The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 9, 2014
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Through the wisdom of the ages it has been said that salt is essential to life. It allows for the proper functioning of the human body along with other life forms on earth. Some think of salt as a seasoning. Others think of it as a substance meant to purify and preserve.
Salt is a common substance and in Jesus’ day we know that it was highly valued, so much so that it served as a unit of exchange in commerce. In our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew, those listening to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount are told that they are the salt of the earth. They are also told that they are the light of the world.
To be the salt of the earth, to be the light of the world is essential to the life we live as the Body of Christ, as the church. It is to understand that we are not urged to be salt and light. Jesus defines those who are his disciples as being salt and light.
If there is any urging, it comes from “being shown the absurdity of denying that role or trying to deny it.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page107) It is to understand that our relationship with God is through our obedience to the law of aloha that Jesus came to fulfill.
It becomes particularly significant if we were to begin at verse 11 of our reading from Matthew. Verses 11 addresses the reader or listener directly: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11)
It is the theme of persecution that serves as the backdrop for our understanding of the salt and light sayings of Jesus. To be more specific, if the pressure of persecution causes us to lose our saltiness, we are of no more value to anyone. Or, if persecution causes us to hide or to put our witness of God’s love under a bushel, then we deny our purpose as his disciples.
But whether or not we find ourselves being persecuted by others, we know there are other pressures to which we often succumb. In recent weeks I have come to appreciate how we can become salt and light to each other when the pressures of life weigh us down. Out of death, distress and despair, light continues to break forth like the dawn.
A son recalled how difficult it was to speak at his mother’s memorial service.
“Where did she go?” he asked rhetorically.
“It was just a moment ago I was playing under her watchful loving eyes, guiding me through my childhood with her love and patience. Now, I’m to believe she’s gone? That just can’t be.”
“The breath has left her body. Her heart beats no more. The light and shine has left her eyes, and I’m told she’s gone. But where can she have gone?”
“I still see her in every eye that has ever seen her, and been cared for by her. She’s still here in every thought and memory I have; in every beat of the heart she created in me. She will be here forever ... forever.”
Out of darkness of death, there was light.
A friend remembered the day her tennis partner went missing for ten hours.
“I received a text message,” she said. “’Maggie is missing.’”
“We feared the worst,” she added. “We made calls to our circle of friends, and through social media networking, we struggled to make sense of what was happening. My mind raced with horrible thoughts.”
But thanks to the persistent and relentless inquiry of another friend, word was received before midnight that Maggie had been in an horrific car accident. She was airlifted to a trauma center with a severe concussion and memory loss.
“It was strange that we all felt relief knowing that she was in the intensive care unit with head trauma and a fractured back. She was alive and safe” and that’s what mattered most.
Now, only two months later, Maggie was back on the tennis court.
“Out of the corner of my eye I could see her ponytail swinging and the glint of light off her sunglasses. She was coming to the net, tracking the ball with her racquet poised in front of her. Boom! A put-away shot which won us the point.”
“Maggie told me that as she worked for strength to be healed, she knew that it was the love and prayers of family and friends that sustained her.”
Out of the darkness of distress, light.
A wife recognized that the despair had returned.
“I wish I could open my letter . . . with joyousness,” she wrote. “but I can only summon a level of gratitude that says, ʻGod is everywhere – always, never fails us.’ I take comfort in that most of the time – other times, not so much.”
“Bill has been suffering a Waterloo of all Waterloos with severe depression and anxiety,” she said. “It began again a few months ago and turn into a crescendo and we have been on a roller coaster ever since. It is excruciating watching him suffer and struggle so much. We are working on getting him into a facility for a week, maybe longer, so he can be fully evaluated and given a revised course of drug therapy combined with counseling.”
Then she added, “We are in desperate need of prayer and God’s healing grace.”
Out of the darkness of despair, light.
We are not alone.
I find great comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that when we call upon God, God will answer; when we cry for help, God will respond. (Isaiah 58:9) The answer and the response will often come in unexpected moments, unexpected places and unexpected people.
The answer and the response will come from the light of others – from those who have known the darkness of death, distress and despair. As we continue through this season of Epiphany, may we continue to let the light of God’s aloha made known to us in Jesus Christ shine before others that they may see the good that we do and give glory to God.
A son, a friend, a wife – each a grain of salt – each a light.