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Epiphany 5A Sermon
Matthew 5:13-20;
refer to Isaiah 58:1-12
February
9, 2020

 

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Matthew 5:13-20

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

One of the greatest sermons of the Christian faith is found in chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, and it is called, “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus had gathered some people together as they followed him outside of Capernaum, on a rise overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and shared some special words about life and faith. He started with what we now call The Beatitudes; he taught us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer; he opened peoples’ eyes to many truths about life and relationships with God and each other.
This morning we heard a portion of that sermon where Jesus reminds us of a wonderful promise from God, as well as a call to respond to that promise with our everyday actions. The promise is right there, front and center: “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world!” Notice that Jesus doesn’t make any conditions, like, “If you are really good and keep the commandments and do what you are supposed to do then maybe someday when you die, someone will stand up in front of your family and friends in church and say that you were like light or salt or something else complimentary!” No, Jesus says, “You ARE the salt of the earth, you ARE the light of the world.” All of us are salt and light – there is no escaping it!

Jesus goes on, “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything! And no one would think to hide a lamp under a bushel basket! That would be ridiculous! So…LET your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to you Father in Heaven!” Jesus is reminding us that saltiness and light are attributes of people of faith. The intrinsic value in these two things is that it does nothing for the thing itself! The light of a candle isn’t meant to draw attention to the candle, as if to say, “How do you like my wick?” or “Am I not a tall, sturdy candle?” The light from a candle or lamp is to give sight to others in an otherwise dark place. Salt has no value unto itself – we don’t serve up a big bowl of salt as an appetizer to a meal! The value of salt lies in that ways that it brings out the flavor within the food upon which it is sprinkled, the ways that it preserves the proteins upon which it is spread, and raises the temperature of cold or frozen water to either melt or to boil more rapidly. Salt and light are valuable in what they do for others around them! And according the Jesus’ sermon, we are salt and light!

In the rest of our gospel reading, Jesus challenges us with the expectations that come with being people of faith. Even though Martin Luther downplayed the part that good works has in gaining God’s attention in a positive way, he did say that faith without works is dead. We are called to a life in which others can tell we are baptized children of God without us having to inform them of that. This is why, during the baptismal service, we give a candle to the baptized or a sponsor and say, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” The same words Jesus shared in this wonderful sermon.

Which leads me to pose to you the following question, “Why are you here … this morning … in this sanctuary?” Are you like the people to whom God is speaking in our first lesson from Isaiah 58? People who had returned from exile and fasted and prayed in order to catch God’s attention and favor, but who still were not successful in rebuilding the walls and temple of their destroyed city, Jerusalem? What is your motivation for sacrificing an hour or two on a Sunday morning if God isn’t going to notice and help reward you in some way? Notice how God points out the flaw in their thinking: their fast is so that everyone knows that they are fasting; to draw attention to their ability to deny themselves something. The fast that is acceptable to God is the fast that feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, clothes the naked and does justice. They were not making the connection between the rituals of their worship and how they treated those around them, especially the needy.
Why are any of us her? Are we trying to catch God’s eye? Why do we pray and read the Bible? Are we trying to receive special blessings so that life is pleasant and enjoyable? Why is faith important to you? Is it so that you can be perfect? So that you can present a good argument with your neighbors who don’t go to worship, believe in God, or who claim to be “spiritual but not religious”? Is it so you can be forgiven of your sins and feed upon the body and blood of Christ? Is it so that you can be in the presence of God’s Word – hearing it and sharing the spirit? Is it so that you can hear some good news in the midst of all of the bad, divisive news that is so prevalent in the world today?

Recently I attended a pastor’s conference and the theme of the presentations was, “Practical Evangelism.” Sounds like something we Lutherans could use … we tend to be a bit shy in our evangelical activities. One presenter, Pastor Jake Jacobsen from Western PA shared his evangelism emphasis called, “Front Porching” with us. Remember the times when everyone’s home had a front porch, and neighbors visited and shared stories together? Nowadays people don’t build front porches – they build back decks! I was so pleasantly surprised last summer when someone in our neighborhood built on a front porch to their house. We just don’t see that much anymore.

Pastor Jacobsen claims that evangelism is the sharing of the story of what God in Christ has done in your life. Front porches, either literally or figuratively, are great places to do this with others. It entails entering into relationship with others – getting to know them and listening to them. It also entails trusting that when you tell how your story and God’s story has interacted, that they will hear it with grace and love. It doesn’t mean having all of the answers – Jake told about gathering on a neighbor’s front porch the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, and everyone got a chance to tell the story of where they were when they heard the dreadful news of the events that morning. One young neighbor, knowing that Jake is a pastor, asked, “Where was God when all of this happened?” Without having to delve into theological treatises or deep thoughts, Jake was able to share how God has sustained him during times in his own life of trial and sorrow, and his trust that God is doing the same thing even then … and left it open for all of the neighbors to tell how God’s comfort has come to them in those times as well.

I come here because it is a place to hear THE story – the Gospel, and to listen to the stories of others, and to think about my own story and how it intersects with God’s story and with your stories. It is not a place to catch God’s eye or favor – it is a place of encouragement and holiness, so that tomorrow we can respond out of love to whatever we may come across. It is a place where we hear the promise that God has made us light for the world and salt of the earth. And going from here I pray that you will let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven! Amen.