Fully Salt and Light : February 9th, 2020

Sermon preached on February 9, 2020

I loved celebrating Candlemas last Sunday. It seemed to encompass all of the themes of Epiphany conveniently packaged into a single feast day. As we celebrated the light of Christ coming into the world, embodied in the joy and promise of a baby, at 10am, our own little one, Lewis, was making himself heard… making sure we understand this is about a REAL baby, not the idea of one!

And with the sanctuary wrapped in white Christmas lights, the children brought their candles up front to be blessed. They commented aloud about the ‘star’ candles we lit when they came up for the blessing. They got the connection: Epiphany = star, lights, blessings; carrying your own light out into the world.

On Sunday evening, we had the most amazing wedding celebration for Mer and Kylie Lindsey. As someone mentioned to me later – it felt like the kind of event the founding members envisioned when they built this sanctuary and parish hall all in one. A wedding celebration in the sanctuary with people sitting at tables – ready to share a meal together (a potluck meal no less), as the space fulfilled its dual roles beautifully. It took some creativity and vision, and a lot of hard work, but it was astounding when it all came together.

And as God would have it, the lesson Mer and Kylie chose for their Gospel text was the first portion of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Which happens to be the assigned lesson for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – last Sunday’s lesson – had Candlemas not fallen on Sunday.

The text from Matthew 5:1-12

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 in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

This is where we pick up our Gospel text today – with the next portion of this sermon. Jesus is preaching and teaching all those gathered – an audience largely made up of people who are sick or somehow afflicted, and those who care for them. When Jesus proclaims God’s expansive blessings in the Beatitudes, his listeners are included among those graciously blessed by God:[1] the meek, the merciful, those who mourn, those who thirst for righteousness… This is astonishing news for them to hear. They’re used to being on the outside, blamed for whatever sin must have caused their disease or disability. Yet Jesus counters all that – pronouncing God’s blessings on them. And in today’s portion of the sermon, he is even more direct- he addresses his listeners directly – YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world. Yes, YOU.

Of course, “YOU are the light of the world” doesn’t mean as much to us, in our world of automatic light on demand. Until the power goes out like it did Friday for much of Yarmouth! And “YOU are the salt of the earth,” certainly had more meaning for those who had to salt food to preserve it, and who didn’t have the vast variety of foodie choices we do. Think about it -it doesn’t take much salt or light to make a difference to a much larger whole. A pinch of salt can make all the difference, and a single candle sheds a lot of light. (A candle is visible from as much as 1.6 miles away!) And, both salt and light have elemental purposes. Salt is for saltiness – it’s identity and purpose are one and the same. It does what it is, fulfills the properties of salt: enhances flavor, preserves, and, important for us, lowers the freezing point of water (making our roads less icy). In a similar way light does what it is: lights the way, enlightens the darkness. Light illuminates – no one lights a lamp and then hides it away.[2] The people sitting on the hillside would have understood that Jesus is making the connection between identity and purpose – who we are and what we’re meant to do – are virtually one and the same. God created us and blessed us for a particular role in the redemption of all of creation.[3]

You are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth. When Jesus says this, he isn’t giving us a new role to play, or something to strive for – “go become salt or light.” Instead, he’s naming who we already are. God has made us, blessing us with gifts that can bless the world. We are already enough to make a difference in significant ways. We don’t have to become something more or something else.

We DO have to live into who we are; claim and embrace the gifts we have been given. We have to be salty, be luminous. We have to embody who we were created to be, live fully into the gifts we have been given. We have to be who we are.

Being who we are authentically, living into our blessedness is the foundation of the rest of Jesus’s sermon. When Jesus turns to specific instructions, he’s not saying, “if you follow these instructions you will be blessed.” He’s saying, “You are already blessed, and you have gifts for blessing the world – go out and bless. Salt and shine. And here are some instructions on how best to do that.”[4]

We won’t get through all of the text of this sermon before our season of Epiphany ends and we begin Lent, but the rest of this famous sermon on the mount is set in the context of already being blessed. Jesus says, “You are blessed and made to be a blessing to the world, so go out and live your destiny, fulfill your true being, by doing these ‘good works’.”[5]

We don’t have to work to become light and salt, we already ARE light and salt; we have to claim, embrace, and embody our saltiness and luminosity.[6]

Which brings us back to the wedding last Sunday evening. When we planned the marriage ceremony, it was important to Mer and Kylie to receive communion at their wedding. But we wondered if anyone else would receive, given the group gathered. Maybe Liza and Peter who would be there, Carole Closser Sweet – but would that be it? Because many of the people coming to celebrate with Mer and Kylie, included people who’ve been made to feel like outsiders.

Similar to those gathered on the hillside to listen to Jesus, these young adults have been told they don’t count. Their identity has been questioned, negated, even threatened – some, by churches in the name of Christianity. (Lord, have mercy.) For everything from their sexual orientation and gender identity, to their hair and clothing choices, they’ve been told they don’t belong.

The evening of the wedding – the whole building glowed with light and with welcome. At the door, as people walked in, they could write out cards with wishes for the couple, find their own names on the seating board, and pick out the appropriate button letting people know which pronouns they prefer. (I wore my “she, her, hers” button on my alb.)

I can’t explain what it meant to be able to welcome everyone to God’s table as we celebrated the Eucharist. To tell people through our actions that they are beloved of God and welcome, always. When St. Bart’s welcomes everyone to God’s table, we are embodying the love of God for all God’s children. We are living fully, authentically, who we are to our core.

Admittedly, only a fraction of the wedding guests came forward for communion, but the entire wedding party received. Even some who’d told me they had sworn never to enter a Christian church, who only came to support this couple they love. Yet, all of the wedding party came up and stood before the altar, with grins on their faces. It made my heart sing to place the bread in their open hands, “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” It’s not enough to make up for the wrongs done and the pain caused, but it’s something – a small act of welcome and grace.

My friends, we are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world. God made us to shine, as only each of us can. May we live fully into the gifts we have been given, shining brightly for all the world to see. Lighting up the darkness, dispelling shadows, and guiding all of God’s beloved home. Amen.

 

[1] Salt and Light: Salt’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany 5, (Year A): Matthew 5:13-20,

February 3, 2020, Saltproject.org

[2] Salt and Light, Saltproject.org

[3] Salt and Light, Saltproject.org

[4] Salt and Light, Saltproject.org

[5] Salt and Light, Saltproject.org

[6] Salt and Light, Saltproject.org