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Salt of the Earth, Light of the World

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

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When I arrived home from a meeting Wednesday afternoon I understood why my phone call to my wife went straight into voice mail.  A large portion of a hundred year old oak tree was laying in my driveway on top of the power and cable lines it had taken down with it.  What was truly amazing was that we somehow still had power.  No phone, internet or television – but power to keep the furnace running and the lights on.  We can look at times such as these in different ways.  One way would be to lose ourselves in fear and uncertainty.  While this was an eye opening experience to recognize how much we relied on the convenience of technology and electronic gadgets, it was also an opportunity to watch how community works either against us or for us.  This was also a turning point in selecting the topic for this sermon.   For as much as I wanted to talk about the passage from Paul’s letter this morning, these and several other events were happening that were pointing me to Matthew’s Gospel.  It seemed like every time I’d start to focus on what Paul was writing to the Corinthians there was a little nudge that kept bringing me back to the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Because from the moment I saw the damage up to and including this moment as I stand here with you, there were displays of people being the salt of the earth and letting their light shine – but there were also a few displays of darkness I’ll leave out.  From the young men who cleared away the tree to the electricians and power line workers who spent hours outside in the freezing cold, each one went out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible, letting their own lights shine whether they knew it or not. 

In one sense, we might all agree that an obvious reference to the beginning of Jesus’s teaching is one of being a good friend or citizen.  Yet it’s deeper than that.  It’s when we work from our hearts, standing up and helping others who are not as fortunate as us; that our works act as salt, helping to spice up the world with the flavors of faith, hope, and love.  These are the acts that also light up the dark corners and alleys of the world in places that seldom see light.  When you spend most of your time suppressed and oppressed by events you can’t control, the darkness is a place you know well.  And on the other side of things, if everything is going well for you and you seldom notice something going wrong, it can be difficult to recognize or acknowledge when a stranger or even acquaintance needs assistance.  That can become a problem as well, but on a different level.  My question became; how can we live as this light, share it, and take it to those who are constant witness to the darkness?      

Whether we know it or not, when we ask a question either in absolute seriousness or with time worn cynicism, God has ways of pointing a finger in the direction you should be going.  I needed something more than the obvious and something more was trying to break through.  As I was doing some reading for the other sermon I was planning on, one of those Holy fingers pointed to a quote by the poet Annie Dillard who said, “If you want to see the stars, you have to go into the dark of night.”  “If you want to see the stars” … another thread of thought began to develop in answer to my question.  How often do we even think about looking at the stars anymore?  In these times of around-the-clock work and play with properties lit up like it was Christmas 365 days a year, we have to travel out in the country a good ways if we want to search for the planets and constellations. The night sky is often not very visible with all of the city lights infringing on our night vision.  But yet if want to see the lights of the heavens we have to spend time going out in the darkness of night.  If we truly want to be a light shining in the darkness of the world for all to see we need to take that light to the people who live in the darkness of night and let them be witness to it.  But wait.  There’s more.  

When Matthew quotes Jesus saying “let your light shine before others so they may see your good works” he doesn’t stop right there like we would like Him to.  He continues to say “and give glory to your Father in heaven!”  Not for our glory, but for the glory of God.  If we do good deeds for our own ego and our own intentions of looking better than others, we fail to be the true stars in the darkness.  These sort of acts sound nice, but like the artificial light that obscures the real light in the night skies, it becomes washed out and doesn’t truly illuminate anything.  It hides the very thing we are trying to see.

The real darkness of the night; whether an ordeal more unbearable than most people will ever know, a continuous streak of bad times day after day, or the unimaginable feeling of being separated from God as described in St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul”, the real darkness of the night requires us to stand in it and with those who live there, and bring our light to them.  When we are the stars in the darkness we must allow ourselves to be part of what others experience.  And when we do this not for our own notoriety but for the glory of God, we will be those humble stars that light up the night and stand out in their uniqueness.  The acts will glorify God in every sense of the word. 

            There are many true lights here among us, sitting along-side of us day in and day out, week after week, who truly epitomize Matthew’s gospel of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  What is even more special is that they will never mention it to anyone.  Most of what they do goes unnoticed in the eyes of the general public and that’s the way they want it.  Their acts are not for themselves but for the glory of God.  For this we are eternally grateful.  I mentioned St. John of the Cross and the “Dark Night of the Soul” – if you’ve not read it yet, I encourage you to find the time someday to do so.  Not only because it’s a spiritual literary classic but because it may help you understand some of the darkness you may or may not have already encountered in your lives and be a guide of how to turn from being in the dark to being one of the lights.  A contemporary and friend of his, St. Teresa of Avila says something similar.  She says; “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”  I honestly thank you, for being the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the body of Christ to so many in so many ways.  And thank you for doing it for the glory of God.  Amen.    

Citations:  RCL Year A, 5th Sunday after Epiphany                 Deacon Pete           

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