The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2017 – Isaiah 58:1-12; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-22
No doubt you have heard the old fable of the King and his daughters.
“How much do you love me,” the King asked his daughters.
“I love you as much as my life!” the first daughter says.
“That’s good,” the king says to himself.
“I love you as much as the whole world!” the second one says,
“That’s good too,” the king says to himself.
And he asks the third, his dearest, “How much do you love me, my dear?”
And the third daughter says, “I love you as much as salt.”
Salt? the king thinks. Salt!?
And the king was exceedingly angry and sent her out of his kingdom forever.
You probably know the end of the story too:
How the King arrived years later at the wedding feast of his youngest daughter, not knowing it was hers; how she ordered all his food to be prepared without salt; and it was so tasteless and terrible he could not eat a single bite. And the King burst into tears, for he knew then that his daughter loved him with a love that gave life its savour and the world its light.
Jesus asks us today to be salt.
It is as curious a request today as it was in the time of the fable. Salt the ordinary, salt the invisible. Salt is the humblest of ingredients. You cannot even see it when it is sprinkled on your food. It is best, in fact, when it does not draw attention to itself.
But it is salt that gives life its savour. Invisibly, humbly, it does its work, bringing out the food’s goodness, making an ordinary meal extraordinary.
You are the salt of the earth, Jesus says. He knows—God knows!—we are ordinary. But he gives us this work: humbly, invisibly, sprinkled among the people of the world, to restore to life its savour, the beauty of the earth.
How do we do this? What makes us of all people, this motley crew, the salt of the earth?
We have, Paul says, the mind of Christ. We live in Jesus Christ, and so we see differently. Running through all the ordinary days, we hear the echo of an extraordinary grace. For a cross rises here in the midst of our life, a cross and an empty tomb.
Over the Saturday shopping and cleaning, over the work of the week; over the people who hurry through the streets, head down in the winter grey, huddled in their coats. Over the news, the worrisome news. Over the machinations of the nations. Over the city a cross rises, unseen; unheard. Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him. Over the ordinary day here at Gerrard and Broadview, at Yonge and Bloor, a cross rises, and in it such a light as to pierce the corners of the night. The world for the most part does not know it. But we have the mind of Christ. We know Christ crucified, this great good news bubbling up at the heart of our days. We know that this day is extraordinary, the place of God’s grace. And so we live in the midst of it all heads up, even in difficult times with a certain joy.
It is like your wedding day. I remember heading to the church on that Saturday morning of our wedding, swathed in satin with a crown on my head, and all around me on the streets of the town people were going about their ordinary business. Groceries. Baseball practice. Banking. Don’t they know? I thought. There’s a wedding happening! On this day, hidden in the midst of you, a great joy, while you are going about your ordinary lives. And both are true. This everyday. And in the midst of it, a great joy.
So it is on every day. Jesus Christ crucified and risen, for love of us. We have been called to the wedding supper of the lamb.
We are sent into the world like a bride on her wedding day strangely swathed in satin, with a crown on our heads in the midst of the grocery shopping, sent into the every day world with wonder written on our hearts.
Christ written on our hearts, his cross rising over our lives, at Yonge and Bloor in the middle of the crowd.
We know what God has done for us and for all the bustling people. It is a hope in our hearts and a song in our lives, always and everywhere, in our ordinary days. Always the song in our hearts, for Christ has died and Christ is risen and the world can never again be grey. Always the song in our lives, for at the bottom of all things there is such a love. There is such a hope. There is this light that lightens our days, Christ here among us, God in the midst of us, bringing us to light and life.
And so we are lights in the world.
Let your light so shine before others: it is the gift that is given to us at our baptism, as we become Christ’s own. It is the commission given to us there. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works.
The light that shines in our hearts, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, spills over into the world in the ordinary days of our lives.
This grace we are given, knowledge of Christ and his cross, is known in the works of our hands. Jesus is quite clear about this. Our light shines in the works of our hands.
Last week Jeff Boldt and I stopped by St John the Compassionate Mission. There we met a young priest, Fr. Nikolai, who showed us around the hall and the beautiful sanctuary and told us about the Mission’s work. A large part of it is feeding the hungry. The homeless and poor, eating with the brothers in the midst of a fragrance of incense from the worship of the church and the gleam of saint’s halos, the hungry eating in the midst of the glory of God. There is something profoundly true about what they are doing there. Heaven and earth in little space: earth’s need, earth’s poverty taken into the glory of God. Each ordinary life lifted up, in that moment extraordinary. And it is the love of Christ that makes it possible. Christ’s love for us, sung by the brothers in their worship, spilling out into the streets in the work of their hands.
You are the salt of the earth. Most ordinary in the midst of the world. The Mission looks like nothing from the outside. You notice mostly the garbage cans and the old paint. But inside: glory and grace together, the love of Christ in a loaf of bread, in the hands held out like his, giving this world back its savour.
And there is this, too. The Mission is Orthodox. They are an ancient church, and they hold very closely to the ancient Word. It is, it seems to me, no accident that in their midst the light of Christ shines. For Jesus ties the light of his love to the keeping of his word. We have the mind of Christ. It is this that makes us salt.
It is as we bring Jesus Christ to the world, him and no other, that we bring our world hope. And Jesus Christ is known through the Scriptures of the church.
I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. Keep these commandments. It is not rocket science. It is quite straightforward. Let your light shine in the works of your hands, Jesus says, and keep my commandments. The joy of Christ’s saving love making our hands a blessing. The truth of his Scriptures guiding our feet. Christ first and last, his Word and his grace; so that we may be salt in the city.