Fifth Sunday After Epiphany — The Rev. Karen C. Barefield

Isaiah 58:1-12    
Matthew 5:13-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“You are the salt of the earth….
You are the light of the world.”

What if we read these words not as a challenge or a demand but as a promise?!
Not “you better be the salt…”
or “you must be the light,”
but “you already are.”

You already are the salt of the earth.
You already are the light of the world.

As disciples of Christ we already are salt and light…we just need to live out who we are!

This way of hearing Jesus’ words comforted me this week as I felt like I was battling an overwhelming darkness in our country and world these days.

We appear to live in a dualistic-thinking world in which there seems to be little Grace.

So much of the news seems to be couched in “us vs. them” language as if there is a competition for all resources instead of an abundance to be shared, a stance of protection rather than openness.

Every time I listen to the news I feel a little more horrified and a little less energized.

You are the salt.
You are the light.

Live into it, Jesus says.

Live out of your saltiness.
Shine forth your light.

Let’s think about it for a minute…
what does salt do?

Salt accomplishes a number of things:
Salt brings out other flavors,
Salt cleanses and purifies;
Salt can function as a healing agent.

All of these properties enhance life.

Salt brings out other flavors…
Perhaps Jesus is saying that as we exhibit a bit of saltiness in our lives, then others will be encouraged to do the same.

If we speak respectfully to others and live our lives with a generosity of spirit, then perhaps others will see that and do likewise…bringing out the best in the other and thus affecting the surrounding community in a positive way.

Salt also can cleanse and purify and thus function as a healing agent.

All you need to recognize this is to step into the ocean with a cut somewhere on your body, and you will feel its sting. As the salt cleanses the wound, it can begin to heal.

We all know those salty agitators in our lives and in the community who step up and speak on behalf of issues of justice…on behalf of people who are being used and abused and oppressed…Jesus was one of those folks.

Perhaps in their truth-telling and confrontation we will recognize the sting of our own wounds that need healing.

And therein lies the function of light in the world…to reveal places that lie hidden in darkness. For example, have you every used hand sanitizer and realized you had a cut you didn’t know existed?

Followers of Christ are beacons of light that illuminate the darkness.

One salty friend posted on Facebook this week that she had called her senator to express her opinion regarding a particular cabinet nominee. That urged me to do the same. Who knows who else was spurred on to take action!

So, in today’s Gospel Jesus confirms our blessings of being salt and light in this world although I imagine we rarely think of ourselves as such.

He says we already are salt and light…we just need to live into those qualities.

Let’s take a moment to look at the flipside…

The only way to lose our saltiness is to utterly dissipate…to melt into nothingness.

And…if you put a lamp under a bushel, it will be extinguished.

Jesus encourages us to claim our saltiness and our ability to bring light to the world.

Life is to be measured not in human pettiness but in God’s abundant Grace,
and it is that Grace which we celebrate and out of which we live.

At St. Joseph’s I often feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I read the Gospel texts.

Consider the myriad ways that we are salt and light in this place…
Cooking breakfast for those who are hungry each weekday at 7:00 a.m.,
Donating clothing for those who have only the clothes on their backs,
Taking food to someone who has just come home from the hospital,
Leading or offering prayer to sustain and heal the lives of many,
Spending the night on the floor so that our neighbors have a warm place to sleep in the bitter cold,
Offering words of encouragement when someone is struggling,
Offering a ride to someone to get to the doctor or another essential appointment,
Standing in protest of unjust laws or calling lawmakers.

The list really is endless.

The Good News in today’s readings is the reminder that we are salt and light…
even when we feel utterly dissipated and surrounded by darkness,
tempted to cynicism or numbness or despair.

When we are feeling overwhelmed, it is the witness of the saltiness and light of our neighbor that stirs us to new life.

And as Isaiah reminds us it is when we share bread with the hungry, cover the naked, and invite the homeless poor in for shelter that we will find our own healing.

The welfare of everyone is bound together.

As we see the light of another shine, we are reminded of our own and are encouraged to let it burn brightly.

My friends, let us be encouraged to walk in the ways of Christ,
opening our hearts and our hands to God and one another,
that God’s abundant Grace may fill the world.