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Epiphany V 2014 Sermon
Corby Varness

As a preacher before you, I am supposed to stand up here and interpret these texts and encourage you all to be better followers of Christ.   Who am I to tell you all anything?  I’m feeling particularly unworthy of this task today. 
Jesus tells us “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.”  He warns us of salt that has lost its saltiness.   Well, I’m there.  Totally lacking in saltiness lately.  I’ve been stuck in the winter doldrums and am feeling quite flat, quite lacking in spiciness. 
Jesus tells us to not hide our lamps under bushel baskets but to be out in the world, shining our loving light on everyone.  Oh, I’m not doing that either.  This week, I was a real jerk, cussing and yelling at a man and finally having to apologize for my behavior.  Some light, huh?  Not exactly spreading God’s love out in the world.  Not exactly in a position to give anyone advice about following Christ, am I?
Lately, I pray and wonder if God is paying attention.  I am quite poor in spirit.   I try to be patient with God, trusting that His grace shines upon me whether I feel it or not but lately, not feeling it.
Isaiah talks about people who are similarly frustrated with God.  They whine to God; “We fast, but you do not see.  We humble ourselves but you do not notice.”   God straightens them out, telling them to get out of themselves and get out into the world and do good.  He says:  “This is the fast I choose: go after the injustice in the world, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house.”  God calls them, and us to action.
This week’s gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount where a large crowd, eagerly lifting up their faces to Jesus, sits, hungry for his message.  Here is what he tells them:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When you hear this don’t you find some part of it speaking to you?  For years, hearing that ‘those who mourn shall be comforted’ hit me right between the eyes.  Today I realize that I have indeed been feeling poor in spirit and look: mine is the kingdom of heaven!  That sure is comforting.
Just like Marshawn Lynch, I believe that Jesus must have caused an earthquake with these words.  With this revolutionary message, Jesus turns the world upside down.  Remember that he is speaking to poor people who are living under the terrifying reign of a powerful invading army.  The roads are lined with thousands of crosses on which their dead friends were hanged.  These people are downtrodden and weak in the face of the occupying Romans.  Imagine the astonishment they feel when they hear that THEY are the lucky ones, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In this climate, with this sermon, Jesus tells them that they are the blessed ones.  Then, in today’s gospel, in a continuation of his Sermon on the Mount, he changes his tone.   We are done with those “Blessed Are” phrases.  Now he is getting direct.
To these tired, frightened people he thunders; “YOU are the light on the world.  YOU are the salt of the earth” and with these words he lifts up the poor, the grieving, the humble, he lifts up those before him.  How must that have felt?
The invading Roman army thought of itself as the light of the world, spreading the light of civilization everywhere it went.  Maybe Jesus is making a jab at the Romans when he tells these oppressed people that it is they, not the Romans, who are the light of the world.  Jesus tells the people that they are the sign of God’s presence in the world.
And they are not to hide their light away.  We, too are the light of the world in that we reflect the light of God’s grace.  This is hard work but remember that it is not us creating the light, we are only vessels reflecting God’s light.  That seems easier doesn’t it?  All we have to do it let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Confucius says; “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”  In all of our readings today we are called to do something, take action, don’t just sit there complaining and worrying.  No matter how small, any positive action is better than none.
All of our lessons today teach us one thing, faith and action go hand in hand. You cannot hide your light under a bushel. Likewise, to hide your faith by inaction would be to betray all that our faith means to us, to deny the saving grace of the cross and God’s love for us.
I may have been feeling flat and lacking in spirit but today I realize that I am blessed, that God’s grace is not just for the holy and righteous but for me, for each of us.  It is in our broken times that we are most open to God’s grace.