Homily From Service On Sunday, February 5, 2023 – Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world (Matt 5:13a, 14a). Amen.
Green beans are one of the most preferred vegetables in our house. Not the bright green, crisp, lightly-sauteed version of green beans, but green beans that are the first thing to start cooking and the last thing to be pulled from the stove after the rest of dinner is finished. Simply prepared – a little oil, a little butter, garlic – and salt. And a good long time for the flavor to become deep and rich.
Occasionally, though, after the plates are served and we sit down to eat, that first bite of green beans is a lot less satisfying than expected. You see, there is a point in their cooking when salt can be added for greatest effect – after the green beans have softened and they’re prime to receive the flavor, but when there is still a lot of cooking time left so the salt can blend and melt in to bring out the deepest flavor. So you don’t want to add the salt at the very beginning…and it doesn’t do as much good if you add it at the very end…. But, sometimes in the bustle of preparing the other parts of dinner, I get distracted. I forget to add the salt.
We could keep going about the importance of salt. As we see from my experience, salt can add flavor – bringing out the best in other ingredients, helping them reach their full potential. Beyond flavoring our food, salt is critical for human survival. [Particularly important in the time of Jesus, salt could preserve food so that it could be eaten during seasons of greater scarcity. It’s also essential for biological processes: conducting nerve signals, supporting proper muscle function, maintaining healthy mineral and fluid balances [Source].] We couldn’t survive without it. So it is meaningful that Jesus would reach for salt as a metaphor for the role his followers might play in the world.
Today’s selection from Matthew is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It comes very early in the gospel of Matthew. In effect it is Jesus’ first teaching, as the gospel of Matthew reports it. Jesus is born; he flees with Mary and Joseph to Egypt and returns when it’s safe. The next thing we know, Jesus appears – fully grown. He asks to be baptized, and immediately afterward he’s tested in the wilderness. Then he begins his ministry. And the first teaching to leave his lips is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matt 4:17). And then the sermon on the mount starts.
It begins with the text that Richard preached about last week, the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…. You’ll remember that.
And then we have salt: “You are the salt of the earth”
He’s born, flees and returns, is baptized and tempted, and then:
- He pronounces the kingdom of heaven;
- He describes this kingdom, the one where the meek are blessed, where those who mourn, those who hunger for righteousness, those who are pure in heart and poor in spirit are blessed, where peacemakers are blessed…this is God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, these are the people who are blessed.
- And then he proclaims: “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” You are the way the world will know that God is – that the kingdom, God’s kingdom of justice and compassion is near.
These are indicative verbs. They’re not conditional verbs – they’re not “if you do x, then you will be salt.” Jesus is saying: “you ARE salt.” “you ARE light.” You, plural, you collectively, you are the way people will taste the love of God. It is in your light that people will see God.
I see it. I watch you do so much to support the Brookline Food Pantry, the MANNA community, and the St. Stephens community. I see you advocate for school meals for all children. At Christmas I watch you bring light through your generosity to the families at the Crossroads Shelter, with the gifts you provide for St. Stephens families. Soon our teens will participate in the City Reach program. They’ll collect clothing and toiletries for the unhoused community, and then they’ll spend an overnight at the cathedral to learn with – to be in solidarity with our unhoused neighbors in the city. You are showing that you are the salt of the earth. You are pointing the way toward the kingdom of God. Your salt has not lost its flavor… It shows up in the care you give each other and our neighbors.
I’ve been puzzling over something, though. There are so many people, it seems, who could really use what the church has. So many people are isolated and lonely. I hear from clergy colleagues who are chaplains on college campuses as well as friends who have children that same age – so many young adults are lonely. In a recent survey of college students, more than two-thirds reported experiencing loneliness or isolation [Source].
I have a particular eye on that age group, given my work here and the age of my own children. But this is a concern that crosses age categories. You may have seen this in the news – about 5 years ago, the U.K. even appointed their first “Minister of Loneliness.” People are in desperate need of community, of companionship, of meaning.
And yet here we are, offering the “salt of the earth,” being “light to the world,” offering community, hope, joy; pointing toward God’s kingdom. We are doing that. Somehow, the connection isn’t being made. I’m truly puzzled. Is there some barrier that prevents people form seeing or wanting what the church offers? What gets in the way? Why is the world not noticing our saltiness? Why doesn’t the world see our light?
Not to carry a metaphor too far, but…I wonder if sometimes our salt may still be in the salt shaker. Like with my green beans. Do we get distracted and forget to share our salt when it’s most needed?
Or what if – in this time of oh, so many specialty salts – what if we’re not using the right salt for the purpose? What if we’re using India black salt, or Celtic gray, or Hawaiian Red, when kosher salt might be called for instead?
I’ve been following the news of a boy in Washington, D.C., Karon (kuh-RON) Blake. Karon was a 13-year-old boy who was allegedly stealing a car when he was shot and killed by an adult who saw him trying to break into the car. Last week, Karon’s funeral took place. The journalist reporting on the funeral noticed a dynamic that caught my attention as I thought about this question of whether the world sees our saltiness [Source].
- As the minister proclaimed that “the kingdom of God belongs to Karon today,” the young people in the service were filming the procession of Karon’s family toward the casket and posting videos online. The pastor using biblical language to offer hope; the teens using a different language to process their grief – in the words of the reporter, they “process[ed] their pain through videos and social media postings that many adults would find alien. Meanwhile, church elders were trying to provide solace with words from a Bible that seemed just as foreign to the youths.”
- The pastor called on the book of Amos, pleading for “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” He received confused looks and little response. In contrast, a young person stood to speak and cried out, “I want justice for Karon – on 3.” When he counted to three, the congregation shouted in unison, “Justice for Karon,” and the church erupted with cheers.
These young people speak a different language as they try to make sense of Karon’s death. This is not restricted to young people. This is true for people of all ages. Is this a barrier to the world being able to see what church can offer, being able to see us point to a loving, justice-seeking God? Do we sometimes offer Himalayan pink salt when Morton’s table salt might work better?
We truly do have something that so many people are in desperate need of. Yet somehow it seems not to connect.
I don’t have an answer. I invite the conversation. I think the questions are holy.
I guess I would leave us with this. In Matthew’s telling, this is how Jesus framed his purpose:
- The kingdom of God has drawn near
- This is a kingdom of justice, compassion, peacemaking, humility
- And those who follow the way of Jesus…WE are the salt that brings out its flavor. We are the light by which the world sees God.
If you continue reading the Sermon on the Mount, there are many, many, many lessons that Jesus teaches in this discourse. As I wrestle with this question of not connecting, one of those teachings consoles me: worry not, says Jesus. “…do not worry about tomorrow…Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matt 6:34). But seek first the kingdom of God and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33).
We are the salt of the earth. Our salt has not lost its flavor. Our light still shines. Just keep pointing.