A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany are here.
I feel like we talked about this passage just a few weeks ago. Did it sound recently familiar to you? We did talk about it recently, but it wasn’t on a Sunday, it was part of our Wednesday night Advent study. The book we used, What if Jesus was Serious? walked through Jesus’ most well-known sermon as given to us in Matthew’s version of the Good News. It begins with last week’s reading of the Beatitudes that Fr. David preached about and we’ll continue to read through parts of this sermon between now and Lent. In between Sundays, I’d encourage you to pick it up and read the whole sermon, Matthew 5, 6, & 7; it will help bring what we talk about on Sunday into your every day.
You know, I find it kind of odd giving a sermon on one of Jesus’ sermons. I mean, really, who am I to add anything at all to what Jesus said? But, here we go.
I want to back up just a bit to build the bridge between last Sunday and today: As a point of definition, Jesus says that to be blessed in God’s Kingdom isn’t about worldly possessions but about living in the sure and certain hope that God is with us always, in the confidence that we are beloved children of God always, in the wisdom that says love is the most powerful force in the world.
And coming on the heals of the description of what it is to be blessed in God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Salt & Light. All that we are and all that we do is to be seasoned with and illuminated by God’s Love so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.
We don’t think much about salt in our 21st century world. It’s the stuff in the shaker on the table and by the stove for when we cook. I think most of us know that it is also a preservative. In the day that Jesus spoke these words it was the only way known to prevent meat from being contaminated and spoiling and it was also used medicinally to promote healing. Medically, we know that without the proper amount of salt in our system, our bodies would not function.
And, until we have no electricity, most of us don’t think much about light. When our power was off this past week, I can’t count how many times I walked into a room and out of habit, reached up and pressed the light switch. Even without electricity, we have battery operated lights that come on with a sensor as we moved through the house; we have flashlights at the ready. And we have candles sitting on our tables, not to provide light but to make our world smell better. But did you know that the light from a single candle can be see from more than a mile away? The tiniest flame shatters the darkness in which it shines.
Salt and Light. Salt doesn’t change the flavor of a food, it brings out the natural flavor of the food. Light breaks through the darkness, always. Darkness cannot extinguish light.
Jesus wasn’t preaching this sermon in the temple or synagogue but on a hillside to ordinary folks who were looking for hope in a world that didn’t offer much because the world didn’t think these folks weren’t worth much. And Jesus tells them they ARE salt and light, life-giving and life-sustaining essentials. Being salt and light aren’t specialized spiritual gifts of the most holy among us. We don’t need some specialized degree or to wear a special uniform. We just have to be willing to follow Jesus. Being salt and light in this world are the outcomes of ordinary lives lived in communion with God, those who choose to live on earth as in heaven here and now. Being salt and light is about loving well.
Love builds up without destroying us. When we let anger or hate guide us, we are destroyed from the inside out. When we live with the attitude that we always have to be the one who’s right, the strongest, or the most powerful, life becomes a competition, a continuous battle zone of fighting to stay on top. This is not the life God created us for. We are created to live most abundantly, to flourish, to thrive, when we partner with God to share the goodness of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Jesus gave us a glimpse of God’s kingdom and shows us how to be glimpses of God’s Kingdom in this world – seasoning all we think, say, and do with God’s Love; shining compassion and kindness … even when we aren’t receiving it in return. We aren’t born to compete for all we think we deserve in this world but to be companions, working together with God’s help so that we all have enough.
By beginning his sermon with a new description of who is truly blessed and then describing who we are, Jesus makes it clear that being blessed isn’t about outwardly visible behaviors we can pretend to have but the way that people with God shaped hearts simply are. When we begin to live from the image of God within each of us, we reflect God’s righteousness, God’s love and goodness for everyone.
The Pharisees had a reputation for adhering to the superficial letter of the law while disregarding the spirit of the law which is to teach us to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves well. Life isn’t a competition in which we have to prove we are more righteous that anyone else in order to secure our place in God’s kingdom. We are made righteous by God’s gracious love who extends the invitation of life in the Kingdom to every one.
None of what Jesus’ teaches in this sermon is new – it is exactly what God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in our reading today. The people listening to Jesus sermon weren’t the elite, the politically powerful, the religious authorities, but those who the world said were far from ‘blessed”. These are the folk who Jesus called Salt and Light.
Jesus comes along and says to these people who the world said were the opposite of blessed that not only are they blessed but they possess the ability with God’s help to bless others. Those who see no hope in the ways of this world are blessed when they find the hope that only comes in our relationship with God. Those who see the world through eyes of mercy are blessed because they see as God sees. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed because they desire what God desires. Those who work for justice and peace are blessed because they understand that anger destroys us, not those we are angry at. Those who grieve are blessed because they have learned the healing power of lament.
Jesus fulfills God’s law of love by living it and he shows us in flesh and blood what that looks like to live in God’s Kingdom where we are. He doesn’t offer 3 simple steps to becoming salt and light but tells us we ARE salt and light and invites us to live into who we truly are: beloved children of God.
Salt can’t be anything but salt. If something is labeled salt and isn’t salty, it isn’t salt. Light can’t be anything but light and despite Thomas Kincaid’s beautiful efforts, a painting of light can’t actually light a room.
We are created to be beloved, blessed children of God, living God’s law of love so that everyone experienced the goodness of God through us. Salt & Light. All that we are and all that we do is to be seasoned with and illuminated by God’s Love so that others may taste and see that the Lord is good.