Monday, February 10, 2014

Sermon for Epiphany 5: "You are...Salt and Light"

+ 5th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 9th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 58:3-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

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

You are salt. No doubt you’ve been called many things. Salt probably isn’t one of them. But it’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a blessing. Just like Jesus’ nine beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel (just before this reading) where Jesus declare that you are blessed precisely because you have nothing to offer God, no claim to make…blessed are the poor in Spirit. That’s us: beggars, but blessed. You are salt.
Jesus doesn’t say: “You must become salt” or “You must get to work on improving your saltiness.” Jesus simply declares: “You are salt.”
These days we’re cautious about salt. Low sodium diets. Doctors tell us to watch our salt consumption – and for good reason. There is such a thing as too much salt…just ask car owners in the Midwest.
But salt also has many beneficial qualities about it too. If you’re stuck in on a snowy road, salt helps keep you out of the ditch. It’s good for flavoring and seasoning… like  a quadruple venti salted caramel hot chocolate! And in Jesus’ day, salt preserved food from rotting. Salt was sprinkled in the sacrifices of the temple. Salt was even used to disinfect wounds and prevent diseases.

You – Jesus’ disciples – are a preservative and a seasoning in a decaying, rotting world. This is who you are as God’s people. You are baptized. Your saltiness is not yours but Christ’s. He is what makes the disciple salty just. Without Jesus’ death and life, there is no salt in the disciple. And salt without saltiness is useless.

You are also a light. A city set upon a hill. Now that metaphor is a bit easier to understand. Darkness means sin and death. You shine the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection into a world shrouded in death. Like salt, light makes a difference. It’s noticed. It’s hard to hide. A city set high on a hill that can be seen for miles around. Or like a lamp set a on a stand that fills the whole house with light.
So too, Jesus says, “You are light.” Enlightened by the Spirit. That’s why at Holy Baptism we give a lit candle to the newly baptized. Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the light of the world. And so we live, reflecting Christ’s light in our daily lives.
Again, this has little to do with any particular brilliance of your own. It’s not because you’ve cranked up the right wattage in your spiritual amperage or generated your own holy energy. Just as with the salt, you are light because Christ has declared: “You are the light of the world.” Christ’s death and resurrection shine forth from you in word and deed. It’s who you are. 

You are salt. You are light. To say you’re not is absurd. Like salt losing its saltiness or covering a light with a 5 gallon bucket in a dark room. This is a warning for Jesus’ disciples and us. Don’t lose your saltiness. Don’t cover up the light. Don’t stop being who I’ve called you to be. 

How does a disciple lose his saltiness? By fixing your eye on something other than Jesus, by trying to preserve a rotting world with something other than Christ Crucified and risen, by replacing the seasoning and light of the Gospel with whatever flavor of the week sinful people have cooked up. By justifying yourself and leaving out the cross and looking for another way to be, you know, “spiritual without being religious.” But spirituality without the death and resurrection of Jesus is like salt that has lost its bite. It’s absurd. Worthless. Fit for the garbage heap.

That’s why your identity is not in how well we live out being salt and light. You’re identity is in Christ. Your faith is enlightened, created, and preserved by the salty, enlightening Word of Jesus. Words like he promises us in the beatitudes: “blessed are the poor in spirit – the ones who have nothing to offer God, who can make no claim on heaven – yours is the reign of heaven.” Words like he declares in today’s reading: You are salt. You are light.

How are we, the Church a salt and light? By continuing to do doing what St. Paul and Isaiah did: preach Christ Crucified, and love the neighbor.  “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.” “And feeding the hungry, providing for the homeless, clothing the naked – caring for all,” says Isaiah. 

Or, as our sign and bulletin says: clear witness, caring service. But our being a salt and a light isn’t what preserves this congregation. It is Christ who is our salt and light.

Jesus preserves his church with the salt of his Word in the absolution, as you are preserved in forgiveness by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ Word and water in the font where Christ’s death and resurrection are sprinkled, no, poured out upon you preserving you from death and seasoning your life with Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ Word in the Holy Supper where his holy flesh preserves and rescues us from the stinking, rotting sinful flesh we carry around with us.

And the same is true for Jesus’ other metaphor of light. The light the Church shines forth is the clear light of the Gospel: your sins are forgiven. Your dark deeds of sin are no match for the light of Christ. Christ has called you out of darkness into his marvelous, crucified, resurrected, and ascended light.
Jesus is your salt: His life and death preserves you in life and death. Jesus is your light: His cross and resurrection, and sending of the Holy Spirit enlighten you in word, water, body and blood. The Church is salted by Christ to be a salt to this sinful, dying world; enlightened by Christ to be a beacon, a harbor, a herald of Good News. Through your sharing the Gospel and your life of mercy – the world sees the God who is merciful to sinners. 

let your light shine before others…that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Notice Jesus doesn’t say your neighbors will see your good works and glorify you. But glorify your Father in heaven. If you’re doing good works for you, they’re not really good. And if you’re doing good works for God – well that’s not what Jesus is saying either. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.

Take evangelism for example…you don’t invite friends or neighbors to church to get on God’s good side (that’s what the Mormons and JW’s do); you do it because you love your neighbor, because you want to tell them Christ was Crucified for them.

Or think about Christian stewardship…the money God has called us to care for, the time he has called us to service, the skills he has given each of us – these aren’t used selfishly, for our own personal purposes – but for the good of Christ’s Church, for the well-being of others. 

This is why Jesus came as pure salt to this earth. Why Jesus is Light of light, the true and only Light of the world. His righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and the Pharisees. His was the righteousness of God. He kept the Law perfectly. He fulfilled the word of the prophets down to the last stroke of the pen. His very own life and death is the preservative that salts this decaying, rotten, sinful world. The light of his glorious death and resurrection is the one true Light that pierces the night of sin and banishes the shadow of death.

And it’s this light and salt that fills the life of the Church. You are a light, a city on a hill – just like Jesus was raised up on a hill to die, for the entire world to see their salvation in Jesus. You are the salt by which God preserves a rotting, dying, decaying world from judgment. In the book of Acts, Christ takes His church like a salt shaker and spreads out his disciples and his Word and Sacraments to the ends of the earth. 

It’s no different today. You are the salt of the earth and light of the world. That’s who you are in Christ.
Wherever God has shaken you out – your home, your community, your work, your school – there you are salt, seasoning your little corner of the world with Jesus as one of His salty baptized believers.

You are salt. You are light. For you are blessed, preserved, and saved in Jesus.

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

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