This sermon was preached on February 9, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were
Isaiah 58: 1-9a
1 Corinthians 2: 1-12
Matthew 5: 13-20
Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a couple of different light sources (light up legos, glow sticks, electric tea lights). What does light do for us? (Accept all answers) Light shows us the way, light lets us see things more clearly. Jesus says that we are this kind of light-we show the way to God, we let people see God in us and God’s love. But what if I put this light in this box…does that work? No! Jesus tells us today that we can’t hide ourselves, we can’t hide our light. When we baptize people, sometimes as babies, sometimes as older people, we light a candle and give it to them and say the words from our bible story this morning “Let your light so shine before people so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” How can we shine our light? What are good things that we can do to show people about God’s love? I have a light for all of you today to remember that you are light and love and go and shine! Let’s pray:
I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, but everyone else in my family is and they dragged me to one movie many years ago. I don’t even remember which one it was, but I do remember that in that movie one of the scenes was when Harry (and maybe his friends too) got ahold of the “Cloak of Invisibility.” Harry used it to move freely around the Hogwarts and to do his investigative work on whatever intrigue he and his friends were trying to figure out. Harry was able to hear conversations without being noticed and see goings on without the people knowing of his presence. Being invisible had its advantages for Harry and even had an element of fun for a while. Being invisible often sounds to us like fun and we think about all the possibilities of what we could see, do and hear with no one noticing us. Oh, we could have dirt on our friends and enemies, we might learn things that otherwise we wouldn’t. But being invisible has its down sides as well. If Harry were to be permanently invisible, such as the old “Invisible Man” movies and tv shows, that would come with some serious drawbacks. No one would see what you do, you would *never* be noticed and it would seem as if you didn’t matter. To truly be invisible would be lonely, without purpose and unfulfilling.
But being invisible does have a certain appeal at times in our lives. To just be wallpaper, unnoticed and unremarkable can seem like a better alternative to people knowing you exist and then demanding certain things from you. It’s a difficult time in our world today to find our voices as people of faith and I must admit that even as a pastor, a public figure there are times I would prefer to just fly under the radar, not speak up, keep my head low, and then no one will see or hear me and life will be peaceful and easy. Except that’s not quite how it works I find. Hiding my voice, my thoughts and my faith leaves me feeling disjointed, inauthentic and wondering if those things really matter. There’s a definite tension. Last week in Phoenix my best friend and I had rented a VRBO were there was as permanent tenant. Ask me about that after church, the set-up in the house was a little odd, but at one point the tenant asked me, as we were headed out the door to meet my family for dinner, if I had a job and I said yes, I am a pastor. Well, then I had to hear for the next 15 minutes about his faith growing up, his opinions on religion, questions on female ordination and other things. Leta looked at me in the car and said, “next time just say you manage a large non-profit.” Which is true and is less conversation provoking than saying you are a clergy person, particularly as female clergy. But hiding, keeping my vocation and call invisible doesn’t feel right either. I am who I am and that can’t be hidden.
Last week in the Beatitudes that Pastor Gordon preached on, we hear Jesus proclaiming that the people whom the world calls less then, God calls blessed and loved. Those whom the world wants to be invisible, God sees and values. Jesus then goes on in our passage today to say that the community of God’s people, are salt and light. Notice that isn’t something we strive to be or Jesus says we should look into becoming, but we already are. Period. End of story. And not individually, but together. The “you” is “you all” plural. We are salt and we are light. We are who we are in the life and love of God. And who we are in community matters in the world, just like salt and light matter in every day life, Jesus says.
Salt was an important resource in the ancient world. Salt had more value than gold. Salt can preserve, sanitize, disinfect and in ancient folklore-ward off demons and other evil spirits. People were paid in salt which is the root of our word “salary.” Salt literally made the world go around. Light was a commodity in the ancient world as well. Night-time was very dark, no street lamps, no ambient light, only what candle or oil lamp you had. So every little source of light meant safety, security and illuminated what was important. Hiding light would be wasteful and unthinkable. To be called salt, meant that you had value, worth and importance, and to be called light meant a prominent place in a room or household. Jesus was intentional about these words spoken to people whom the rest of society deemed valueless, what’s more these words highlighted that hiding oneself, staying invisible or under the radar wasn’t an option for God’s people. Salt is of no use in a container on a shelf in a pantry behind a closed door and light doesn’t work covered up. God’s people are called to sprinkle themselves throughout the world, to light up whatever space they may be in to point to the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.
By recalling the importance of the law, Jesus is reminding the people and us, that God has been revealing God’s kingdom of redemption, reconciliation and mercy for generations. Jesus fulfilling the law and lifting up how we are to uphold the law, roots us in God’s proclamation that God’s people are indeed the light to the nations, all nations and God promises to be our God and we will be God’s people no matter what. This is about the covenant, God’s desire to be in relationship with us and Jesus is renewing, in a deeply personal and intimate way, this covenant with people for all time. AND Jesus proclaims the reality that when we are in relationship with God, we are who we are: people who can’t hide, who must be bold, who will be different, set apart, salt, light, and we won’t, can’t be invisible. Baptism highlights this covenant and calls us to be in the community of God’s people and in mission with God. Baptism soaks us in God’s promises for the sake of dripping this love on other people.
It’s not easy to be different, set apart, bold, salty, and shiny. Salt can also sting as it cleanses, and people may recoil in pain as the infection of hate, fear, and divisiveness is healed. Refusing to be invisible in a world that would rather we keep quiet about God’s laws of loving God and our neighbor more than ourselves, will draw criticism and contempt from some. Being seen and refusing to be extinguished brings risk but God promises to be with us as we advocate for just systems, for truth and for wholeness. Shining our light means refusing to hide, to illuminate the truth of God’s work in the world through Jesus Christ, the one who came to proclaim that the way the world had been, the way the world is, isn’t God’s way. The truth of God’s light in the world is to scatter the darkness, the darkness of hard hearts, the darkness of human power, the darkness of ego, the darkness of selfishness, so that hearts shine with love, human power shines for justice for our vulnerable neighbor, ego shines with humility, and selfishness shines with abundance of grace, mercy and joy for one another and for all people.
We are who we are, dear ones in Christ. We can’t be anything but who God created, called, and proclaimed us to be in the waters of baptism. We are salt for the earth and light to the nations. We are God’s people: visible, bold, salty, valuable, important and we shine with God’s love for justice, mercy, forgiveness and love for all creation. Thanks be to God.