Preached by Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 9, 2014Grace and peace are yours from the Triune God, the source of all power and light. Amen.
Our Gospel reading this morning comes from Matthew chapter 5, part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. So as you’re participating in worship today, you’re actually hearing TWO sermons. And I’ll still get you outta here on time. So yes, today’s sermon is about… a sermon.
Probably the most well-known part of the Sermon on the Mount actually happens a few verses before our reading for today, when Jesus addresses the crowd with a series of blessings known as the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are the merciful...blessed are the peacemakers.”
Our reading begins right where the Beatitudes leave off. Jesus continues to address the crowd saying,
“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 underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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.”
It’s a scandalous statement Jesus is making here, really. Because the people that followed Jesus around, the people Jesus spent his time with, and the people that he would be addressing here included characters such as uneducated, and maybe unwashed fisherman. A tax collector, a former employee of The hated Empire. A few women who wouldn’t learn their place. Outliers and outcasts. Stubborn, messy, cranky people. People with egos. People with pasts. People…like us.
And Jesus looks out at his horde of broken, beloved people and says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You.”
Jesus doesn’t guilt us with, “You should be the salt of the earth. You ought to be the light of the world. “ No, Jesus tells us, “You ARE the light of the world.” Not “once you get your act together.” Not “once you figure things out.” Right now, as you are, YOU ARE salt. You ARE light.
The metaphor that Jesus uses of salt and light are two ordinary, earthly things. Yet these small, every day things have the extraordinary power to be able to break into, invade, and completely change their environments. Salt is one of those basic things we keep in the hearth of our homes, on our kitchen tables. But salt has the power to preserve and keep food, to completely change the flavor of our meals. Light has the power to illuminates things. Light casts out darkness and fear. These small, ordinary things have the power to change our lives, to make them more beautiful. To bring zest and flavor and sparkle and twinkle to a weary, worn out, world.
God loves to meet us here, in these small things. Things that are woven into the fabric of our lives. Things like water, and wine and bread, and salt and light. Our God of the common things, who works in these common elements, shows us that we need to look for and listen to those simple things in ourselves and in others.
So when Jesus is saying, “You are salt. You are light.” he isn’t giving us some rule about what we should aspire to be. He is reminding us of who we already are. He is affirming our deepest and truest identity; someone made in the image of God, the source of light and beauty and power. And God continues to remind us of this every day in the Word and in the Sacraments. You might notice that when Dean Kinman gives the invitation to Eucharist, he often quotes St. Augustine saying, “Be what you see. Receive who you are.” These ordinary things that serve as an extraordinary eminder of who we already are.
When Jesus affirms our identity to us, saying, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” He’s also saying, “God is with you. God is for you.” and even more than that, Jesus is saying, “God is COUNTING on you.” God has a plan to change the world, and its you. You are the salt. You are the light. YOU are the one who is going to change the world.
God is trusting us as co-creators of a Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven.
I can only speak for myself, but that’s just about the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard. I’m the plan?! Me? I spend most of my time feeling like a complete imposter. I’m more than a little bit sure that I am not up for that task. I spend a lot of my energy running from this identity.
There’s a poem written by Marianne Williamson, that was made popular when Nelson Mandela quoted it. It says, “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
And even scarier sometimes than the idea that God is counting on us, is looking to the person next to us and realizing, despite all of their flaws, “God is counting on THEM?” Because you know what that means, right? If God is counting on me, and God is counting on you, and God is counting on all of us….then we have to learn to work together. We have to be vulnerable. We have to listen to one another. We have to give up some control.
It can be particularly hard to see God’s plan, to see that light shining in other people, when those other people don’t look like us. If they don’t dress the way we do. If they are from a different part of town. If their skin is a different shade. If they are in a different part of life than we are. We’ve have made huge mistakes, historically as a church, by discounting and discrediting the way that God is already at work in all of us. In marginalized people, in people of color, in the LGBT community, and in our youth. We have put bushel baskets over lamps, refusing to let their lights shine, because we refused to see the work that God was doing. And we’ve suffered for those mistakes. Not only because we have hurt people whom God calls precious, but because we are missing out on the amazing gifts that those people bring in building the Kingdom of God. God working through common elements is a humbling reminder: If God can come incarnate as a crying brown baby in an occupied land, if God can work through the every day building blocks of water and wine and bread, then God can certainly use me and my neighbor.
And so here we are, a fragmented and failed people and Jesus says to us, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are my plan bring Heaven to earth.”
The Good News here is that its not as if God doesn’t know what God’s doing. It’s not that God doesn’t truly see us and the messes that we’ve made. No. God made us and God knows us. God sees us in all of our frailty and says, “YES. THESE are the people for the job. Because these are MY people.”
Jesus reminds us in scripture today that he’s not really up to anything new. When Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” Jesus reminds us that using common, messy things, has always been the way that God works. We are reminded of the Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment, who was the bearer of the Law. We’re reminded of the Prophets, people of common birth who railed against the establishment and lived on the fringe. Jesus is reminding us that coming to ordinary, problem-riddled people and through ordinary, everyday things is something that has been part of God’s plan all along. This isn’t new. This is the way God operates.
And if God operates this way, in the small things, then so can we. As Desmond Tutu said, “Do a little bit of good wherever you are. Its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” When we do simple, radical acts like loving God, loving ourselves, and loving our neighbor, we start to invade a dark and flavorless world and inject it with an infectious and unstoppable force that fills the whole earth with radiant, never-ending light.
So may you be empowered to love the God who has already extravagantly loved you. May you believe this truth: that you are worthy and powerful beyond measure because you are claimed as such by the one who made you. And may you have the eyes see God at work in your neighbor, so that together, our light will shine so brilliantly, that all who see it will give glory to our Father in Heaven.