Sunday, February 9, 2020
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 5, Year A

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, with endless mercy you receive the prayers of all who call upon you. By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do, and give us the grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 58:1-9a   The fast God chooses
Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 God’s wisdom revealed through the Spirit
Matthew 5:13-20 The teaching of Christ: salt and light

Sermon
Title: Fulfilled to Be Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth.  You are light of the world.  Perhaps you have heard these pronouncements before.  Perhaps you have contemplated what these labels mean.  I’d like to begin by inviting you, if you wish and feel comfortable doing so, to share some of your favorite and/or most helpful applications of these two resources where the properties and attributes of salt and light inform and inspire our life as disciples of Christ.

Let’s start with salt -Jesus offers us one such application.  Salt makes things taste better; it enhances flavor.  So, we are called to help others see the fullness of all that we receive from God.

What other uses of salt can teach us what it means to be disciples of Christ who are the salt of the earth?  (Discussion)

Now let’s move on to light.  Jesus calls us to be light that lights up the dark places, and to be a blinking sign that points others to God.  What else does light teach us about being children of God who are called to be the light of the world?   (Discussion)

Very good.  So, having explored the first half of the gospel reading – the fun part that engages our imagination and our creativity.  Let’s move on to the second part, the harder part, the part that asks us to be more analytical.  (You’ll be happy (and maybe relieved) to know that I am not looking for input on this part.)  After the fun of light and salt, suddenly Jesus is sounding like he’s about to put on a police uniform or a judge’s robe and wig start quoting from Leviticus.  And while some may wrongly have this picture of Jesus, we teach something very different.  Our Lutheran tradition was born out of an understanding that no amount of works can make us righteous before God or win us salvation.  No obeying of laws gets us into heaven, or makes Jesus happy, or gets God to love us more.  And yet, it seems like this is what Jesus is saying.

The other challenging part of what Jesus says is that he tells us he did not come to abolish the law.  And yet, if you have heard enough stories from Jesus’ life and ministry, you know that he was constantly being called out for being a law breaker by those experts of the law and super observers – the Pharisees.  Even here he seems to take a jab at them and say these heroes of the ancient law are not even doing enough when it comes to the law.

Can’t we just go back to our tasty saltiness and dazzling illuminatability?  Do we really have to look at this weighty law stuff?  Well, there is good news to be had here.  And, this little passage about fulfilling the law is very helpful as we hear more from the Sermon on the Mount next Sunday and look further into Jesus’ teachings, especially as they are recorded by Matthew.

Speaking in very general, simple, and abbreviated terms:  the ancient law, given to Moses and handed down through the generations of Israelites who followed after those freed slaves, was a law to set a people apart from the world.  It defined them in contrast to those nations and tribes around them.  Set them apart to protect their identity, preserve their tradition, and, as promised to Abraham, so that they might be a blessing to the world.

In Isaiah, we hear how this law was being abused after centuries of nationhood.  The prophet speaks the word of God saying:
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

As is often the case with laws in the hands of we who are sinful, laws are used to judge others as less than, to expel those we consider outcasts, laws are manipulated to create classes, to convince the law enforcers that they are above the law, to name a few abuses.  By the time of Jesus, these laws had become, especially in the hands of the Pharisees, weapons, ego-boasters, walls to exclude, barriers to keep the world out.

Jesus comes bringing the fulfillment of the law calling us no just to DO NOT, but also to DO.  He calls us not just to obey out of fear and trembling, but to follow his example, responding to and motivated by love, because of the love that God show us in the person of Jesus.

In Jesus the law is not just written on stone, but written in every breath he takes, every act of love he displays, every welcome he extends, every healing, every feeding, every good news of God’s mercy and grace that he speaks.  And the fulfillment comes not through obedience, but through response.  You can’t make laws about love, you can only inspire people to respond.

Let me be clear, the ancient law was certainly a gift of love from God.  God was claiming a people.  God was ordering their lives because God loved and cared for them. God valued their lives, their possessions, their honor, their relationships.

But in Jesus, the fulfillment of that law, God acts out of compassion, out of profound mercy, out of divine grace that is truly unconditional.  And, he brought not so much a code to be obeyed, but an example to be followed.  He spoke not so much to our analytical minds that might always be looking for a short-cut or the possibility of a manipulation or reason to withdraw from others, but he came speaking to our hearts, so that we might be all in, embrace for the sake of others, and be in the world – making it tastier and lighting it up with love.

Have you seen the posters that are part of Equinox’s new ad campaign?  They call potential gym members to:  MAKE YOURSELF A GIFT TO THE WORLD.  Of course, in their eyes, this means make yourself so beautiful through exercise and pampering that you add stunning beauty to the world and give people around you who desire you a reason to live.  Well, okay, that’s one way to be a gift to the world.  But Jesus fulfills God’s law of love by being a true, perfect, and complete gift to the world.  And he calls us to join him in this fulfilling work.

We are salt.  We are light. But thanks be to God, it is not our salinity or our luminescence that makes us righteous, just as it was not by obeying the laws that made the Pharisees righteous enough for heaven.  It is only, in the one who comes fulfilling the law.  The one who is the ultimate gift of love to the world.  So be salt and light, in Jesus’ name.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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