Harrowing Of Hell
February 9, 2020

Have a Heart

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

To listen to the sermon click here.

Good evening Christians, seekers and friends.

Welcome and thank you for coming (or coming back) this evening. This is my third year to be part of Epiphany’s Have a Heart celebration and I have to say I am just as grateful and amazed by all the generosity of spirit that goes into every aspect of this evening as I was that first night. Because I get to see behind-the-scenes all the countless hours of careful preparation, hard work, and loving service that goes into making this event happen. And I get to serve with the Service and Outreach Team that takes all the financial support and generosity of you, our Epiphany community, and sends those funds to those who help those in need not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well. And this kind of embodied love is just exactly what makes us fully human— and truly Christian.

The backdrop of human life can sometimes seem dark and frightening. And we can find ourselves shaking our heads and thinking, “Oh my God?” “How or why is this happening?” And perhaps even wondering where God is in all the storms, the difficulties, and the injustices. Because we know, deep in our hearts, that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be — we are meant for better things. And we are. This is affirmed in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” I invite you to really hear these words tonight. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

If you are like many good people I know, your humility or your personal piety may make you a little uncomfortable with these words. Perhaps you feel more comfortable with the words in the Gospel of John that puts it differently, identifying Jesus himself as “the light of the world.” So, you might be tempted to simply defer to Jesus as “the true light” and content yourself with the role of reflecting Jesus’ light or the goodness of the divine. And while there’s truth to that too, hear what Jesus, himself, has to say about this in this section from his Sermon on the Mount. He says you are the salt — you are the light. Not him, but you. And the you is plural.

And if you find Jesus’ words about the change you are going to make in this world almost too grandiose or amazing to believe, consider the original group of people who heard him speak these words. We are blessed to have within our Epiphany community many incredibly brilliant, wise, and gifted people who have made and continue to make major changes and advances in their areas of expertise and influence. But as theologian Matthew Skinner notes, in Jesus’ original audience—those folks sitting around Jesus on the hill, there were no notable personalities – no obvious influencers. It was a crowd of ordinary people. Probably a lot of weary and vaguely disappointed folks.  Definitely some desperate people. People who’ve been told they don’t count for much. Scared people. And maybe folks like us too.

In fact, if we take Matthew 5:11-12 as our cue, Jesus is speaking to people who are (or who are about to be) “reviled” and “persecuted.” And yet it is to these folks he speaks. He singles out that category of people as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” 

Jesus would throughout his earthly ministry continue to call and empower leaders to take on the work of change because that is what he came to do. To remind us that we are here to work to change the world – the hearts and minds of others around us. While we might use other words, light always has effects. It always illuminates. Salt, likewise, always makes its presence known. That’s the way things are.

While it might sound strange when we read it, Jesus is making this point extremely clear in our gospel today when he asks, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” While Jesus is well known for letting others answer important questions like who he is and his role as the Messiah, he quickly answers his own question here. If salt has lost its saltiness he says, “It is no longer good for anything.”

Our young people and I were talking about this today in our children’s sermon—we had volunteers who were trying to describe what salt is – without using the word salty. And we couldn’t. Salt really isn’t worth its salt if it isn’t salty. It may sound weird, but it is simple and true. A light that is hidden, too, ceases to illuminate and may make it seem like darkness prevails in our little corner of the world.

Tonight is the night when we come together to celebrate that we are, indeed, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are meant to influence change, to add our perfect pinch of salt to the pot and to shine our light…It was what we are meant to do. It is what we do as Christians. And it is through us that others see where God is working in the world.