2/6/2011 -- Anne-Marie Jeffery -- Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

posted Feb 6, 2011, 3:33 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 6, 2011, 3:37 PM by Terry Brady ]

Lighting and Salting

Anne-Marie Jeffery

Matthew 5:13-20

Prayer:O God, you have turned our world upside-down through the life and teaching of Jesus. Awaken us now to your blessing. Open our ears that we might hear. Stir our hearts that we might act to glorify you in all things, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This past Thursday morning, I ran in to Kate, one of my neighbours, carrying a medium size flat screen TV - about 27 inches.  We took the elevator down together and of course I offered to take it off her hands if she was giving it away.  “No thanks” she said with a smile.  We walked out the front door and went our separate ways. I never found out why Kate was carrying around a TV. 

As chance would have it when got home, Kate was also coming in. “Where's the TV?” I joked and she said she had gotten comments all morning because of the TV. Then she explained a co-worker had broken up with her boyfriend and had to move out. She asked her co-worker if she might need a TV since she had an extra one and the co-worker said yes.  Wow I thought. How generous of my neighbour.  She is truly a kind soul whose faith and love is apparent.” To me that is what it means to be a light to the world. 

All week long I have thought about images of light since Jesus in our second installment of the Sermon on the Mount says that we are to be a light to the world.  My first image was the light at the top of the Capitol that comes on in the evenings when Congress is still in session. I sometimes walk my dog along East Capitol Street and find that light comforting especially if I am struggling with a sermon because I know there are other people working away.  I wondered if it would be helpful if that light could be seen over the whole country so that people could see when congress was working and that they don't go home at 5 pm. It would be, at least symbolically, a light to America.

Then I wondered what it would be like to have light in the top of that small tower we have on our roof that would shine out for all those who walk up and down Connecticut Avenue to see – a beacon signaling that the people of St. Margaret were busy about making a difference. We could put a light out there and that might be kind if nice, but it wouldn't mean much if that light were not actually present in the lives and doings of the people of St Margaret’s. I'm sure critics of congress say - sure that light is on, but what are they actually doing. 

The light that Jesus is talking about goes much deeper than the symbol of having a light on a building. It is found more in the action like that of my neighbour Kate. I found it much more satisfying to think of light in the way one commentary suggests. “Light enables us to see things. Light is the energy that gives things colour, helps vegetation to grow and provides solar power for electricity.”[1] Light can bring action and change.  Or, if we make light a verb you could say, You are that which lights the world.” The same goes for the salt of the earth which Jesus actually mentions first.   "You are that which salts the earth." We light the world. We salt the earth.

Now I need to give an aside about how salt is described in the gospel reading.  Jesus talks about salt losing it's saltiness and having to be thrown away which as a scientist has always bothered me.  Salt, sodium chloride, is one of the most stable compounds on earth.  For salt not to be salt does not happen easily. 

I was pleased to find out from one commentator, who also cares about such things, that the salt Jesus was talking about was not the Morton's box of salt which is so readily available to us, but salt from the Dead Sea. This kind of salt could "lose its saltiness," acquiring the alkaline taste of other chemical compounds present as the salt was dissolved out making it not salty.[2]

How do we be the salt that doesn’t lose its saltiness, how do we be the light of the world? We know. It means living righteously - living with the love of God in our hearts. Cardinal Suhard puts it this way, “You live in a way that makes people ask questions about your life. You exhibit a way of life that makes people scratch their heads and somehow turn to God for an answer. Not by engaging in propaganda not even in stirring people up but in being a living mystery.”[3] I think about the people who have been a light to my life and the deep faith that is often a part of who they are. This I know not by what they say but by who they are and how they live and that certain peace and joy that they carry.

Seeing the example of others is helpful, but sometimes being light and salt seems a very hard thing to be. What if you feel as tasteless as that Dead Sea salt that goes bad? What if you are exhausted from trying to bring light a world that continues to be mired in darkness and injustice and pain?  What if you are ready to put your lamp under a basket?

It is in these times that our communities of faith can be our way back to being light – not just by seeing the example of those around us but by immersing ourselves into a way of living. Churches are places where we keep the hope alive that God's light does shine and shines through us.  In community with each other we help each other. When we get lost in darkness, we help one another find our way back. In our worship, we are reminded of the presence of God. Engaging in the practices of the church - the weekly Eucharist, the daily prayers of the church also called the daily office, reminds us that we are not alone. Our study, reflection and fellowship together keeps us in or helps us back to that place where we do have an opportunity to be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

I was struck but the following quote talking about the Daily Office, but which could be said of many of the things we do as a community of faith. “The daily nature of the church’s prayers is a recognition of the human need for ongoing and regular nourishment, for regular grounding in the truth of the transcendent God...We need to be part of something bigger than we are – and come up against something - and we need to do that frequently and independent of our transient feeling of holiness or happiness and heartbreak.”[4]

My neighbour Kate, whose story I began with, goes to church and I like to think that that has something to do with her loving nature. A community of faith reorients us and reminds us that there is hope in our world. Together we are better able to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. This is the power of our community.

When I give the welcome during the announcements on Sunday mornings I often say you are welcome here because you are who makes St Margaret’s St Margaret’s – essential to this community. You are the salt and light of St. Margaret’s - you who come to worship and then go out and live your lives carrying that welcoming loving spirit. Without you coming through those doors, without your ministry, your work,             your treasure, your prayers and your lives, this would be a closed up building      on Connecticut Ave just north of Dupont Circle with no lights at all. You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Go forth and be that "living presence of the God who bids us be salt in this world in all our savory particularity; to be light in the way that only we can blaze.”[5]

[1] Marcia y. Riggs, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Feasting on the Word, Matt: 5:13-20,

[2] 5. Sunday of Epiphany , 02/06/2011, Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20, by Andrew Smith, http://www.predigten.uni-goettingen.de/predigt.php?id=2684&kennung=20110206en

[3] Synthesis, Epiphany 5, 2011, Vol. 24, No. 2.

[4] Michelle Heyne, In Your Holy Spirit; Traditional practices in today’s Christianity, p. 46-47.

[5] 5. Sunday of Epiphany , 02/06/2011 Sermon on Matthew 5:13-20, by Andrew Smith, http://www.predigten.uni-goettingen.de/predigt.php?id=2684&kennung=20110206en