Fifth Sunday after Epiphany _Matthew 5:13-20 February 5, 2017
This is a fascinating reading. I say this because it is packed with rich stuff to mull over and chew on and that’s just in the first 3 verses of the reading where we hear about salt and light. Because there is so much to consider and ponder the problem I faced in my preparation was one of where do I start, and where do I end?
In the spirit of economy of time let me start with the first word, “YOU”. Why is this important you might ask? It is important because unbeknownst to us reading this in English is that this is not a singular “you”, it is a plural “you.” And as one commentator pointed out perhaps a better translation might be the Southern phrase, Ya’ll, or even more so, “All’ ya’all”. In this light we could read the text this way, “All ya’all are salt” and this statement would be directed to all of you, together, as a community of faith, a congregation. In other words, we are all in this salt and light thing together, helping, supporting and encouraging one another as we bring life and light to the world. More on this in a bit.
Here is the second little thing that stands out in this first sentence. Jesus is telling us, “You, or ‘All ya’all” ARE salt. Or ‘All ya’all” are light. The key word here is ARE. In other words, this is not a command—as in “You will be salt.” Or, you should be or better be salt.” What’s going on here is that Jesus is not giving us a command, but rather a promise. What Jesus is saying is “You already are salt. You already are light. Even if you don’t know it. Even if you once knew it and forgot—and sometimes we do. Even if you have a hard time believing it.” This is pure promise.
Similar to last week’s reading from the first 12 verses where Jesus is handing out blessings, here Jesus is dishing out promises and if you are like me, I like blessings and promises over commands and admonitions any day.
So, what have we heard so far? Well, let me try this rendering of the text: “All ya’all ARE salt, right now, right here and always will be. All ya’all gathered here this morning are light. This is who you are. This is who we are, together. This is our identity and our purpose.” How’s that for good news?
As a part of our Confirmation program, Pastor Bauer from Trinity and I are walking through Luther’s Small Catechism and one of the reoccurring questions that Luther raises is this, “And what does this mean?” Well, maybe we need to raise that same question this morning-“And what does this mean? What does this good news mean to us?”
Consider this…once again Jesus is making use of images and items that people would understand and be familiar with. Jesus’ disciples and those eaves dropping on this “sermon” would know and understand that salt was and is a very precious commodity in the Ancient world. It was used to preserve as well as to season food. It brought flavor to otherwise bland and lifeless food. In this light Jesus is suggesting that we too have been blessed that we too might bring flavor and life to the world around us.
But here is something we need to consider. Salt, unlike today, wasn’t always pure, sometimes it had impurities mixed in, not on purpose necessarily, it just happened. But when this happens the salt could lose its saltiness, leaving behind the impurities in the form of a useless white residue. In similar manner, those who claim to follow Jesus, but whose lives are not characterized by service, care for others, self-discipline and mutual love are like this “non-salt”—empty of any real flavor.
Jesus said, “You (All Y’all) ARE the light of the world.” Like salt, even a little light in a darkened room can make a big difference. I think that is why Christmas Eve Candlelight services are so popular. We love seeing all the little candles illuminating the sanctuary is such a way that it might even remind us of who we are, what we are to be about. It is the ultimate object lessens all wrapped up in lots of sentimentality and warm fuzzys.
Jesus loves to use simple small images to make his point, salt, mustard seeds, leaven; all are small and seemingly insignificant. And yet, even a little light can light up a room, it exposes the shadows for what they really are; it brings direction, help, clarity and comfort.
In chapters 42 and 49, the prophet Isaiah is reminding the people of God of their calling to be a “light to the nations”. They were light bearers to shine God’s light and love into all the dark places and corners of the world. Like a lamp giving light to all in the house, their lives were not just to show up evil for what it really is, but to allow people to find their way by coming to know God. In the same way, our good works are not to be hidden. We, too, are called by God in the waters of baptism to be light-bearers as we reflect the light of Christ into our world. As we say when we hand a candle to those who have just been baptized, we are to light the light within us shine, that people may see our good works and give God praise and glory.
Earlier I mentioned the plural use of the word “YOU” or “All Y’all” and I said I would come back to this. And I do because I have been thinking about both the plurality and promise of this statement. If you had stuck around last Sunday for the Annual meeting I had the opportunity to lift up just a few of the salty and light bearing activates of “All y’all” and they bear repeating as a means to remind you of who you are and what we are to be about.
This past year we had opportunity to start a couple new ministry endeavors. The first is the Meal Ministry coordinated by Mary Rice. This ministry is simple, when an individual or family is dealing a crisis or significant transition in life; we have people here at Zion willing to prepare a meal as an expression of care and comfort. It, like salt and mustard seeds and leaven might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Trust me; my family has been on the receiving end of such meals.
When a member of our congregation needs to receive radiation treatment outside the community every day for a month, we have had a steady stream of drivers sign up to provide transportation so as to ease the burden. This is salty, this is life enhancing. And y’all are engaged in this salty life. Good for you, well done good and faithful servants.
This past year we have opened out doors and fellowship hall to a great many funerals, memorial services and graveside services for individuals and families not connected to Zion. You have shown Christian hospitality, welcoming strangers, embracing those who are in sorrow. This is what the Body of Christ does. It’s that simple. And y’all make it possible. (Yes, I am having fun with this accent thing!)
Every week we have our own little sweat shop downstairs in the old fellowship hall where we have folks making quilts, dozens upon dozens of quilts that will provide warmth and comfort and shelter to people all over the world. We have another group making Prayer Shawls and Chemo Caps. This is salty behavior.
We have a dedicated handful of Sunday school teachers and confirmation table leaders and mentors who are living out the call to share the love of Jesus with our youth. They do this every week. This is what it means to be light and you—y’all are doing it!
And trust me, there is so much more. So many of you are engaged in salty behavior, most of it is behind the scenes with little or no fanfare. Loving kindness, doing justice and walking humbly with your God.
On a much larger scale—our synod benevolence helps our larger body of Christ, our NEMN Synod and our ELCA be salt and light in ways we would not or could not do on our own. We are helping train pastors and deacons and missionaries. We are serving people who need medical assistance, emotional support; financial guidance and we are starting new churches locally, nationally, and globally. We are dedicated to eliminating malaria around the world and making sure that no one goes to bed at night hungry. When there is a national or world crisis our church is present, we are the first ones in and last ones out, faithfully being salt, bringing light and living out Jesus teachings in Matthew 25.
These are good works that need to be lit up to the glory of God because they benefit our neighbors in need. This is who we are. This is what we do. No apologies. We are salt. We bring light.
But here is the import part you need to remember. Being salt and light is based on who we already are in Christ. Jesus says “You are salt…you are light” not that doing certain things will make you salt or light. As Lutherans, we understand that it is God’s love and grace in our lives that saves us and makes us God’s own. Our good works, our living out our “saltiness” and sharing the light of Christ with the world, come as our response to what God, in Christ, has first done for us.
You are Salt. You are Light. This is a promise and a blessing to the rest of the world. Let us be who God created us to be. Amen
+ Scott Mims—Virginia Beach, VA – Faith Lens
+ Pastor Brian Stoffregen—Faith Lutheran, Yuma, AZ
Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!