Monday, February 10, 2020

In Christ, You ARE Salt and Light

[This message was shared yesterday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 5:13-20
The God we know in Jesus Christ speaks a powerful Word. 

When God spoke over ancient chaos, saying things like, “Let there be light,” “Let the land produce vegetation” and “living creatures” on land and in the sea, He brought all the physical worlds we have ever seen or will ever see into being. 

When God speaks over the waters of Holy Baptism in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He declares us part of His new creation, His children. 

At Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father said to Peter, James, and John--and us--”This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5) 

The Father says this because His Word has power and when we listen to it, it transforms us. "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." (Romans 10:17)

That’s why God tells us in Isaiah: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

In Matthew 5:13-16, 
the first four verses of today’s gospel lesson, Jesus, the Word of God, God the Son, makes two powerful declarative statements. He tells us, “You are salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” 

In making these declarations, Jesus is not saying that we should be salt and light, or we have to be salt and light, or we need to become salt and light. 

If, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit-powered Word given to us in the Scriptures and in Baptism and Communion, we can say, “We believe in God the Father...We believe in God the Son...We believe in God the Holy Spirit,” we are salt and light

Even on those days when our faith seems weak. 

Even on those days when we wonder where God is and whether He cares. 

Even on those days when we're not "feeling it."

God’s Word always accomplishes what God desires, always achieves the purpose for which He sends it. And His Word says that disciples are salt and light.

But what does it mean to be salt and light?

Take a look at verse 13. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

From ancient times, the Jewish rabbis have associated salt with wisdom. True wisdom, you know, always comes from God (Proverbs 2:6). And, Paul says that even the foolishness of God (if God could be foolish) is wiser than the smart-alecky cynicism that passes for wisdom in our world (1 Corinthians 1:25). The ultimate wisdom that God reveals to a human race bent on “being like God” sounds foolish--insane--to the world. This wisdom says that life, everlasting life, as we are meant to live it begins with a cross and only culminates in a resurrection of those who have trusted in Jesus. 

As Paul puts it elsewhere: “...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) 

Jesus says that you and I--He uses the plural form of you, roughly equivalent to "y'all," meaning all baptized believers--are the wisdom of God for a world gone foolish, born foolish, from sin and death

We are the salt of the earth, God’s ultimate wisdom staring the world in the face. Jesus has spoken His saving Word to us. His Holy Spirit has empowered us to believe the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in Him. We are the salt of the earth.

But what if salt loses its saltiness? We know that sodium chloride can’t lose its salty quality. 
Salt only loses its salty influence if it becomes diluted

Our saltiness as disciples is diminished when we allow it to be diluted in us

When Christians say things like, “The Bible is good, but I don’t think God knew as much back then as we do now,” they’re trading in God’s wisdom for human wisdom, trading in Jesus for the world. 

When we hear Christians utter blasphemies like, “I think Jesus is a Republican” or “I think Jesus is a Democrat,” their saltiness is diluted and they’re at risk, as Jesus says, “no longer [being] good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Whenever we try to add our finite, imperfect, short-sighted “wisdom” (some people call it common sense), for God’s wisdom, we lose our saltiness

We become faithless. 

We dilute the power of God’s wisdom over our lives and the power of our witness for Jesus to others in our world. 

In fact, where Jesus says in our translation, “loses it saltiness,” the word it translates in the Greek in which Matthew wrote--μωρανθῇ, from which we get the word moron--literally means become foolish

We lose our saltiness when we foolishly dilute the truth of the Gospel and of the Word of the Bible. 

We avoid becoming foolish by remaining in close daily contact with the God Who has brought us to faith in Jesus and has declared us His own. 

But listen: Jesus makes us salt of the earth so that we have life with God that never ends through faith in Jesus, for sure. But He also makes us salt of the earth so that we can season the whole world with the truth of the Gospel, the ultimate wisdom of God.

Jesus carries this theme on in His next declarative Word for believers. Verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Wait a minute, we might think, isn’t Jesus supposed to be the “light of the world”? Yes, Jesus is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). 

To speak of Jesus as the light of the world is to speak of the God of  blazing perfection, Who gives illumination and direction to those who follow Him, Who burns away the sin and impurities that can mar our relationships with God and others. 

This Light, Jesus, is living in us, guiding us, making us new, warming us in the glow of God’s tender love for us. 

In the Light of Jesus, His Word, whether we consider it together as we are now or in our own daily quiet times we God, “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 

Jesus tells us today that we need to keep the fires of His light stoked within us by remaining connected to Him and His Church.

At the end of today’s gospel lesson, Jesus says something that would be disturbing if He hadn’t already declared us to be His salt and light. 

“For I tell you,” He says, “that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  

As Christ's Word enables you to believe in Him, your righteousness does exceed that of the Pharisees and all the other fussy, self-righteous, chest-thumping, judgmental, holier than thou religionists you can name


Because Jesus has declared you to be His salt of the earth and His light in the world

And because, in daily repentance and renewal, in regular worship with God’s people, and regular attention to His Word, You turn again and again back to the One true God we know in Jesus Christ lives in you

The tastelessness of sin and death are gone. 

So are their darkness or their ability to make us be afraid or to worry. 

You can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

That’s what it means to be salt of the earth and the light of the world

This is the powerful Word Jesus speaks to you today  and you can believe it. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]