light both are useless if they cease to do what salt and light DO. The point of being a disciple is to DO what a disciple does – to follow Jesus, proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom, breaking into the here and now. And ENACTING that kingdom in the here and now, being agents of the in-breaking, being those who make it happen, catalyst of the kingdom of God. And you and I will be able to do all of that – because we have been promised that we are able… as disciples of Christ… we ARE salt and we ARE light, already. Being a follower of Jesus, redeemed and beloved of God; we are part of the team that goes forth to change the world. More than that – we are changed. Fundamentally changed. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” With the blessings bestowed upon us as disciples, come the responsibility – to live into that identity. Not when it’s convenient, or when it’s pleasant, or popular, or least controversial, or when we are in a group of like-minded people. But all the time. And I am sure, particularly NOW.
Light and salt are essential for human life – be something essential, be elemental, to another. Let your light shine: don’t hide, don’t wait, don’t be subtle or afraid; be essential, be elemental, be salvation for another; for someone in need of that salvation, for one living in fear and darkness.
I know that most of you have heard by now, that the KKK dropped in for a visit to Freeport this past week, doing more than their shopping at L. L. Bean. They tossed their trash and hate filled notices onto the yards of those living there, weighted with stones and veiled threats – we are watching, we are always awake, the Klanwatch. Here to protect your neighborhood… from? Let’s see – blacks, people of mixed race, face it non-whites, LBGTQ people, Jews, and Catholics. On last check, though I have to be honest, I don’t have the stomach to check closely.
Imagine being a member of one of those groups and finding a leaflet in your yard, and wondering which of your neighbors would be calling Klanwatch on you? And then, imagine what it felt like to see the number of people who came out the following evening to figure out what to do about it? When they had to have two meetings back to back because they couldn’t fit everyone in? And even though it was cold, the second group waited outside, singing songs together, of peace and friendship. And the town said together, we won’t stand for this. Not here. That’s light, that’s salt. That’s BEING elemental for another.
In Sunday School today our children are making Friendship Valentines for the children of our Yarmouth Compassionate Housing Initiative. As asylum seekers from various countries, these families are among the most vulnerable in our midst, as they await their papers and hope that the current climate in this country won’t prevent them from finding sanctuary here. It seemed like a good time for our kids to practice their ‘saltiness’ by extending signs of their friendship and care.
There will be opportunities for all of us to do more as we walk with the families of our Compassionate Housing Initiative: to help with language skills, to mentor, as our new friends become fully integrated into their communities. (Stay tuned) I’ve connected with Abbey of Hope, the Interfaith community in Portland, so we might be part of the comprehensive support to the local Muslim community. And I’ve reached out to Maine Council of Churches, and of course our Diocese, and the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice. (Links provided in the next newsletter)
In the midst of this bewildering turmoil, there’ve been a lot of pastoral letters written by Bishops of our Church (as there should be). And a lot of responses by clergy-types, that’s what we do, after all. Of all the responses, the most articulate and clear I’ve found is by Luther Seminary’s homiletics professor, Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis who writes:
… The Gospel [that] says God needs me to be the salt of the earth. The Gospel [that] encourages me to speak up for those who have been silenced or have yet to find their voice. The Gospel [that] won’t let me stand on the sidelines but pushes me out into the world God loves so that others might know they are loved and welcomed and worthy. The Gospel [that] is not a viewpoint. Not an opinion. Not an alternative fact. The Gospel [that] is a truth-teller. For the Gospel does not censor. It does not silence the already oppressed. It does not cast suspicion on those who are other. It does not act out of fear. It does not bar membership. It does not legislate inclusion. It does not look aside and say that God’s earth isn’t hurting. It does not ban the perceived outsider. It does not build walls to keep others out. No. The Gospel is a decry against empire, against power abused, against imperialism and narcissism and complicity. … it is a call to action, a plea for resistance, when others are content to stand on the sidelines. “I don’t know the man” is not an option these days. We know Jesus.
My friends, like our fiery preacher, Karoline Lewis, we know Jesus. We have been changed, we are disciples, gifted and blessed with all we need to live into the vocation of being followers of Jesus. To live out the kingdom of God in the here and now, to enact it, to cause it to break into our world… one ray of light at a time, one grain of salt at a time. Let your light shine, let your saltiness season (maybe even melt the ice), affect a change, be the difference for another. We have to live into our identity as disciples, as followers of this Jesus movement. And live into it fully, in this moment in history, we need to stop thinking about it and just be who we are. Be disciples, be those who embody the kingdom of God right here and now.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. I promise – you are.