Sermon from February 5, 2017
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are some days when you struggle to sense a theme among the readings, where each of them seems to go off in a different direction and there are some days where the three readings seem to be more cohesive. Today seems to be the latter. There is an urging in the readings. Maybe it’s the current socio-policital climate, but as I listen these readings, I’m struck by the call to action, the admonition against complacency, the call to “rise up”, to be the light and the salt that the world so desperately needs.
The timing of the excerpt from Isaiah is interesting. We’re about halfway between New Year’s and Ash Wednesday. People who made New Year’s Resolutions might be struggling to keep them. Others might be looking towards Lent – thinking about what they might be giving up this year. And here comes this prophet and redefines fasting. No longer is it simply about giving up food or drink, but fasting is transformed into challenging injustice. “Releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, sharing bread with the hungry, clothing the naked.” Isaiah’s call to action brings to mind the “corporal works of mercy” I was taught as a child – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit those in prison, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor. But Isaiah goes beyond this. “Release those bound unjustly, set free the oppressed.” These are themes that we often find in liberation theology – of putting “the least of these” at the forefront. The poor, the hungry, the oppressed. What would it look like if this year – or this Lent for starters – we followed Isaiah’s call to fasting? If instead of giving up chocolate or meat, we decided to look at how we could work to right injustice in our communities. Where could we get involved? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that a great deal of that work already goes on here. And in this world we live in needs it more than ever. I also know how easy it is to get overwhelmed, to look around at everything in this world and wonder how we matter in it – how we can make a difference. Remember, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Here I come back to the words from the words from the first reading – “If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, your light shall shine…”
I’ll admit – right now I’m having to resist the temptation to launch into “This little light of mine” but the message is the same. How do we let this light of ours shine? Being a Christian isn’t about hiding away in some upstairs room. And as much as I love liturgy, it’s not just about coming together on Sundays for mass. It’s about living out the gospel in our daily lives, of allowing our actions and words to reflect the love and justice of God.
Here’s Jesus in the gospel, telling those who have come to hear him, “ You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Imagine how empowering that is – not only do you have worth, but you are essential. Salt and light are two things we take for granted – they’re common place in our society, but without them our lives would be difficult. We rely so much on light – the light of the sun, electricity that lets us have light on a cloudy day or after the sun goes down. Today we’re reminded not to hide our light under a bushel. The purpose of our light – is to shine for others. After all, we don’t light a lamp and stick it in the closet. It goes on a table or in a spot where it can shed the most light.
I’ve talked a bit about light, but let’s come back to salt. And not just because it’s Superbowl Sunday and some of us might be craving salty snacks. Salt has many uses. In Polish culture, it’s traditional to great a newlywed couple with bread & salt. Salt comes from the earth and is useful for life. A bit of salt is given to the newlyweds so that they can overcome the bitterness in life. When this is done at housewarmings, it’s so that life may always have flavor. Not enough salt, and food can be bland, or it can spoil. Too much salt, and well, no one wants to eat it. And if you’ve ever oversalted a dish, you know just how difficult it can be to overcome. But food without salt, without seasoning seems to be missing something. Salt can enhance food and flavor.
I think that’s at the heart of both these metaphors – salt and light. Neither are meant to be used alone. We don’t stick a lightbulb under a bucket and a chunk of rock salt won’t do us that much good if our food is bland. It’s about sharing our light – about taking our light and salt to those who are unaware of it. And We can rely on each other and our light will shine all the brighter. And if we feel ill prepared or not ready, then remember the second reading where Paul admits coming to the people of Corinth with fear and trembling, without any particular eloquence of wisdom. We don’t have to be perfect. I’ve often been reminded by my spiritual director “If we are willing, God will make us ready.” So I ask you – are we willing to be the salt and light this world so desperately needs? To challenge injustice at every turn, to set free the oppressed, to share our food with the hungry? If we our, then our light will shine brightly.
I’d like to close with the words of spiritual writer Marianne Williamson:
“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. .. 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.”