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Matthew 5: 13-20
The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

 5 Epiphany, February 5, 2023      Matthew 5: 13-20

Grace, peace and mercy be on you and in you through the One who created all, the One who redeems all and the One who Sustains all. Amen. Lent is just three weeks away, and we’ll begin it as we always do. We’ll gather on Ash Wednesday (February 22th). We’ll receive the mark of the ashes as a reminder of our mortality and brokenness. And then we’ll turn to the Holy Gospel, and begin with these words: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” In a striking contrast, here is this week’s Gospel reading: “You are salt that seasons the earth… You are the light of the world… You are as visible as a city built on a hill… You are a lamp, lit, and placed on a lamp stand…” We joke, sometimes, about how Lutherans of Scandinavian and Germanic descent were once quite reluctant to be involved in public displays of faith. This was particularly true when considering those who speak publicly about their faith. (Let’s call them evangelists.)  It was less true when considering those who found simple, concrete ways to touch people with kindness: think of a hot dish or a sympathy card shared with a grieving family. (Let’s call them caregivers.) Culture has a word for this second group: we call them the “salt of the earth.” There are many “salt of the earth types” in our community and in the world. Their constant grace and presence weaves its way into the fabric of our community, and epitomizes what was best about us. A police officer walks a lost child home. A drug store clerk helps an elderly person find what they need. A teacher stays late to help students with their studies. A machine shop worker volunteers as a scout troop leader. None of them had to do it. They did it because they wanted to make a difference; the kind of people who believed that they were on this earth to make it a better place. Salt of the earth. You don’t have to be a person of faith to be salt of the earth. Truthfully, many of those admirable people don’t hold memberships in local congregations. But if you are a person of faith you know that this is the kind of life Jesus calls us to live. We are salt that seasons the earth. We are the light of the world. We are as visible as a city built on a hill. We are lamps placed on a lamp stand. And this is not just an individual way of being, it’s not just about you or me. In the “Working Preacher” commentary that Ioften consult, Melanie A. Howard talks about how the words that Jesus uses in the Gospel attributed to Matthew. She states, “Unlike so many other languages, including the Greek in which this text is written, English is impoverished for its lack of differentiation between the singular and plural second person “you.” It is important to note, though, that Matthew 5:13-16 is addressed to a plural audience. That is, no one individual embodies salt or light. Rather, the full community is needed to exemplify that which most resembles the salt and light of which Jesus speaks.” In other words, in English when Jesus says, “you are Light, you are Salt,” we aren’t really sure if the hearers are hearing that the individual is being addressed or if everyone is included in that “you.” My colleague in Prince Rupert, Pastor Diana Edis, who is from South Carolina, often talks about the phrase that is used in the South – y’all, which can mean those who are being spoken to (an individual or a small group of hearers) and then there is “all y’all” (which includes all who are present). If we were to translate the Gospel reading in correct southern style Jesus is saying, “All y’all are light, all y’all are salt, all y’all are a city on a hill, all y’all are a lamp set up high for all y’all to see.” (all y’all might not believe how long it took me to type that last sentence).   As members of Christ’s family, we are God’s attempt to make a difference in this world. As the waters of our baptism flowed over our heads, the first words we heard were: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.” Not all of us are called to dramatic and highly publicized acts of faithfulness, but we are all called to live in such a way that our words and actions make a difference in this world. Salt of the earth. Light of the world. Indeed! These words from Jesus are among those that have guided us the way we live out our lives. We have been welcomed, through the waters of our baptism, into God’s love, just as we are. And we are sent, by these words of Jesus, to make a difference in the world. Not to draw attention to ourselves, but in order that we might reflect Christ in everything we say and do. As we pray this week, may the Holy Spirit “give us the grace and power to do this, through Jesus Christ.” As we sang in the second verse of our opening hymn “Gather Us In”: 2 We are the young, our lives are a myst'ry, we are the old who yearn for your face; we have been sung throughout all of hist'ry, called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in, the rich and the haughty, gather us in, the proud and the strong; give us a heart, so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song. Let it be so. Amen