Monday, February 7, 2011

A Salty City Full of Light

5th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 6th, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:13-16

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.

            You have to appreciate the irony: the same week the government issues a warning about your salt intake is the same week you hear from the Gospel reading: you are the salt of the earth.  And though today’s Gospel reading offers us an opportunity for several sermons, I promise to give only one. 
            Although that hardly makes Jesus’ teaching any easier to understand.  Light of the world – now that makes sense.  But sometimes He says the strangest things:  “you are the salt of the earth.” 
            Salt was sprinkled by the priest with the sacrifices of Israel.  Whether it was a bull or grain offering it was seasoned with salt, consecrated with fire and given for the holiness of the people.  Salt purifies, sanctifies, makes holy.  Where there’s salt, there’s a sacrifice – better yet a covenant, a testament cut between God and His people to purify, sanctify and make them holy.  And where things are made holy, God is pleased by the aroma.
            And there’s no greater sacrifice than the one cut between God and man on the cross – in Jesus.  Crucified.  Broken.  Beaten.  Consecrated in the fire of God’s divine wrath a perfect offering.  To purify, sanctify and make us holy.  He is the temple, the priest and the Lamb all in one perfect fleshly covenant.  Jesus’ death is a pleasing aroma, a suitable sacrifice, acceptable in God’s sight.  There’s even salt – mixed in sweat and blood –sprinkled in Christ’s sacrifice, flowing from His cross to atone for the sins of the world – for your sins.
            No wonder the early church used salt at baptism – a liquid covenant cut with water and Word and Spirit – pure, sanctified, holy.  A touch of salt on the tongue, oil on the eyes and lips and forehead.  What a confession!  Salted with Christ in the font – Baptized into His death. 
            And here you are today, the baptized, the salted, His holy people, His kingly priests, lighting the world around you with His light.  Salting it with everything you say and do in this world.  This is why He was preaching to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount – for their sakes, yes.  For the world, yes.  But for you as well.  To bring that Word of salt and light – Christ’s perfect sacrifice, the radiance of His salvation – to you through water and Word and Spirit; through absolution and body and blood. 
            You went into the water a bland, tasteless, lukewarm dead sinner and you came out covered in the pleasing aroma of Christ’s death and resurrection – a holy, priestly, salty, lighty, blessed child of God.  Sprinkled – not just with water – but with the Spirit – the Lord and giver of life - and wherever the Spirit is present, there’s Jesus.
            You are who He says you are.  His proclamation lights you up. His words salt you. Salt in all His saltiness. Light in all His brightness. 

             And being the salt of the earth carries with it a responsibility.  Christ seasons us with His sacrifice and then scatters us throughout the world as a preservative.  You are Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah; you are Noah building the ark while the world carries on; you are John proclaiming in the wilderness: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The world exists for the sake of Christ’s suffering church; and the church salts the earth with Jesus’ salvation and lights the way to the Crucified One with cruciform mercy.  There’s no running away from who you are.  To reject this salt and light is to reject Christ Himself.
            If salt loses its saltiness, it ceases to be salt; it has lost its purpose.  Hiding the light is as absurd as salt losing its saltiness.  It’s worthless, thrown out.  Trampled under foot.  No such thing as unsalty salt or hidden lights or invisible cities – or Christless Christian Churches or disciples of Jesus who do not believe, teach, confess in thought, word and deed.  The congregation that fails to carry out its purpose – of preaching Jesus Christ and Him Crucified - ceases to be the church.  The lamp-stand can be removed. 
Which is why Jesus’ warning horrifies you.  Or that it doesn’t scare you, horrifies you more. 
            For you aren’t salty by yourself.  You aren’t a light at all. Not even a flicker or a pinch.  You are blessed, holy, pure, sanctified because He is all the blessedness, holiness, purity and sanctification you need.
            And wherever Jesus is…there’s His salt and light – His sacrifice for sins and His life of mercy for those in need.  Your sins forgiven.  Mercy shown to the poor, food to the hungry, homeless given shelter, compassion for the needy.  Jesus’ teaching and good works go together – like a tree and fruit; He is the Vine you are His branches, fed and nourished in the Sacraments to feed and nourish the world – to salt the earth.
            Wherever the church is there will be care for the poor and the sick.  Salt of the earth preaching and teaching – Christ Crucified for you.  Light of the world mercy and love – Christ Crucified in the neighbor.  You can’t have one without the other.  Jesus teaching – the doctrine and good works go together: faith without good works is dead and yet good works without faith are meaningless, empty.  And in Christ you have both – faith and good works.  Jesus is the flavor of our saltiness, the brightness of our light, the foundation of the city of God.  You are His blessed ones, a salty city full of light.
            So that the world out there would see your lamp and glorify Him - not you. This hasn’t been about you at all, but about the One who brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light - your Father in Heaven.  A city on a hill shines. A lamp on a lamp-stand gives light to the whole house. And salt, it gives flavor - Jesus flavor. His sacrifice.  His forgiveness. His eternal life.
            He’s your salt. He’s your light. Given to you in His gifts. Gifts which salt you, light you, holy you, priest you, to salt, light, holy, and priest for others.  A living sacrifice – that’s who you are, St. Paul says…a pleasing aroma… Philippians.    Through your sharing the Gospel and your life of mercy – the world sees the God who is merciful to sinners.  These sinners see your good works and come to see that God is also their Father. 
            It is good to bear abundant fruit in your life as a Christian, but it is far more important to remain in the One who is the apple of the Father’s eye.  It is good to let your light shine before men, but it is far better to be sheltered under the shadow of your Father’s wing.  It is good to strive with all your might to keep the commandments of God, but it is of everlasting importance to know that all the commandments of God have already been kept for you by Christ.
            And so today, He sends you from here, given to, lit up with His light, and forgiven. His salt. His light.  Shining when you aren’t even trying to shine and salting everything you say and do with His Cross.  For the same lips that salt and light the earth are the same lips preserved by His New Testament.  Jesus’ great and never-ending covenant in His own body and blood – sprinkled – no, poured out, given and shed for you.  Pure.  Holy.  Forgiven.  Come, eat and drink.  See His good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.

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