Pastor Paul E. Hoffman
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Claudio was an anxious Eucharistic minister. And he wore his anxiety on his sleeve, so much so that one day I finally asked him about it.
“Such holy things, pastor. Such holy things. When I carry the chalice I’m carrying such holy things. In my head there is always a voice that is repeating, ‘don’t drop it, don’t spill it, just do what you’re called to do; don’t drop it, don’t spill it, just do what you’re called to do…’”
As we catch up with Jesus this morning, the Sermon on the Mount continues. Preaching to his disciples and the crowds, Jesus echoes what Claudio was feeling, “just do what you’re called to do.” In the case of equipping first-century witnesses Jesus gives guidance that is very clear and positive. He speaks to his beloveds of such holy things:
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Honestly, the power and the impact of Jesus declaration is lost on us. In our overstimulated culture, the metaphors of salt and light seem – well – a bit bland and dim. They are gifts we take for granted
But salt was essential to survival in Jesus’ day. It wasn’t just an optional ingredient that might be added to food to spice things up like cumin or cayenne. Salt was used to preserve food and blazed a trail for international trade. It functioned as an antiseptic, saving lives from infection and disease. As it became more and more valuable as a commodity, it stood at the center of economic and political power.
In a similar way, we who live in the bright glare of cities that never sleep have only the faintest idea of how light functioned before elec-tricity. News flash: the ancients didn’t have a beam of light from their smartphones to find whatever was lost under the car seat, or to blaze a pathway from the bed to the bathroom in the night.
Declaring his people to BE salt and light is a new wisdom that Christ preaches. It is not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age. It is a new wisdom that Matthew proclaims along with the apostle Paul, the wisdom of Christ and him crucified. Those who are salt and light in the world not only bring this new wisdom into the world, Jesus proclaims that they actually ARE that wisdom in the world. YOU are that wisdom in the world. You, people of God, are salt and light.
Jesus pushes the envelope. As Jesus often does. Listen: I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Say it like this: there is a difference between knowing about salt and light and being salt and light. A difference between knowing about our Lord Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead and being our Lord Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.
Jesus invites us to let our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and to let our light shine. To be his love in the world. This is what Christ means when he says, I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. I am not interested in followers who know about righteousness, or who know about salt, and light, and commandments and teachings. I am not interested in followers who are god-ish. I am interested in followers who are Godly.
Let’s be honest. For a guy like me, it is easy to be god-ish. A cradle Lutheran, I grew up in the 60’s in an area of the country that was deeply Christian. I thought everyone was. Honestly, it wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in 1996 that I met a bone fide pagan, someone who openly if not proudly chosen to practice no faith at all. For a guy like me, being god-ish was easy. Very little risk. I have spent my life being able to go along and get along, to be like salt and light in the world.
Jesus wants us to know a greater gift. Jesus wants more for us, because Jesus always longs for what is best for us. Jesus offers us a gift beyond measure.
On a particular Sunday, I noticed that Claudio was possessed of an uncharacteristic calm as an assisting minister. His hands did not shake. When he handed me the chalice and purificator after com-munion his palms were not sweaty. His face was relaxed and radiant, not furrowed and pinched. After worship, I asked him about it.
“Yep, pastor, there’s been a change. I’m no longer overcome with the mantra, “don’t drop it, don’t spill it, just do what you’re called to do.” God has given me a sense of peace. “What changed?” I asked him.
The last time I was Eucharistic minister, when I sat the chalice on the altar, I realized that Christ was not somehow magically in that chalice. I knew that if I spilled it or dropped it, God would understand. When I looked out across the congregation and saw all the people of God that I was privileged to serve, I realized that Christ was not in the chalice. At least not only in that chalice. Christ was now in all of them. In all of us.”
Claudio had come into a new righteousness that did not eliminate one letter, not one stroke of a letter of all that had gone before. He was able to see Christ fulfilling the Law in a way he’d never seen before. He saw God’s people as bearing the cross of Christ to the world. He saw them as salt and light. In short, he moved them in his mind from god-ish to Godly. He might spill some wine, but he also recognized in a truly sacramental way, that God’s love had spilled into the bodies, the hearts, the minds, of God’s people.
Beloved in Christ. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are not like a bit of seasoning to make bad things a little better. You are not just a sprinkling of light to make someone’s random hard day a little bit brighter. God has been and will once again today be spilled into you.
On our body and in our heart, through our words and by our actions, we ARE salt and light. It’s very sacramental. What once was in the loaf and chalice is now in us. We are bread for the hungry, drink for all who thirst. We are no longer god-ish. Baptized into Christ we are Godly. It is both joy and privilege, gift and task, and Jesus walks with us every step of the way. Because he lives, we shall live also, to bring Christ to the world for others. Light for the world to see.
Salt and light. Christ in the world. This is who we are. Rise and shine, people of God. Godly people. Bringing peace to the troubled. Food to the hungry. Shelter to the homeless. Such Godly people we are called to be. Such Godly people we get to be. Godly salt. Godly light.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.