Sermon for 5th Epiphany
You Already Are
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
In this year’s series of Sunday Gospel lessons, we are working our way through the Gospel of St. Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel, as has been clear these last few weeks and is clear again today, is a gospel of compassion and forgiveness.
And, if you are a person of a certain age, it is hard not to think of Stephen Schwartz’s play, Godspell, a musical that follows the Gospel of St. Matthew, as you read many of these texts. I just cannot help singing, at least inside my head, “Day by Day” or “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” whenever I read Matthew’s Gospel.
For today’s Gospel lesson, the Godspell song of it is not as well known as others in this musical, but that did not stop it from running through my head all week:
You are the light of the world! You are the light of the world! But if that light is under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial, You’ve got to stay bright to be the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the salt of the earth. But if that salt has lost it favor it ain’t got much in its favor. You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!
So let your light so shine before all, Let your light so shine. So that they might know some kindness again. You’ve got to stay bright to be the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
What interests me about these words and this entire text is that Jesus is not saying “You should be the salt of the earth” or “You have to be the light of the world.” And, Jesus is not saying, “You better be salt or light.” No, Jesus is saying you already are the salt of the earth. You already are the light of the world. Even if you do not know it. Even if you once knew it and have forgotten about it. Even if you have a hard time believing it. You ARE light. You ARE salt.
Jesus is making a promise to his disciples, a promise about their very being. Jesus is not commanding them to do something new. Jesus is not threatening them about what they should be doing. No, Jesus is telling them who and what they already are. They/you/we are the light of the world. They/you/we are the salt of the earth.
Think about that a minute. You and I, we are already are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
This goes counter to how so many picture God. So many picture our God as a divine law-maker and/or a divine rule-enforcer, someone who keeps track of the good and bad we do in this life, sort of a cosmic Santa Claus.
Well, in today’s Gospel text, Jesus says NO to that picture and idea. The God of Jesus Christ, the God of you and of me, is not a heavenly judge or a heavenly police officer. No, our God is a generous gift-giver. God took care of our salvation once and for all times in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this passage, Jesus is making promises and giving out gifts. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Similar to last Sunday’s lesson from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount on the Beatitudes, this is sheer blessing. And, it is about our identity, about our very being, which in turn leads to doing.
Think of your lives these past few weeks. Think of the ways God has used you to be salt and light: Think of your words of encouragement to others; your faithful work at your job; the volunteering you have done; the prayers you have offered; the protests you have been a part of or the promises you have made and kept.
Any of these things may seem, in and of themselves, small. But, here’s something important: small is what God most often uses to change the world.
You see, once we, you and I, begin to believe we are salt and light – not simply becoming or hoping to be to salt and light, but actually believe we are salt and light for the world, then we can then continue to be salt and light, letting our light shine so that people will see our good works and we can all give thanksgiving and glory to God.
I believe that this really matters, especially today. If ever there was a time when we needed to be blessed with the gifts of salt and light it’s right now. Check the headlines; listen to the news; glance over the social media pages – there is an unusually pervasive sense of dis-ease in our world and the divisions evident in our country. And that just means that we, you and I, need to remember that we are salt and light and then shine our light all the brighter.
Now we may not all agree of the specifics of being salt and light in this world in these times, but we can all commit ourselves to pray for deeper understanding, to pray for wisdom, and to pray for each other. And, we can also commit ourselves to pray for the courage to speak and act in line with our faith.
Last Sunday we heard the wonderful words of what we call “The Beatitudes,” the blessings, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In these Jesus called blessed all kinds of people the world does not always or often call blessed: those who mourn and are meek; those who are poor in spirit and merciful; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are the people God blesses and calls us to bless.
Much later in Matthew, in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, well after the Sermon on the Mount and just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, our Lord will also call us to discover his presence among those who are without shelter, without adequate food and clothing, and who are imprisoned and lonely. Again, in that text, Jesus is both calling us to be light and salt and giving us examples of how to be salt and light in this world and in these times.
This is a difficult time for many people and for many reasons. We need salt and light in this world. And the crazy thing is that God has already provided it. God has provided God’s salt and light right in and through the persons who are sitting around you in church today and all those you will encounter this week.
So, this week, tell someone they are loved. Tell someone they are blessed. Tell someone, tell everyone, they already are God’s salt and light for this world.
And, tell them that God is not finished with you and them yet, that God will continue to bless this world through our prayers, our words, our deeds as Jesus’ faithful disciples. Jesus is still making promises to and for us today and we can still be changed by them. Our God, as St. Matthew tells us today, is a God of promises and gifts, for us and this world.
As Stephen Schwartz writes in Godspell:
So let your light so shine before all, let your light so shine. So that they may know some kindness again. You’ve got to stay bright to be the light of the world.
(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for his Bible reflections used in this sermon).
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
February 5, 2017