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Sermon: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Sunday, February 9, 2014

Let’s Get Salty! …or The Truth About Ourselves

by Chris Michaelis

Texts: Isaiah 58:1-12 + Psalm 112:1-9 + 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 + Matthew 5:13-20

“You are salt.” “You are light.” These are pretty appropriate words for us to hear today in the midst of one of one of the worst winters in recent Chicago memory, right? A couple more hours of daylight would be great rather than having to walk home from work in the dark. And I think we can all agree that some more salt on the roads would be immensely helpful in keeping the snow and ice at bay. And yet, the sun still sets at 5 p.m. in these longer nights of winter; the snow keeps coming even in the midst of salt shortages across the state. So what are we to do? What are we, we who Jesus calls salt and light, called to be in the world?

In the words from Isaiah today, we hear that the people of Israel are becoming disgruntled. “Why do we fast, God, but you do not see? Why do we humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” And God responds, “You are only looking to serve yourself by fasting. You fast only to quarrel and fight. This fasting, this self-aggrandizement, will not make your voice heard.” Isaiah goes on, “A true fast is one that undoes the bonds of injustice, frees the oppressed, and removes the load from the burdened. Fasting shares bread with the hungry, houses the homeless, clothes the naked, and satisfies the needs of the afflicted.”

I was sitting down in Haberland Hall on Wednesday night at our weekly St. Luke’s Community Dinners and I was sharing a meal and conversation with two gentlemen, Angél and Luís. Angél and Luís have been coming to Community Dinners for about 5 months and in recent weeks, they’ve actually been bringing food from their own house to serve at the dinners. This past Wednesday, they brought pollo guisada, which is a spicy chicken stew, and rice. Think about this for a second, these two gentlemen, who 6 months ago may not have even known about St. Luke’s, are cooking enough food for 50 people in their own kitchen with groceries they bought. To me, that’s remarkable. So I asked them, “¿Por qué lo hace? Why do you do it? What compels you to devote your own time and money to this ministry?” To which Angél replied, “Tenemos que hacerlo. We have to do it. We can’t not do it. Growing up, our mom was very religious, and she would read us these stories from the Bible, and so much of it was about doing to others what is right. We’ve been given so much, we have the ability and the means, and we know how to cook delicious food. It’s just not even a question for us. We think that what you’re doing here is so important and so needed in our community, we just wanted to be a part of it by doing what we can.”

People of St. Luke’s, what you’re doing is changing the world. Through the social justice committee, through public advocacy for affordable housing, through activism for economic justice, through Community Dinners…you are making a difference in the world. Keep it up. And if you’ve never been to one of our Community Dinners, come on Wednesday nights at 5 and see and hear some of these incredible stories for yourself. It’s truly a gift from God.

“You are salt.” “You are light.”

These are pretty declarative statements from Jesus. They’re not conditional. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus does not say, “If you do X, Y, and Z, then you will be salt. If you do A, B, and C, then you will be light.” No, Jesus says “You are salt. You are light.” Jesus is telling us a truth about ourselves. God, in Jesus, looks deep into our very being and tells us who we are. But sometimes, the truth, in actuality, may not be as pretty or wonderful or as rosy as we might think.

"You can't handle the truth!"

“You can’t handle the truth!”

In a well-known scene in a ‘A Few Good Men’, Jack Nicholson, after much coercion and badgering, screams at Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!” In court rooms across the country, we ask witnesses to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. See, in matters of justice, the truth is vital. In these verses about salt and light, Jesus is telling us the truth about ourselves.

But are we ok with that? Do we agree? Do we think that we’re salt and light? If we’re honest, sometimes, maybe we’re not comfortable with being salt and light. We might not think that we’re the type of person that God wants to be salt and light in the world. And we may try to hide our light, and cover it with a basket. What are the bushels that we put over our light? Is it insecurity…a lack of confidence…drugs…alcohol…? Our bushels can look like a variety of different things. We think that there’s no way that God, the author of the universe, could possibly want to use us to bring about God’s kingdom. Surely, you’ve got the wrong person, God.

But Jesus is clear here, too. No one covers their light with a basket, for then what good is it. No, let your light shine, so that the good that you do will be seen by the world. The truth never just stands on its own. It always has an impact on other things around it. Truths…have consequences. The salty and enlightening truth about us means that what we do matters. How we live as salt and light in the world has a direct effect on everyone we come into contact with. Salt and light do not exist for themselves, they only fulfill their purpose when they are used, or poured out. Our saltiness and lightedness are gifts from God, and are who and what we are, what will we do with these gifts?

These gifts from God also come to us in the sacraments. In wine and bread, and in water. In baptism, God calls us as God’s own. God claims us as daughters and sons and calls us “Beloved.” God reaches out through ordinary means, and tells us the deepest truth about ourselves. “You are mine. You are my child. I love you… You are salt. You are light.”

This truth does not come with expectation, or requirement, or condition. It is a gift given freely. And yet, through the cool and rushing waters of baptism, we are permanently changed.We no longer go through the world passively. We are claimed and called by God to bring about the kingdom of heaven here and now.

At the beginning of the service, you were sprinkled with water from the font as a reminder of your baptism. As you return to your seat after receiving communion, I also want to invite you to dip your hand or finger in the font, feel the cool and refreshing waters of God’s promise, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead or across your body. Remember that you are claimed and called by God. Remember that you are God’s beloved. You are salt. You are light. And you are loved.

Amen.

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