2/5/2017 Fifth Sunday of Epiphany The text is Matthew 5:13-20.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You are salt. You are light. You are essential. You have been gifted with whatever is necessary in order for you to provide quality of life to those around you. You may think that I’m whistling Dixie when I say these things to you. But, these are not my words; they are the words of Jesus. They are powerful words. They are words that describe what God has done for you and for the others through you. They are words that are meant to motivate you to be God’s hands and legs in this world. For, each of us is supposed to shine for Christ’s sake.
Of course, our light is not like that of the sun. Our light resembles that of the moon; it is a reflected light. It comes from the Christ-spirit that lives within us. We are to shine so that others might see that light and give glory, not to us, but to the Lord who illuminates us.
The people who lived in Palestine during the first century would have understood what Jesus was saying. For, the typical home in Palestine was very dark with only one circular window perhaps not more than eighteen inches across. Lamps were essential. The typical lamp was nothing more than a bowl of oil with a wick floating in it. It was not easy to light lamps; remember, this was before the age of matches. Therefore, lamps were kept burning continuously. And, when the family was sleeping or was out, an earthen bushel container was placed over the lamp so that nothing would catch on fire. But when the family was at home and awake, the lamp was placed high on a stand so that all corners of the room would have some light.
You are the light, not because you have chosen to be. You are the light because Jesus has given you a piece of himself so that you can go out into the world and shine. This is a gift from God who wants everyone to experience the joy and peace of Jesus’ presence. This is a gift from God who wants you to care about others in the way Jesus cared. This is a gift from God, bestowed upon you and all people in baptism. So, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
It is with these words and others like it that Jesus motivates us to be more than mere disciples, more than followers, listening to him and soaking it all in, holding onto it for ourselves. Discipleship has no purpose if we don’t follow Jesus’ example in serving others and sharing the good news of God’s kingdom. So, Jesus gives us a push in the right direction. He does what he can to get us off the grassy knoll and out into the streets.
Now, there are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people. Guilt, fear, and shame are common tools. Believe me…as a perpetual dieter, I know this. Every time I would go to a T.O.P.S. weigh in, I cringed, until fear, guilt and shame drove me away from the program. As motivational tools these methods have great limitations and seldom create life style changes.
Walter Alston, a former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, understood this and he knew what was needed to motive individuals.
When pitcher Don Sutton hadn’t won a game in eight weeks, a critical member of the press suggested that he be dropped from the starting rotation. The future looked bleak, and Sutton felt terrible. Then, before a game, Alston tapped him on the shoulder. “I’d like to speak with you, Don,” he said. Sutton prepared himself for the worst.
“Don,” said Alston, “I know how the past couple of months have been for you. Everyone’s wondering whether we can make it to the play-offs . . . You know there’s a lot of pressure . . . I’ve had to make a decision.” Sutton had visions of being taken off the mound. Then Alston continued. “If the Dodgers are going to win this year,” he said, looking Sutton in the eye, “they’re going to win with Don Sutton pitching. Come what may, you’re staying in the starting job. That’s all I wanted to say.”
Sutton’s losing streak lasted two more weeks, but because of his manager’s encouragement he felt different about it. Something in him was turning around. He found himself pitching the best ball of his career. In the National League pennant drive, he won 13 games out of 14.
Walter Alston’s understanding of what it takes to motivate people is one of the keys that made him a great manager. Motivation comes through encouragement, trust and the positive messages. Guilt, fear and shame may work in the short term, but they do not provide lasting change.
Jesus motivates those who follow with positive messages of hope and encouragement. He lets each and every one of you, and all who follow him, know just how important each of you are. He lets you know that he is with you and in you, that you are not leaving here alone. He is on a venture with you, a trek of a life time.
You are on a winning team. You are salt. You are light. You are essential. You have been gifted with whatever is necessary in order for you to provide quality of life to those around you. You are not the source of the salt or the light. Your light is not like that of the sun. Your light resembles that of the moon; it is a reflective light, from the Christ-spirit that resides in you.
So let your light shine. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen,