Matthew 5: 13-20
5 February 2017
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen
Has anyone here not heard those statements about salt and light from this morning’s Gospel before today? As with the Beatitudes from last week this is a familiar passage for most of us. The image of salt has even moved into the secular world as well. You Know, that saying about someone being the salt of the earth is a common one. So too the notion of light has spread beyond the Scriptures. Have you ever said of someone “she was a bright spot in my day”? And ye,t I have to say, our Gospel lesson today is a difficult one. One of my preaching resources names it as “perhaps the most difficult passage to be found in the Gospel”. I don’t know about you but I experience it as sharp and to the point. This portion of the Gospel According to Matthew gives us, as followers of Jesus, as Christian people, our marching orders and they are not soft and easy orders at that. Even the collect echoes the challenge. “Set us free from our bondage to sin”. We might as well pray asking that God keep us focused on God first and foremost. “Give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.” Did you notice? It’s the liberty of abundant life not the comfort or the ease of abundant life that we pray for. It’s useful to know that these verses are set right in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. They immediately follow the beatitudes. We are listening in on Jesus’ teaching his disciples within the hearing of a multitude gathered around him. Jesus is focused here on our behavior in this world as we know it. So. Back to those twin metaphors of salt and light. I hope you heard that they are stated as an imperative. That’s very important. You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. You are already salt and light for the whole earth, the whole world. Once again, we lose the fine shadings, the nuance, of the original language. The “you” here is not singular, as in you Ian, or you Lisa, but plural as in you all, you all gathered in this fellowship at Trinity, Monroe, you all who make up the Episcopal Church in the U.S., you all who call yourselves Christian. Here’s the thing. The entire community of those who claim to follow Jesus is called in his name to serve as salt and light for all the world.
As I said earlier those images of salt and light are very familiar to us. I have to wonder how they sounded when Jesus first spoke them. It’s hard to imagine ourselves that far back in time. Our assumptions and our language have been shaped by the 20th and 21st centuries. We need to translate a bit. Consider first the notion of salt. What if we were to substitute the words habanero pepper for salt. “You are the habanero peppers of the world.” It sounds strange doesn’t it? The point is that we often think “salt of the earth” and make a judgment about a person’s status. He is the salt of the earth means that he is a great guy who occupies a particular position in relation to others. In fact, the saying refers not to status but to function. She is the habanero pepper of the earth. She adds flavor, she adds zest, to the world. As to light it helps to think about how ancient Judaism thought about God. God was much more than the source of light for daily life, God was light itself. “In your light do we see light”, a quote from Psalm 119:105, makes that clear.
In ancient Judaism the Torah was the primary way people could see God/light. Those who first followed Jesus quickly gave that role to him. The Gospel According to John quotes Jesus as saying: “I am the light of the world”. But what about us? How is it that we, as part of Christ’s body, the church, act as light? It is when we act as Jesus did that we show God’s light to the world. It is as though we are to function, not so much as the light itself (we are not God after all) but as a window that allows others to see the Christ light, God light. Which brings me to the very hardest portion of this lesson. “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” What is Jesus saying here? As an aside, it’s important to remember at this point that Jesus was talking about the Hebrew Scriptures, what we, with some modification, know as the Old Testament. The writings that make up the New Testament, however dear we hold them, came into being some years after Jesus’ death and were gathered into the form we know as late as the third century. Much as it is easy for us to write off the Old Testament we do so to our peril. The assumption held by the first century rabbi’s, Jesus included, was that Scripture could not be set aside because “all scripture is inspired by God.” It is of course true that, throughout the ages, human interpretation of scripture has changed. Even those first century rabbi’s saw that. Their understanding of the Law of Moses was different from that held by rabbi’s in the 5th century BCE for instance. It is abundantly clear that Jesus shifted the interpretation of parts of Scripture, and he was killed for it.
It is very clear, however, that Jesus at all times looked forward to the completion of God’s will, to the coming into being of a time when God’s will reigns supreme. But remember, Scripture assumes that the time when God’s will comes to full fruition is within time as we know it on this earth, in this world. It is not a mere “Pie in the sky by and by” kind of thing. What a wonderful time that will be, that time of God’s peace and God’s justice. And so in this morning’s text we have our marching orders, we who call ourselves Christian, we who declare that we are followers of Jesus, his disciples, or, as I have said before, “little Christ’s”. I love to make soup and sometimes flavor it with habanero peppers. Those soups are rich and flavorful, zesty. I hope to add similar zest to the world this week as I go about my day to day activities. I hope to offer the warm comfort I find in a good soup as well as the zest of questions that challenge our assumptions and help others to see God’s goodness. How will you add zest to life this week? And light. I can only preach and teach in the way’s God guides me, always with the prayerful hope that God is using my words and actions to further the Kingdom on earth. I wonder. How will this church, this expression of the Body of Christ in Monroe, open windows to let others see the light of Christ shining in very real ways right here? Of course, you already do many things, look at all these donated groceries for instance. Still, I know that we as a group have so much that we could be sharing. And if I have learned nothing else from Scripture, I have learned that to live God’s will, to “love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart” is to respond daily to the gifts of God’s goodness that surround us always by reaching out to others. We are called to be salt and light to everyone. What a blessing that call is, not easy mind you, but a blessing none the less. Amen