The Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany…Series A
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (February 4&5-2017)
Text: Matthew 5: 13-20
Title: Be What You Are!!
When George H. W. Bush (the 41st POTUS) was running for re-election in the summer of 1992, the campaign made a stop at a North Carolina nursing home. As President Bush walked thru the facility, he noticed a very distinguished looking elderly gentleman sitting in a wheelchair, Bush leaned over, smiled and asked the man, “Sir, do you know who I am?”. The man looked up…shook his head and said, “No, I’m afraid I don’t…but if you go to the nurses’ station, I’m sure they can tell you”.
Who are we…what is our identity as the 21st century disciples of the Carpenter from Nazareth? In our Gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Jesus speaks about our identity …he tells us “Who we are”…”You are the Salt of the Earth, Jesus says…you are the Light of the world”. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “you really ought to strive to be the salt of the earth…you really ought to work hard to be the light of the world”. No…Jesus is not issuing a command…he is making a statement of fact…Before he asks us to do anything for Him…he blesses us with the truth about who we are…You ARE the Salt of the Earth…you ARE the Light of the World!!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes two very important statements about our identity as His beloved disciples and about our mission in the world.
First, Jesus reminds us that we (individually and collectively as His Body the Church) do not exist as an end in itself but as a means to an even greater end and that is nothing less than the redemption and salvation of the whole world. The church does not exist for itself…we must never forget that…the church does not exist for its own edification and perpetuation…friends, it’s not about US! The church exists for others! This reminds me of a very famous statement made by William Temple who served from 1942 until his death in 1944 as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican communion. Temple observed that the Church…the Corpus Christi…the Body of Christ is the only human organization which exists solely for the benefit of those who are not members…Think about that for a moment…“The Church is the only human organization which exists not to benefit it’s members, but to benefit those who are not currently members. I’m afraid that I have to disagree with Bishop Temple…I think there is at least one other organization which exists solely to benefit those who are not members (the SPCA…Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). But I understand and agree with what Bishop Temple said…the Church is a MISSIONARY organization…we (individually and collectively) exist for the sake of others…for the sake of the World Jesus loved and came to redeem and save! Another way to say the same thing…to make the same point is to say that Christ does not feed us, week after week at His holy altar…he doesn’t feed us with His Word and Sacraments, to make us fat spiritually…Christ feeds us to make us FOOD
for a hungry, hurting and lonely world…a world filled with hungry, hurting and broken people!!
The second point that Jesus makes about our identity and our mission is that our living out of our Christian faith is not a private matter…in fact if our faith is something private…something we keep to ourselves and don’t share with others then we are guilty of hiding our light under a bushel basket, rather than putting it on a lampstand where it can give light to the entire house. Friends, your faith in Jesus Christ…though very, very personal, must never be private…why, because you are “The Light of the World” and a city built on a hill cannot…must not be hidden…Our faith is personal…but it isn’t private…and, as I said in my homily last weekend, sitting on the sidelines in silence is not an option for the Christian…your faith in Jesus is personal but it must never be private…your faith in Jesus compels you to “go Public” in your witness to the Gospel of Grace!
On Monday evening I attended a Pre-Diocesan Convention hearing (with our three delegates to the Diocesan Convention) which was held at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. During the hearing we heard about a resolution which is being sponsored by the Anti Racism commission of the Diocese and will be presented at the Convention in Princeton. The resolution is to make the Diocese of NJ a “SANCTUARY DIOCESE’ What this means is that the Diocese will stand in solidarity with some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society…the millions of undocumented immigrants, and we will say to these people, in no uncertain terms, “You are welcome in the churches of the Diocese of NJ and you will find hospitality and help and you will experience the love of Christ in our midst””. Friends, I believe with every fiber of my being that this is exactly what the church should be and should do…this is the kind of bold public witness that we need to make and I plan to vote in favor of the resolution. If you have any questions, please speak with Sue Espenshade…she is a member of the Anti Racism commission…the commission that is sponsoring this important resolution.
Friends, here is the great Good News that we celebrate on this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany…in the Holy Gospel, Jesus tells us exactly Who We Are…there is no uncertainty…no ambiguity…and there is no “identity crisis” in Christ’s Church…We know who we are…Jesus tells us: We ARE the Salt of the Earth…We ARE the Light of the World…and, because we know who we are, we can have clarity about what it is we are supposed to do…real clarity about our mission and ministry in the world. And after Jesus tells us Who We Are, His’ essential word for us this morning is this: Be What You ARE…BE WHAT YOU ARE…be what you were created to be…be what in the waters of your Baptism you were called and commissioned and sent out into the world to be…SALT and LIGHT…to penetrate and to purify and to preserve and to brighten the little corner of the world you call home. And friends, it is amazing…it is absolutely astonishing what a little salt and even the smallest amount of light can actually do!! So don’t be discouraged…be of good cheer and go out in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the blessing of Jesus and BE WHAT YOU ARE SALT and LIGHT!!