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The Light of the World A Sermon on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

After the week we’ve just had, I want to ask you: ”How are you doing?” As you know, the really big question all week has been, “Do you have power?” After worship today, during our time of fellowship, I’m sure we’ll be trading stories about last week’s weather and the impact it had on everyone. I’m clear about the impact on me. Last week was a bit too cold for this 74-year-old, for a little too long.

And yet, being cold from time to time invites me to remember all the warmth I’ve been given over the years. This past week, there was the warmth of an extra layer of clothing, the warmth of a cafe that had plenty of hot coffee, the warmth of a smile or a hug or a kind word. This past week, there was also the warmth of a city doing its best to come together, while remembering a young Black man who needlessly lost his life.

Tyre Nichols surely brought warmth to his family and friends. He also brought light to his part of the world. He brought light in more than one way, including his photography. If you picked up any kind of camera this past week - or just stopped and paid attention to the great outdoors - you also had a fresh, photographic look into the light of our February world, through the beauty of all those icy, jewel-like trees.

It was hard not to see our Creator at work. Spiritual guide Richard Rohr says “God didn’t think, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3). God spoke (it), and creation vibrated into existence” (2/4/23). Ah, yes: those vibrations and noise, when ice melted and fell!

Friends, today is a unique moment in time, right smack dab between winter and spring. Today we have an opportunity to see and to be the light Jesus is talking about in today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Last Sunday we heard the Beatitudes, twelve verses of blessing that began his Sermon on the Mount. Here’s how one preacher (full disclosure: it’s my wife) sets the stage for the next 8 verses, the ones we’ve just heard:

Imagine: Great crowds have followed Jesus from all over - Galilee, Judea, and "beyond the Jordan." When Jesus sees this multitude, he goes up the mountain, sits down, and begins to teach them. His so-called Sermon on the Mount goes on for three entire chapters! What we have today is only a few of the 110 verses in Chapters 5 through 7. He tells all those people, about whom we know almost nothing, that they are the salt of the earth; they are the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14).

We can assume, because he's Jesus, that he has his finger on the pulse of the crowd. He sees their suffering. He knows their longing. He understands they don't know what to do to make their lives better. Jesus has just blessed them, and in doing so, he has named the conditions that make their lives so difficult: their sorrow, their powerlessness, their oppression. He sees - at least I'm guessing he does - that in this crowd there are, in addition to the faithful, some curiosity seekers, as well as those who are looking for an easy fix. Each person on that hillside has brought with them their own private bundle of troubles, fears, worries, and heartbreaks. Not so different - when all is said and done - not so different from us, this little crowd, right here.

From the beginning of recorded history - in the time of Jesus, in our own day - the world has always been a violent place. Appalling economic disparity, ruthless abuse of power, and rigid tribal animosities. The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of light into his darkened world. In John's gospel Jesus claims he is that light (8:12).

But in Matthew, as Jesus looks out over the "ocean of humanity" before him, he declares: not that he is light, but that they are the light of the world. All of them. The devout and the lukewarm, the self-giving and the self-centered. Each and every one. Why would he say such a thing? And why does he pair light with salt, of all things?

I cannot fathom all the theological nuances of Matthew's Gospel. But I know this: Salt makes everything taste different, and light makes everything look different. Jesus is telling this disparate crowd, most of whom he has not met and will likely never see again, that they have within them, in spite of whatever they may think, feel, or believe, the capacity to make the world different. Truth is, they have more power than they know, regardless of how hopeless things may seem. ~ The Rev. Eyleen Farmer

Most of us have more power now than we knew last week! The truth is, preacher Eyleen is talking about the power of God’s light, the power of hope, the power of enlightenment. Truth is, it’s spiritual power that makes it possible for us to be a light in our part of the world - even our small but mighty part of the world called All Saints’.

During Black History Month, from this pulpit and in other places and ways, I will be sharing with you what is for me some light, hope, empowerment. This morning I want to tell you about someone who has given me hope, enlightening and empowering me with her words. She is Dr. Catherine Meeks, the executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

Dr. Meeks’ latest book is The Night is Dark but Light Comes in the Morning. In a chapter called “Reimagining Love and Racial Healing,” she talks about what it’s like for her and other Black folks to tell the truth about their lives. She offers an invitation for white folks to consider speaking. It’s: “Tell me your truth, and I will listen as best I can.”

That invitation - Tell me your truth, and I will listen as best I can - works powerfully for me. Dr. Meeks says “that invitation (can) become a light to illuminate the path toward…love….And when that invitation is extended, it is important for it to be accepted….That invitation, to step into the arena where the healing light shines more brightly, remains available to everyone,” Dr. Meeks assures us, “and the hope is that each day will bring all of us closer to having the capacity to say yes” (pp. 103-104).

How about it? Will you and I say “yes” today and listen to the truth about others, truth that can enlighten us? Will we listen to the words of another Black woman, Ida B. Wells, who said, “The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them”? Will we let ourselves be the light of the world for others, as we hear, perhaps even sing…

I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus

~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Priest in Charge

All Saints’ Episcopal Church

1508 S. White Station Road

Memphis, TN 38117


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