Sunday February 9, 2020

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 2020a

Old Testament – Isaiah 58:1-9a

New Testament – Matthew 5:13-20

Fragments Of A Mirror

INTRODUCTION: Sodium chloride, or salt as we typically know it, is way more than just seasoning to make food taste better. Turns out, it has all kinds of other handy uses which make life better and easier in a whole lot of different ways.


Next time you drop an egg on the floor, well, forget trying to immediately wipe up the gooey, sticky, mess. Instead, sprinkle it liberally with salt, let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then just easily wipe it up.


Again, when it comes to eggs, salt can also help you determine if that carton in the fridge has gone bad or not. To test an egg for freshness, put it in a cup of water with two teaspoons of salt. A fresh egg will sink, while a bad one will float.  


And as many of you probably know, salt is a really good all-around cleaning agent. Mix salt with a little turpentine and you can make the yellow enamel on old wash tubs and toilets nice and white again.


And then there are those beloved coffee pots with coffee stains on the interior. Fill the pot with a ¼ cup of salt and about a dozen ice-cubes. Swish the mixture around and let sit for about half an hour. After that, rinse it with cold water and you’ll once again have a bright and shiny coffee pot.


Given that I recently came across an article claiming coffee pots are some of the biggest germ carriers in people’s homes, maybe not a bad idea to do every few weeks.


And finally, if you are tired of having to scrape ice off of your car’s windshield in the mornings try this trick. Wrap a good bit of salt up in some cheesecloth, lightly wet it, and then rub it on your windshield.


No wonder some people estimate there are up to 14,000 thousand different uses for salt. Sure, we use it just about everyday for food, but there are also so many other ways it makes life better.  


Well, given all that, it should hardly be a surprise to hear that Jesus liked to use salt as a metaphor for discipleship.


Fresh on the heels of announcing that the meek, the poor in spirit, the hurting, and the merciful, are especially favored folk by God, Jesus moves directly to talking about the fundamental nature of the Christian life:


“You are 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.”


Translation: What good is a person of faith if they simply sit around staring at their belly buttons all day in the midst of a hurting and needy world? Well according to Jesus, they’re not worth much.


Eugene Peterson, in his translation of the Bible into contemporary language, likes to put Jesus’ words this way: “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”


So disciples, as far as Jesus is concerned, are to be like salt. In the same way salt makes life better, we too are to do the same.


Something similar, of course, is also going on when it comes to light.


After comparing discipleship to being like salt, Jesus then quickly moves to also using light as yet another metaphor. “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 the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all the house.”


And we’re to shine with our lives, according to Jesus, we’re to bring warmth and life and energy and brightness into the world, not for our own glory or benefit, but rather as living, breathing representatives of God’s charity and love. In the same way a mirror reflects light, we’re to reflect God’s goodness so others might also know of God’s mercy and grace.          


As many of you know, whenever a new crop of our youth go through confirmation and are received into active membership, we celebrate that occasion during a worship service by giving them each a candle and a small hand-turned bowl full of salt. It’s a nice and vivid way to remind them, as well as us more seasoned disciples, of the high calling that comes with being a followers of Jesus Christ.


Or, again, as Eugene Peterson likes to translate Jesus’ words, “Now that I have put you on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God.”


And so do you see how we’ve all been commissioned to serve as heralds of God’s good news? After all, the “you” that Jesus uses in the Greek when saying, “Now you are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” is decidedly in the plural form.


Jesus gets to talking about the importance of sharing the good news and his command to engage in such work, it turns out, is given to every single one of us.


It’s isn’t a command reserved solely for seminarians who are receiving theological training. Nor is it a charge meant only for ministers of Word and Sacrament wearing robes and who are good at using fancy words.


Nor is it meant merely for those folks among us who have frayed and well-worn Bibles from continual and repeated reading. And surely most of all, Jesus’ command isn’t meant exclusively for that rather strange and odd group of people we know today as Ministers of Evangelism.


For while there are many things about the church that might surely mystify our Lord and Savior, the fact that we have a special category known as Ministers of Evangelism has got be at the top of the list. For that job, after all, belongs to each and every one of us. Together, as a community of redeemed and saved folk, we are to be salt and light for the world.


There is a story about a church that set out to build a new sanctuary. It was beautifully constructed and had interwoven throughout it many of the traditional symbols associated with Christianity.


There was a cross at the front of sanctuary, a communion table and baptismal font, some marvelous stained glass windows, and even a high hung pulpit that the minister actually had to get to by climbing a flight of stairs.                 


But there was also one thing put in the new sanctuary that seemed a bit odd at first. You see, a conscious decision was made to have little niches built into the walls of the sanctuary and along the bases of the windows.


And then the people in charge did something pretty neat. They assigned every member of the congregation a niche with instructions that they were to provide the needed candles for each of the small openings. Needless to say, the niches with their assorted different candles served as continual reminders to the congregation of their collective calling.      


“You,” says Jesus to any and all that would seek to follow him, “you are the light of the world.”


Robert Fulghum, in his book It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, tells that great story of a man named Dr. Papaderos, who lived through World War II as a small boy on the island of Crete.


Shortly after the war was over, Dr. Papaderos stumbled upon a wrecked German motorcycle from which he took a shattered piece of glass. And as Dr. Papaderos tells it, while growing up he would often pass the time by trying to reflect light from the piece of glass into dark crevices and holes. The aim of the game was to shine light into the places that it normally couldn’t reach.


But as Dr. Papaderos got older, he realized the game had turned into a metaphor for his life. Or as he puts it in the story,


“As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just child’s play but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light—the light of truth, understanding, and knowledge—is there, and that light will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.


I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the dreary places in the hearts of men [and woman]—and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”


CONCLUSION: Well, some pretty good imagery for us to ponder, isn’t it?


For it turns out, we too are called to do much the same thing. As followers of Jesus Christ we are commissioned to be salt for the earth and light for the world. For what good is a light when placed under a bushel basket, or salt when it is allowed to grow so stale it loses its saltiness? Well, not much in either case.  


As fragments of a mirror, we are to let our light shine. We are to shine light into the dark and dreary places of this world, and by the grace of God, hopefully change some things along the way.


So shine, brothers and sisters, shine. 


To the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.