Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 5, 20-A: Freely, bravely, and continually shine. Final Sermon

Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]; Psalm 112:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]; Matthew 5:13-20

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I have such mixed feelings as I stand here today offering you a sermon on the Word of God for the last time. I’m grateful, however, that the lectionary for last week and this speak to my core message as a preacher. Last week we reflected on being set apart as holy, consecrated to God. This we reflect on being salt and light.

Salt has form and substance. Light exists beyond finite form. We are both - and that is the gift Jesus, the Incarnate Word, gave us. Today, Jesus encourages us to be what we are: salt and light.

So, what does it mean to be salt in this way? It helps to remember that salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. Not only does salt have the unique ability to enhance the flavor of food,it was also used to preserve food, which often meant preserving life.

Jesus said to his followers: You are the salt of the earth. You are a commodity of great value. You are an enhancer and preserver of life.

He also said, "You are the light of the world." Light is a familiar biblical term used throughout the extent of our Scripture. It is the light of God that shines from us to illumine the world - if we choose to be in that kind of relationship with God - and by this light the world comes to know the truth about God. When Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works…” his Jewish listeners understood that he was talking about works of mercy and reconciliation, service to others, which glorifies God.

It’s interesting to notice Jesus says we are salt and light - not that we will be or we could be, but that we already are. Then he encourages us to own that and live it saying, “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good words and give glory to God.”

The prophet Isaiah describes exactly how that looks, reminding us that God isn’t as interested in the form and substance of our worship as in the way our worship forms our relationship with God and motivates us to live and serve in the name of God. Isaiah says, when we “loose the bonds of injustice… let the oppressed go free, and… break every yoke… [when we] share [our] bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into [our] house… “ when we cover the naked and make ourselves present to our sisters and brothers who suffer… “ Then [our] light [will] break forth like the dawn; then God will continually guide us, providing us with all we need including the strength to persist as repairers of the breach, restorers of life.

This is such an important reminder for churches today. We have all we need and what we lack God has ready to give us to live and serve in God’s name.

Churches and individuals are bombarded by the temptation to believe that our value is tied to our financial success, or our physical beauty, or the number of people we claim relationship with, such as, the number who attend on Sundays and the number who follow us as on social media.

There is a distressing cultural outcome of this: so many people who feel powerless or insignificant seek to assert that their lives matter by claiming a moment of fame in the mass destruction of other lives. It’s the only impact on the world they can devise. They have rejected - or never knew- that they are beloved of God and meant to be enhancers and preservers of life, not destroyers of it.

Priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen spoke prophetically to this long ago saying, Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

This is why the church, the beloved community, matters. At some point in our lives, each of us is going to find ourselves tempted to forget our belovedness and descend into self-rejection. In those moments, the church is where we can go in our brokenness, our weakness, our doubt, and someone in the community will be radiating the light of Christ. Just standing near them is enough for their light to dispel our darkness and open our eyes and hearts to the truth of “core truth of our existence” again. The regular offering of worship enables us to be upheld in the prayers of the community when we can’t utter the words ourselves, when we aren’t even sure we believe a single bit of it.

When Jesus spoke this teaching, he was speaking to a community. The “you” was plural: “Y’all are the salt of the earth… Y’all are the light of the world…”

It is in community that we remember and own the truth of ours and everyone else’s belovedness and this sets us free from the bondage of earthly judgment and belief in scarcity. Then, as Nowen says, “Every time we encounter one another we [recognize that we are encountering] the sacred.”

Our church’s mission is to shine the light of the core truth of our existence until everyone believes it… and lives it… and glorifies God for it. Since it is light of God in Christ that shines from us, we don’t need a lot of members or money or programs to live and serve in God’s name. We already have all we need and what we lack is in readiness for us in the abundance of God. Knowing that - believing it - sets us completely free to live bravely and serve continually in God’s name, in whatever path God is guiding us in the present moment.

You are set apart as holy, consecrated to God. You are salt and light. I have seen your light and I can testify to it. I bless you and pray you freely, bravely, and continually let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.


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