02/09/20 – You Are (Elder Alan Willadsen)


February 9, 2020
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-12; I Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
Elder Alan Willadsen


Once upon a time, there were three boys.  They were brothers.  Their names were Jack, Sam & Ed.  Next door lived a boy named Ben.  Those boys loved to be together, especially outdoors.  They would lie on their backs looking at the shapes in the clouds, or explore the woods behind their house, or play baseball, or ride their bikes through town.

On this particular Thursday, the boys decided to go camping in the woods extending miles beyond their backyards.  As they left, Ben’s mother reminded him they were leaving at 2:00 SHARP on Saturday to go to Aunt Katherine’s 50th birthday party.

As they hiked toward their favorite campsite, a motion off to the side caught Sam’s eye and they stopped abruptly.  What they saw were too many deer to count (does, fawns, and a few bucks).  In addition to the fresh spring growth the deer were enjoying, the critters had discovered a mineral lick.  The deer were getting healthy minerals to supplement their leafy green diet.

Jack, being the oldest (and he thought the smartest, too) motioned for them to back away.  After they were out of sight of the deer, he talked about the importance of such minerals for the animals as they grew.  “Kind of like the way mom makes us drink our milk and take vitamins, those minerals are helping sustain—even preserve—abundant life.  Without those minerals, the deer would surely die.  You are doing the right thing by just watching,” he said.

Later that evening, after setting up camp and having dinner, they were lounging around the campfire, reflecting on how many deer they’d seen, how close they’d gotten, and the way the deer had exactly what they needed.  As the conversation ebbed, all four boys were transfixed by the light of the campfire.  There was something about sitting around a campfire, staring into the flames and coals.

All of a sudden, Ed stood up and turned on his flashlight.  Nature was calling.  The other three boys yelled at him for turning on the flashlight and disturbing their peace.

“Turn off that light!  You’re blinding us!  You are ruining our concentration.”

“But I have to see where I’m going.”

“Then turn away from us and shine it only on the path.”

Ed turned away, embarrassed.  The other three watched him walk down the path, flashlight beam bouncing all around, even up into the trees, as Ed did a little exploring.  Sam yelled, “And turn it off when you’re coming back.  The campfire will give you enough light to find your way.”  Ed returned relieved and amazed at how easily the light of the campfire drew him back.

When the boys broke camp Saturday after lunch, they realized they’d forgotten their commitments for later and practically had to run home with their packs on.  They walked into sight at 1:55. Ben said “bye” to his buddies and “let’s go” to his parents and sisters.  Knowing Aunt Katherine’s party meant an hour in the car, together, in the backseat, Ben’s sisters objected to having to ride so far with the aromatic Ben.

Ben said, “What’s the big deal?  I’m home in time, aren’t I?”

“You are, but you aren’t going to make it an easy, pleasant trip,” replied his mother.

In this week’s Gospel passage, we heard Jesus talking about salt, light and fulfilling the law.  You will remember Jesus is on top of a hill, sitting when he shares the Beatitudes, which come right before this text.  The Beatitudes, while beautiful and powerful, are rather vague, aren’t they?  They leave us wondering who is merciful, or mourning, or hungering and thirsting after righteousness, or a peacemaker.  We know they’re blessed, but who are the meek, the pure in heart, the persecuted, the poor in spirit?  Jesus stops with the platitudes and gets right to it.  “You are.”  “You are.”  “You are.”

You are the salt of the earth.  Not like salt.  Not like earth.  You are salt.  From the Greek halas, which can also mean prudence.  You are prudent and play a part in preserving the covenant with God.  Leviticus 2:13 reads, “You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” “Covenants among ancient peoples were often ratified by eating seasoned food together, and salt evidently became a symbol of covenantal relationship.”[1]

If we cannot determine what is prudent behavior (for ourselves), we are no longer good for anything.  If we cannot preserve our own relationship with God, we are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  Do not let your relationship with God dissipate to the point it has no flavor and does not show forth the love of Christ.  Are we providing part of what is essential for life?  Are we preserving life, as salt-preserved food in days before refrigeration?  As salt makes us thirsty, are we increasing our thirst for compassion?  You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.  Not “a light.”  Not “to the world.”  You are light.  In talking to his disciples, Jesus is telling us we are like him.  Think of the imagery of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(9:2)   Here he is already preparing them (us) to be what he is after he departs. Light allows God’s goodness to be on full display in our lives.  Our responsibility is two-fold:  guard against anything that can separate us from the only source of light and let God’s light shine so others can see the reality of God’s love.

