THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN
Last Sunday we heard one of the best known passages of the New Testament: The Beatitudes. Found in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the Beatitudes introduce The Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes begin in this way: Seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain. When he was seated (in ancient times people sat down to teach), His disciples came to Him. He opened his mouth and taught them what it meant to be blessed. He said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you,
and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad,
for great is your reward in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Beatitudes end there, but The Sermon on the Mount continues for two more chapters. Today we heard the passage that immediately follows The Beatitudes: the discourse on salt and light.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Jesus continued, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
There’s a hymn beloved by many: I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light. I want to Follow Jesus. And yes, we think of Jesus as the light of the world, and rightfully so, but that’s not what we hear him say today. Today he says to his followers, you are the light of the world. That’s something different. I hear it as a challenge.
You are a follower of Jesus. Did you ever think of yourself as the light of the world? Do you want to be the light of the world? Do you want that kind of responsibility?
As for me, it’s easy to see myself as a sheep tended by The Good Shepherd. I’m just another one of the flock. Jesus takes care of me. He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul. Sounds great to me. Sign me up.
But the light of world? Me? Frankly, that’s not an image that appeals to me. That sounds like a very big responsibility. Who am I to take that on? I’m just a regular guy.
Author Marianne Williamson comes at this differently. She writes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Have you ever watched a young couple as they prepare to welcome their first baby? Typically, they change in major ways. They have a lot of growing up to do, and they have to do it quickly. This is only natural. A child requires new responsibilities and offers new challenges. It’s all about stepping up to the plate.
It today’s gospel Jesus tells his followers to step up to the plate. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. So let your light shine. Let others see your good works, not for your glory but for the glory of your Father in heaven.
As a baptized follower of Jesus, you have been given both authority and responsibility. You may not want authority and responsibility, but there’s no undoing your baptism. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. It’s up to you to demonstrate good works so that God may be glorified.
St. Theresa of Avila put it this way:
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
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
You’re the salt of the earth. You’re the light of the world. Are you behaving that way? Are you being responsible with the authority you were given at baptism? Are you doing good works that bring glory to God? Or do you choose to remain oblivious like a little lamb?
Are you ready to do some growing up and become a mature Christian? Remember that young couple about to welcome their first baby? They changed in major ways. They took on new responsibilities and faced new challenges. They stepped up to the plate.
Are you ready to do the same? I hope so. Because like it or not, ready or not, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “In the Church of Sant’Egido in Rome, home of an extraordinary community of lay people devoted to working with the poor, there is an old crucifix that portrays Christ without arms. When I asked about its importance to the community, I was told that it shows how God relies on us to do God’s work in the world. ‘Without us, God has no eyes, without us, God has no ears; without us, God has no arms or hands. God relies on us. Won’t you join other people of faith in becoming God’s partners in the world?’”
If you haven’t done so already, will you now step up to the plate?
[As the people left church that day the priest gave each person a salt packet saying “You are the salt of the earth,” and a birthday candle saying “You are the light of the world.”]
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