Sunday, February 5, 2017

Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-20 (CEB). "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It's good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can't be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

"Don't even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven't come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Grace and peace to you from our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, I'm here! I made it!

After these past few weeks driving a rental truck to collect my stuff in storage at various points that, it seems, were all over the upper Midwest, I made it! I'm here!

I got all moved in on Tuesday, thanks to an amazing crew from this congregation who unloaded the truck in record time. And, over the past few days, I've been trying to organize. To get boxes in the right rooms. To get unpacked while I, at the same time, began my ministry here at Grace and Glory. It's been a busy week!

And, since Tuesday, I've been searching for salt. You see, I'm an egg eater in the mornings. I like my eggs scrambled, cooked into a frittata, or just simply hard-boiled, which is the easiest and fastest method.

On Tuesday night, the first night in my new apartment, I went out and got some hard-boiled eggs. The next morning, when I went to eat a couple of them for breakfast, I realized I had no salt. Well, actually, that's not completely true. I had salt. I just couldn't remember which box it was in.

So, I made myself a list because, of course, there were a few other things I needed. And on Wednesday evening, once again, I found myself in the grocery store. And I got everything on my list. Except the salt, which I forgot.

Thursday evening, though, I found the box. What a difference in those eggs I ate on Friday morning! The salt completely changed the flavor.

In our Gospel lesson today, we are presented with two images. One of those is salt.

Salt is one of those ingredients that has multiple properties. We see it used all over the Hebrew scriptures--the Old Testament--in many ways. It's connected to sacrifice. It's used as a purifying agent. Sharing it also suggests loyalty.

So, in the first few verses of our Matthew text today, when Jesus calls the disciples the "salt of the earth" and challenges them to live like salt, what he's really saying to them is to live this flavoring--to live a life that is pure and sacrificial and loyal. Not just towards God. But, particularly, towards the entire world.

This is what our Isaiah text is saying to us, too. This reading is a dialogue between the Jewish people and God. They come to God saying, "Look, God! We are keeping all of the rituals you want us to keep. We fast. And we fast. But you, God--you don't seem to see it!"

Then, God says back to them, "That's not what I see. I see that your rituals--your fasts. But they don't lead you to better behavior. You don't treat your neighbors better. You don't treat your workers well. The ritual of fasting does you no good because you aren't changed by it. There's no transformation." In fact, God says, "Your fasting is selfish. It's oppressive. It's violent!" And God calls them to look at their behavior, and to understand that the purpose of the ritual is that they might be changed. And to see, that unless they are changed, none of those rituals really matter.

That transformation is what Paul is talking about in our second reading when he refers to the "mind of Christ." We become spiritual people because the Holy Spirit works on us to change our hearts. If we are open to it, we are transformed. And we begin to live that salty life--a life that is flavored by God's love. Just like my eggs were flavored by that salt.

And this brings us to the second image. That of light.

In my new apartment, all of the windows are covered with plantation shutters. Do you know which ones I'm talking about? Each slat is about 2" wide. And, you know what? No matter how tight I try to shut them at night, because of the safety lights in my apartment complex, there is always just a little light that peeks through them.

When we live a salty life, we become light. Now, it may be a little light that just peeks out into the world. But, over time, we become a strong light that shines brightly out in the world. A light that seeks to share God's love. That seeks to change the world to become the just and righteous place that God intends.

It is not God's intent that our transformation is passive. Instead, God wants us to be active. To be out in the world, active, shining brightly. Finding those dark places in our world. Opening them up to the light of God--the light of Christ. Christ, the One who knows deeply about those dark places. The one who went into those dark places for us. Willingly. Sacrificially. Into the dark places. And became Light for us and for all people, in every time and every place.

When I first came to visit this place this past December and, as I've started to settle in over these past few days, I've been watching you. I've seen your welcome--you all living into the statement in your bulletin--that the doors of this church are always open to those seeking the Good News of the Holy Gospel.

You have done that welcome incredibly well! Through the food pantry, through WISE, through the backpack and quilt ministries. You have welcomed well.

Yet, out in the world there is much darkness. As believers, God is calling us to go out. To shine our light as a congregation out there. 

Where are those dark places in Oldham County? Where are those places that resist God's justice and righteousness?

I'm wondering if, over the next several months as we begin ministry together, we might be challenged to think on these things. To wonder together how we continue to bring flavor here in this place and outside in the community. To wonder together how we continue to shine our light so that it, like the light of Christ, might never be diminished. And like the light in my apartment, find a way to peek through the darkness. To act.

I invite you to join with me in this work so that together we might be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And I know and trust that the Holy Spirit will lead the way as we work together to carry out God's kingdom of justice and righteousness in our community and in our world.

May God grant this. Amen.

Preached February 5, 2017, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 112:1-9, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

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