Sermon for the Fourth Sunday before Lent
5th Feb 2017
THE FOURTH SUNDAY BEFORE LENT YEAR A
The only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him, as the crucified Christ.
1 Corinthian 2.3
In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus conveys to us how God’s glory might be seen and known in people like you and me. We noted last week that the term ‘glory’ can exist as both a verb and a noun, and I am more interested in the verb! The two images he provides are ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. Both salt and light were vivid and familiar images in the time of Jesus. Salt was mined on the 700’ high cliffs overlooking the shores of the Dead Sea and was an extremely precious and valuable commodity. Roman soldiers were often paid not with money but with bags of salt! Hence we have the phrase for a poor soldier or worker as being ‘not worth his salt’. But in the mouth of Jesus, ‘salt’ speaks of the manifestation of something real – coming to birth in us through Faith in Him.
The theme of light is an ancient one. It has many rich resonances. People associated darkness and light not only as natural phenomena but also as the conveyors of deep inner meaning. Darkness is associated with blindness, night, sleep, cold, gloom, despair, chaos, death, danger and the yearning for the dawn. Light is seen as the antidote to the above, and an image of salvation. In the light, one is awake, able to see and find one's way; it is associated with relief and rejoicing that the night is over; in the light one is safe and warm. In the light there is life. Many texts in the Hebrew Bible use this symbolism. Light is associated with creation: "Let there be light" is the first of God's creative acts in the Book of Genesis. Light is a metaphor for God's illumination of the path: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119, v.105. Light is associated with God's acts of deliverance and for Christians, Baptism has taken us on a journey from darkness to light in Him. If glory is has truly been granted, it is one which is now made visible and apparent in Him:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has (now) shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 4:6
When St Paul speaks of Christ he means the Cross of Christ, or of a Christian experience which has and will never grant us immunity from pain and loss and sorrow and disappointment, even when in the one life we may be able to express gratitude and joy for those things which have been given. This is the necessary compliment to the Light…
Here is the voice of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey in one of his most well-known observations on this theme:
It may well be the will of God that our Church should have its heart broken, and if that were to happen it would not mean that we are heading for the world’s misery but quite likely pointing to its deepest joy. Jesus said to his followers: ‘You are salt to the world. But if salt becomes tasteless, how shall its saltiness be restored? He answered his own question by the blood, sweat and tears of Calvary: only from his broken heart flows out the living, life-giving water. It flows into the life of both Church and society through lives joined sometimes in painful union with him, who is the head of the Church which is His body.
In order to be ‘salt of the earth’ or ‘lights to the world’ the Christian life is in full engagement with Cross of Christ as a sign of contradiction and of the need to recognise the inevitability of this ‘painful union’ as it is lived out in its entirety. The Christian life does not provide a cosy by-way but a pathway directly into and through all the realities that face us…It is out of such a crucible that the true glory will emerge and not apart from it. This follows from the sign Jesus has given for us : The Cross.
The murder of the Ugandan gay rights activist David Cato in 2011 was testimony to the fact of a brave soul battling against bigotry and violent discrimination.. His name and address, with those of 100 other activists were published in a Ugandan magazine, ‘Rolling Stone’ with the tag ‘Hang Them!’ At the time, The Archbishop of Uganda did not attend the Anglican Primate’s Conference because he would not sit next to The Primate of the Church in the USA, Kathryn Jeffers Scolari, because he was aware that she consorted with gay men and women and thereby approved of their conduct. Meanwhile on British television at the time, Jeremy ‘motor mouth’ Clarkson made facile jokes about Mexican people. A Christian father, bringing his teenage son to one of Clarkson’s roadshows, felt the pressure to speak out live on TV, even though knowing his son was a great fan of the man and the show. These examples call us as Christians to be brave in speaking out against blatant or casual injustice. We are charged today to be as ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘lights to the world’. We must learn not only to live for Christ but to speak for Christ. In the face of so much injustice, some of it happening right under our noses, the time to speak is now, or we as a Church will risk the light being extinguished or the salt having lost its taste; an irrelevant Church detached and disassociated from the real life around us. A new and brave Epiphany is being addressed to all of us in the courageous living in ‘…the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ’. At a time when truth and relativism sit side by side we need more than ever to know what is Christian, what is for Christ and to bring this knowledge into daily conversation and to learn to bear courageous witness. To take courage in both hands and to risk being Christian.
This messaged was echoed by The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres in his farewell sermon at a memorable Mass last Thursday:
“What the Church has to offer is not an ideology or a mere critique but a community in which the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells. In a market place of strident salesmen and of warring ideologies we seek not to add to the din but to build relationships that endure and give meaning to life. The kingdom of God is the great existing reality to renew the earth, The Church needs to recapture the kingdom in real, profound, tangible reality. Dust, dirt, bricks and mortar, sweat and blood reality.
Let this be for us the call from this great Bishop for us to be ‘salt to our earth’ and ‘lights to our world’ in our generation. Let us not only speak glory but be glory and do glory in Jesus’ name as exprience it more and more. Amen.