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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

You Are Salt and Light For the Law - 02/09/2020

Welcome back to the Sermon on the Mount!

As I’ve mentioned recently, we get a few weeks of what is perhaps Jesus’ most well-known sermon in this season after Epiphany.

The reason I think it’s important to be reminded of this in what we read today, and many days, is that we tend to get this Good News Story of when God took on human flesh to walk with us, teach us, die for us and rise from the dead for us, in bits and pieces.

Now there is nothing wrong with this, of course. Even in bits and pieces, our holy scriptures have been reported by many to change the way they see and understand everything. However, we don’t hear the story like those first hearers often did … gathered in community and family, often when they were in shelter for the night and waiting for the sun to rise again so they could return to their daylight tasks. Very often, they would hear it in its entirety. Most likely, they would hear the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety.

And so we are wise to make it part of our scripture study habit to look around the text. It’s literally what the word “pericope” means. “Around the text.”

If you want a deeper understanding of what you just read … look at what came before and what is coming next. If what we read seems to contradict something else or brings up more questions than answers, stop and widen the lens.

Is our Lord of Love being literal when he says “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Mt 10:35-36)

Does our dear human rabbi literally intend with his own small hands to destroy the entire temple and rebuild it in three days?

Probably not. So we widen the lens and look for the larger points Jesus is trying to make.

Besides answering questions and providing context, this practice can also make the brief lesson richer. I think that is the case this week as we hear this teaching of salt and light and God’s law.

This next movement in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is indeed instructive and compelling on its own. AND, when we understand it as part of a larger teaching, it enhances and illuminates itself, just like salt enhances flavor and light broadens our view.

I’ll only take a quick look back for our purposes today since we get the next movement of the Sermon on the Mount next week. There are about 25 of these movements altogether.

So you’ll remember, Jesus began all of this last week with the Beatitudes.

… Which reveal to us exactly who the focus of his ministry is …

… the poor in spirit … those who mourn … and the meek … the ones who really need a blessing.

And in the Beatitudes we also find the foundation of what it means to be part of this ministry – to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus …

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful and pure of heart; blessed are the peacemakers and those who are ridiculed and dismissed and even persecuted for giving their lives over to this ministry.

Last week we talked about how we see this over and over in Jesus' teachings and his efforts to uphold God's law. It is about God's love for everyone, and especially those who need it most, and it is also about how God seeks to work through us to make that happen … God’s agency. (Gonyea, Mt 5:1-12JesusMinistryGodsAgency2.2.20)

This movement of Jesus’ sermon we hear today comes right after Jesus sets the tone with the Beatitudes. And to us agents of God, to us believers and disciples he says …

“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world …I have not come to abolish (the law) but to fulfill (it).” (Mt. 5:13-17 para)

Jesus is very commanding here – he may be humble and kind – pretty easy going much of the time. Be he is very direct here about how he – how God – intends to work through us.

And he is quite clear about when we are salt and light.

You are salt, you are light, Jesus says. Not, if you follow this law precisely or offer this sacrifice in this way, you will be salt and light.

And not, you will be eligible to be salt and light following a 90-day probationary period, or when and if you are visited by the angel of God, or have some kind of public conversion experience.

No, Jesus tells us, straight up, no caveats or hoops of fire or anything like that … you are salt, you are light. You are these things already.

So the unspoken message is that if we choose to withhold our saltiness for the earth and our light for the world, we are getting in between God’s work and those who really need a blessing.

One way I like to think of our salty nature is that God has created us to enhance the flavor of and preserve this planet and all that is in it … two particularly useful properties of salt.

And as the light of the world, particularly for us followers of Jesus, God has created us to be beacons – people see this light in us, they are attracted to it and want to know more about it. How is it that when things get really difficult or really dark, believers and disciples of Jesus are so often able to struggle through it and find hope and new life? How is this connected to Jesus and what he taught? How does his life, death and resurrection matter to us right here and right now?

The light that shines from the followers of Jesus has a tendency to widen the lens and broaden the view so that all may see the love of God in Jesus and be drawn into this covenantal relationship with God.

And that word, “covenant,” provides us an excellent segue into the last part of our reading for today.

“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.” (Mt. 5:17-18)

Right from the beginning Jesus is being very clear that he has not come to bring a new law to the covenantal relationship. Although he may challenge the way human law or human interpretation of God’s Law can become problematic, The Law – God’s Law – is still central to our relationship with God.

This is a lot like an early argument about cheap grace. There are those who would argue that since God forgives our sins and saves us for eternal life with God, it is okay to just do as we please, as long as we remember to say “Sorry, God,” once in a while.

But, as is often said in Lutheran circles, while God’s Grace is free grace, it is not cheap grace. Our worshipping life together doesn’t bring us around the sacraments of the font and the table so that we can do as we please each week and then come here to be excused of all our selfish and sinful actions from the week before so we can start all over again when we leave here.

Rather, the sacraments of the font and table prepare and nurture us to go from here and uphold God’s law to the best of our ability, knowing that Jesus suffered death and rose from the dead so we would be freed from the shackles of those times we fail and fall short of loving God and neighbor.

And so I thought it would be helpful to hear that Law again, in its entirety – to let it steep in our souls before we move on to the next piece of this sermon next week.

I thought it would be helpful to be reminded of God’s life-giving Law now that Jesus has set the stage for who he has come to lift up – the hungry, the soft-spoken, those who mourn; and God’s agents, those who thirst and hunger for God’s justice; those believers and followers God intends to use as salt and light for the world and for the Law.

So listen, O Disciples, all with ears to hear. This is God’s Law, as given to Moses:

“God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of (God’s) name.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; (God) rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; (God) set it apart as a holy day.

 Honor your (parents) so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

No murder.

No adultery.

No stealing.

No lies about your neighbor.

No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or (spouse) or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exo 20:1-17) (Eugene Peterson, The Message translation)

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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