Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

  Jesus calls out to us with the words,
 “You are the salt of the earth.”  And again, “You are the light of the world”.

The prophet Moses approached his call to be light and salt timidly,  He said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  To which God answered, “I will be with you.”

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The Apostle Paul, called to witness Christ Jesus to both Jew and Gentile, also approached his call to be light and salt with some reservations.  Paul writes, ‘when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, ‍and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom.’  To which God gave Paul divine truth to share with simple words centered on Jesus Christ and his cross. 

Let’s join in a word of  prayer: Loving God our Father, today we gather to worship You and to celebrate the light that our Saviour brings into our lives and the salt that preserves the message of salvation in the power of your Holy Spirit. God our Father, guide our steps and our lives with the light of Christ, as you open our minds and hearts by your Holy Spirit.  Preserve within us the wisdom You have for us, and strengthen our  faith, to be salt and light for people around us. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

A camera in my hands will only capture a few personally precious moments.  A camera in the hands of Ken Duncan will record a pantheon of life in Australia.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A tennis racquet in my hands will only lob the ball into the net, but a tennis racquet in the hands of Novak Djokovic will mean a Grand Slam title.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A staff in my hands might help knock an apple from a tree branch, but a staff in the hands of Moses parted the mighty sea.   It depends on whose hands it’s in. A sling shot in my hands is a kid’s toy, but a sling shot in the hands of the shepherd king David was a mighty weapon.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Two fish and 5 loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches, but two fish and 5 loaves of bread in the hands of  Christ Jesus fed thousands.  It depends on whose hands it’s in. Nails in my hands might produce a simple bird feeder, but nails in the hands of Jesus Christ produced salvation for all people of faith.  It depends on whose hands it’s in.

As I have repeated several times. It all depends on whose hands it’s in.  When we put our concerns, our worries, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our gifts and our relationships in God’s hands, that will make all the difference.  Because it depends on whose hands it’s in.  (Author Unknown)

In the example of the great prophet Moses, and the great Apostle Paul, we are reminded that it isn’t by our eloquence or brilliance that we witness Christ as Lord.  But simply by the epiphany of Christ as our personal Saviour, in our simple words, our soothing attitudes, and our loving actions.  As we put ourselves in the hands of our Saviour.
It’s clear that it was no coincidence Jesus chose salt and light as examples for our life in him that is shared with others as a living witness. 

Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfil their purpose when they are poured out and when they shine.  As I consider the combination of today’s readings, I come to the conclusion that, like savoury salt, we are to be drawn to others to make a difference in their lives, all in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that, like light, we are to be a warm beacon for others, drawing them to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In both cases, we walk together with Jesus Christ in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Salt remains in the background, only useful in conjunction with the food it seasons.   Once at a Bible Study, some young people were discussing this text.  They were suggesting uses of salt, and the meaning.  One said, “Salt gives flavour to food”.  Another said, “It also preserves food to keep it from decaying.” Then one girl said, “salt makes you thirsty.”   Since I encountered this, the question that has haunted me is, “have I ever made anyone thirsty for Jesus?”  Perhaps a question for each of us. We are that kind of salt when we allow our hearts to show the world the peace and joy of our salvation by what they see in our eyes.

When we allow the compassion of our attitudes reveal Christ in our interactions.  When we allow the encouraging words of hope to be what they hear from our lips.  All the result of the Holy Spirit filling and guiding us – making others thirsty for the confidence we have in living with Jesus in our hearts.

By contrast, light never remains in the background. Light fills the space it occupies with warm rays of confidence.  Light draws attention to itself by it’s very nature. When the light of Christ beams out from our lives, we cannot help to draw attention to the goodness of our Saviour.

When it comes to showing the world that we are children of God, and that we are loved by Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit makes all the difference, giving us the courage to be the light to the world that cannot be hidden away.  And that will make a difference in the life of someone who desperately needs to see that light of Jesus Christ.  Someone we may not even recognise.

It would never occur to those who don’t know Jesus Christ, to turn on that light in their life.  Not unless they see the light of peace, joy, hope and love that our Saviour’s light shows them through our lives of faith.

 I am convinced they would never notice the light of Christ shining through our lives, unless we first enter their lives as quietly as salt.  Showing them our friendship and compassion.  I have seen that light streaming through the lives of so many here at St Peter’s as we engage with each other with such gentle caring.

The big question is, ‘how do we sustain this?’ 

Christ Jesus gives us the answer in what seems to be harsh words at the end of the reading for today.  Jesus says,  “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.”   

The heart of the law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets is summed up in other words of Jesus,   “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Mt 22:37~40 NIV84)  Jesus fulfilled the heart and the letter of the law perfectly.

What I’ve noticed is that if we approach every interaction with others, anxious about being salt and light to that person; anxious about fulfilling the heart of the law of Moses — we will spend our time concentrating on ourselves with anxiety and fear. 

From Scriptures, I am sure that is not what Jesus wants us to do, and it’s not what Jesus Christ entered our lives to do.  Jesus came to make his teachings come true.  To make the way for the Holy Spirit to change our nature to be like him.  To approach every interaction with others, just to love them. To care about them.  To show them Jesus. 

As we let each encounter with another to be a natural outflow of ourselves, we let Jesus be present.  And we let our Christian friends show us their love as well.   Just as Paul says, ‘Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.’

So what happens, if, at one time or another,  we just can’t be salt and light?  The good news is that we have a Saviour who understands everything about being human.  Who shows us his love in all the times of our lives, whether times of failure or times of success.  We can let his forgiveness and love surround us and encourage us, rather than fill our spirit with guilt and anxiety.  Just  continue to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives.  After all, we are not a finished product and we will only be perfect when we reach eternity and stand by the side of our Saviour.

As Paul wrote in Romans,  “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”    As for me, I won’t ever know the full impact of what my living example might have on someone else.  Whether  good or bad.  Whatever I might influence them to be and do. Whether good or bad.  So I ponder the question ‘where does that leave me’?  And others as I suspect.

I suppose in the worst case, to be counted  least in the Kingdom of Heaven.    But really, that is good news. What a relief that is!  Even when I continue living in this broken world, subject to the sinfulness that is part of life, Jesus has made the way for me to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; by His own sacrifice, and our faith in him.   I can envision that being even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven as having an eternal future that is far above anything I could hope for or expect in this world. 

And that is just the starting point for every Christian.  Given the right to become children of God by our faith in his Son.  Jesus also says, “But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I suspect there is only one who ever truly obeyed God’s laws; only one who ever rightly taught God’s laws. Jesus Christ, our Saviour.  He came to earth to “fulfil the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets.”  And rightly so, Jesus is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  He is our High Priest, our King, and our Saviour.  We hold Him up as the example for our joyous living, and we hold the  Commandments as the law of God which is the mirror of our own sad reality. 

But our Triune God sees us through the prism of the one who fulfilled the whole law.   So our destiny is somewhere between being least in the Kingdom of Heaven and  being just short of great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

What a wonderful and exciting destiny. And we are all in this together.  We are all destined for the eternal Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus our Lord. 

What hope this gives to all of us.   What energy it gives to know that God loves us that much.  How this Good News can fill us with renewed enthusiasm to try again to be the person that Jesus wants each of us to be.  And what encouragement it provides to try again to be salt and light to the world around us.

As we let God’s Holy Spirit make us into the salt and light for the world, the grace and peace of God, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.
David Thompson.

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