recognizing (our) reality

preaching-epiphany-laurens-1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 5.13-20 (and Matthew 5.1-12) and Isaiah 58.1-12, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, 2017

“You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.”


Jesus tells his followers, tells us that we are extraordinary and, so being, we have an essential work to perform without which the earth is unseasoned, even more, unpalatable, still more, perishable and the world left in darkness!

To grasp this magnificence of our identity and the magnitude of our ministry, we need to review the prologue to Jesus’ astounding declaration, the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”

Of boundless ways to interpret the Beatitudes, I submit to you that they are universal statements of our ontology. Therefore, not about other people in other conditions than we ourselves or even about us at particular times, say, when we’re in mourning. No. The Beatitudes bespeak the common human being-ness of all of us, pointing to this all-of-the-time reality of our existence: Every one of us (whether that “one” is a person, a family, a community, even a nation), in the words of the prayer, “live and move and have our being” betwixt ever-present, simultaneous, oft opposing desires and interests. To flesh this out, I will repeatedly, tirelessly (but I pray not tiresomely!) use that common conjunction “and”:

To be poor in spirit is to be conscious of our wealth and poverty, our riches and our lack, both material and spiritual, ours and that of others…

To be mournful is to know that daily we live and walk step by step with others and ourselves toward the valley of the shadow of our dying…

To be meek is to realize that we, in every relationship and at all times, can choose between opening our hands in vulnerable, unconditional welcome and folding our arms in preferential, at times, fearful indifference…

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to be alert to the cry for justice from anyone, anywhere, any time and to be aware of our always present tendency toward self-preservation,  encouraging us to declare, “That’s not my problem”…

To be merciful is to acknowledge we always are called to compassionate service for others and, in our self-interest, to hold onto our resources of substance and of self for ourselves…

To be pure in heart is to confess our inner tension, sometimes turmoil of being true to our values and sacrificing our integrity for the sake of expediency or safety…

To make peace is to be aware of the conflict between recognition and rejection of “the other”; all who think and feel, look and act, believe and behave differently…

To be persecuted for the sake of righteousness is to understand that life always challenges us to stand up for a just cause and to stand back in self-protective silence.

Through the lens of the Beatitudes, I believe that Jesus calls us to recognize reality, ours and his. That we and Jesus always are being caught, at times crucified between competing, conflicting aims. Now, grasping that, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world!”

We, who follow Jesus, are called to be and do as he is and does; like salt that blends with food to season and to preserve, indeed, to save, like light that dispels darkness.

Jesus doesn’t tell us when or how or for whom we do this. However, he does tell us “I have come not to abolish (the law and the prophets), but to fulfill them.” Therefore, let us take to our hearts the counsel of the prophet Isaiah.


To be and to act as salt and light is…

To loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

to break every yoke…

to share (our) bread with the hungry,

to bring the homeless poor into (our) house…

(even when our “house” is our nation!)[1]

to cover (the naked).

When we, again, whether as individuals, families, communities, even as a nation, do these things (and, as this is not an exhaustive list, then things like these things), “then”, Isaiah declares, “(our) light shall break forth like dawn”, which is another way of saying to do the work of light always creates more light and never more darkness.



me preaching at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, January 2017, by Pontheolla Mack Abernathy

salt and votive candle; backdrop photo  – driveway, Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, Spartanburg, SC, by Timothy MacBeth Veney

Illustration: The Prophet Isaiah (1896-1902), James Tissot (1836-1902), The Jewish Museum, NYC


[1] My explicatory addition, in the light of the times, to Isaiah’s prophecy.

4 thoughts on “recognizing (our) reality

  1. Thanks for including the “AND” in this sermon Paul!! It’s so much better than the word But!! I’m all about creating “light” with the work I do and as you know the darkness has always made me uneasy!! I think what is difficult to do is first figure who God intends for us to help and when, then harder still is if the person we are supposed to help is vastly different from us or someone with whom we disagree!! But I guess one of the beautiful parts of this would be if I (the helper) and my recipient both showed that we are “the light of the world” (our authentic non-judgemental selves) at the same time, it would be one small step toward eliminating darkness in the world right? It’s a great thought for sure!!

    Love the pic you used too! Thank you for crediting Tim. Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it would be better, indeed, best – not to mention easier – when helper and the one or those helped acted as light. Still, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I think, sheds light (pardon the pun!) regarding the “who”, who is to be anyone in need, even and especially “the other”, and, in the case of the socio-political-existential circumstance of Jesus’ great parable, a mortal enemy (talk about difficult!)!

      Happy you loved the pic! I love Tim and I love you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, your question challenges me greatly, for, if I was in your place (and, trust me, I’ve been in similar positions when my extension of kindness to another was met by a racially-tinged rebuff), my difficulty would be to see the light of God-given humanity in one who had offended/insulted me. Difficult, indeed, and, I think, the point of our striving to be salt and light. After all, the very folk who crucified Jesus are the very ones for whom he prayed to his Father to forgive.

      Liked by 1 person

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