When I hear this passage, I am tempted to think it applied only to Jesus’s 12 companions, there on the mount.  It’s really difficult to relate to what Jesus is saying about cities on a hill, bushel baskets, and lampstands.  After all, it’s 2020, and we have electricity, streetlights, lights on sensors and timers.  We have light on demand (at the flip of a switch) and are overloaded with light.  We can’t escape it.  Letting our light shine is difficult to understand today.  It seems like an oxymoron for there to be so much light in a culture that often remains dark, but remember it’s just artificial light we see, which lacks resemblance to Jesus.

We notice at dusk or in the gloom the oncoming car that doesn’t have its lights on.  We notice the car with its high beams on which force us to look away.  Have your light on but don’t be obnoxious about it.  Be a porch light, warm and inviting that attracts even the pesky insects. The choices we make reflect on God and show forth God’s glory.  You are the light of the world.

“Let your light shine is a command.”  Siblings in Christ obey the commands.  Jesus says he is here to fulfill the commands.  He understands the aim of the law and is obedient to its intent.  The Ten Commandments (and I have trouble with all 10) deal with the minimum daily requirements to live in community as a chosen people of the covenant.  Even today we have trouble understanding what each one means, trying to find loopholes or specificity.  Is gambling a form of coveting?  Is abortion murder?  The command in Micah 6:8 is pretty short on specifics, yet clear about what the Lord requires:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And it is prudent to serve your God.” [JPS]

The prophet Isaiah helps us understand how we are to fulfill the law.  He was talking to a group of people who were withholding basic human needs and not treating other people with justice, mercy, love.  Nowhere in the Bible is fasting from food mandated, yet Isaiah describes so clearly what happens when we fast from food:  we get hungry, irritable—sometimes even angry.  Here, the prophet describes the sort of fast that fulfills the law, when he suggests a fast from behavior harmful to other people.  When we break those fasts and serve others, we, like Jesus, are fulfilling the law—not just obeying it.

Listen to these words from Robert Kennedy: “Laws can embody standards; governments can enforce laws–but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us. Every time we turn our heads the other way . . . when we tolerate what we know to be wrong–when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened–when we fail to speak up and speak out–we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”[2]  And I would add, love.  That is, we fail to be salt and do not fulfill the law.

If we look at the Bible in its entirety, it is history, love story, and “how to.”  We are consistently disobedient, and God consistently loves.  God tries a variety of ways to get us to understand how much we are loved and how much we are to show that love to others.  God tries rules, which we break.  God sends prophets to remind us who we are and the purpose of obedience, who we ignore.  We don’t seem to know how to honor God with our obedience.

Yet God does not give up on us.  God goes the extra step.  After giving us all those laws and reminders, God sends Jesus who says, in essence, focus on what’s behind the law—God’s love for each of us.  Jesus shows us by example how to fulfill the law when he encounters the hungry, the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the refugee, the outcast, the stranger and the imprisoned.  By treating others with justice, mercy, love, and compassion, we see the law fulfilled through Jesus.  Jesus calls each of us to obedience.  Be the salt.  Be the light.  For that is what you are.  You are here to fulfill the law.

Amen and Amen.

[1] WSB, p. 136.

[2] http://www.quoteland.com/author/Robert-Francis-Kennedy-Quotes/324/  remarks before the Joint Defense Appeal of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith, Chicago, Illinois (June 21, 1961)


© Elder Alan Willadsen, 2020, All Rights Reserved
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