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This is now the third week that we have been invited to gather around Jesus listen to listen to His Sermon on the Mount. Two Sunday's ago, we followed Jesus up the mountain, and listened as He opened His mouth and poured out those wonderful Beatitudes upon His disciples – one blessing after another, like the waves of the ocean breaking on the beach.
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell His disciples that they ARE the salt of the earth and they ARE the light of the world. This is not a command to BECOME salt and light or even STRIVE TO BECOME salt and light. "You ARE the salt of the earth." "You ARE the light of the world."
Like we said last week, it's important to get the order here right. They are not to be a blessing so that they may win Christ's blessing. He blesses them before they've done anything at all. Now, they are simply to be what His blessing has made them. They are blessed to be a blessing. That's what discipleship is all about. It's simply being the person that Jesus Christ has made you when He called you through your baptism to be His disciple.
Now this morning, we hear Jesus continue His sermon by describing just what it means to be the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." He is sending them into a world that has lost its saltiness and that is covered in darkness. They are to be the preservative and the shining light in the midst of decay and darkness. They are to be the spring and the fountain of God's blessing to a world that lives under the curse of sin.
It's not that the world is anti-religion or irreligious. In fact, the way that Jesus describes the situation, it's actually a very religious world that is under the curse of sin. People are by nature, religious beings. For the most part, most people believe that there is a god to whom we are all accountable and who will determine our eternal destiny to either heaven or hell.
But the problem as Jesus presents it, is that their religion is misguided and misinformed. It misses the mark. Which by the way, is the literal meaning of the Greek word for 'sin.' "Hamartia" means, 'that which misses the mark.'
And how does this religiosity of the world miss the mark?
The most general way of putting this is, religion misses the mark when it gets the order wrong. When religion says, 'we must be a blessing so that we may be blessed,' it misses the mark and it is a religion that is in desperate need of 'salt' and 'light.'
At the most basic and fundamental level, there are only two types of religion in the world. One religion believes and teaches that one is saved by their works; BECAUSE they are a blessing. And the other religion believes and teaches that one is saved by the grace of God alone, BECAUSE God has blessed them, apart from any works. The first kind of religion goes by lots of different names. But there is only one name associated with the second kind of religion and that is "Christianity."
But even Christianity is subject to the corruption of sin. There are many who call themselves Christians, yet who believe that their salvation depends upon their own righteousness. They must be a blessing in order to be blessed.
Now, there are many different ways that even Christians miss the mark, but by far the most popular way, is the way that Jesus is pointing out to His disciples this morning. Christians miss the mark by adding things to God's Law that are not there. And we all do this. We add "exceptions" and "technicalities" and "loopholes."
And why do we do this? Because we believe that keeping God's Law, by being good enough, saves us. And yet we know that we cannot meet the impossible standards that God's Law demands of us. And so, we add 'exceptions', and 'technicalities,' and 'loopholes,' in order to make God's Law doable.
Fundamentally, we do not trust that God saves us by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Laws demands, right down to every 'jot and dot' ON OUR BEHALF. Original sin as so twisted our human nature that we don't trust God.
It is to this religious world that misses the mark that the disciples are to be "salt" and "light." They are to establish an outpost on earth where true religion can be found. And from that outpost, they are to preach and teach the correct order of things – "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift from God, not a result of works…" (Eph.2:8-9). And by the power of the Gospel, men and women, boys and girls will turn from false religion to the one, true faith and eventually, they will overcome the world.
So, they are not to present a 'dumbed down' religion, with exceptions, technicalities and loopholes that make it possible to keep God's Law and present yourself to God as righteous apart from the cross of Christ.
They are to preach that the righteous demands of the Law and the Prophets must be met. And that this is what Jesus came into the world to do on our behalf. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." And by His life and death, Jesus has fulfilled every iota and dot of the Law, without exceptions, technicalities or loopholes – FOR YOU, ON YOUR BEHALF.
This is how we're to understand Jesus' words to His disciples in the portion of His Sermon on the Mount that was our gospel reading this morning. With six sweeping corrections, He wipes away all of the additions and subtractions that so many have been led to believe are consistent with God's Word.
Six times, Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said…" And then says, 'But I say to you…"
* "You have heard it said, do not murder… but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to the judgment."
* "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her."
* "It was said, 'whoever divorces his wife must have a divorce certificate. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery."
* "You have heard that it was said, 'you shall not swear falsely… But I say to you, Do not swear at all."
* "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'… But I say to you, 'turn the other cheek.'"
* "You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you."
Just to be sure we understand what He is doing here, Jesus is not 'taking the Law to a higher standard.' No, He is showing us how we have taken God's Law to a lower standard. The standard for God's Law is love; the love of God with all of your heart, soul and mind; and the love of your neighbor with the same measure of love with which God loves us.
Each and every one of these "you have heard it said," are the way that we have reduced the Law so that we can technically keep it – yet never actually love.
We believe that even though I'm full of anger against someone and I want see them suffer for what they've done, yet since I haven't murdered them, I've kept the 5th Commandment – 'thou shall not murder.'
Maybe we're careful to keep our anger hidden inside of us so that no one can see it. We go to church every Sunday and everyone thinks that we're so righteous. But we don't love our neighbor, let alone our enemy. And so Jesus says, our worship is hypocrisy. It's false religion. It misses the mark.
But against this, the disciple of Jesus Christ is "salt" and "light." It's not that we think we're perfect. But we do say that perfection is what God is aiming for with us – and nothing less. So we come to church, not to ask the Holy Spirit to accept our excuses or factor in certain technicalities.
We come expecting that the Lord will convert the anger in our heart into love for our neighbor and our enemy – AND NOTHING LESS. We come here to receive the gift from the altar that creates in us a clean heart and renews in us a right spirit and that empowers us to tear down that wall of separation that divides and alienates us from others be reconciled to them even as Christ has reconciled us to God.
It's the same way with each of the examples that Jesus gives.
We've added lots technicalities to the 6th Commandment – 'thou shall not commit adultery.' We say, 'it all depends on how you define the word, 'commit?' And with all of our technicalities and exceptions, we believe that we've kept this commandment even while we treat others as pure objects for our own pleasure.
We've reduced God's wonderful institution of marriage to a matter of certificates. Whether it's a certificate of marriage or a certificate of divorce, we think we've kept the 7th Commandment as long as have the proper paperwork, even though there is no love.
Jesus goes on to illustrate this same principle with three more examples. And we shouldn't think that if we get these six issues under control, that then our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. I suspect that Jesus could have easily listed 6 x 60 more of the same issues.
If you think that the righteousness that Jesus is demanding here is hard, you're right. In fact, when Jesus finishes listing these six examples of how the righteousness of the disciples must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, He sums the whole thing up by saying, "you therefore must be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect."
I know it sounds like impossibly high standard that Jesus is setting for His disciples and their little outpost in this world, but try to imagine a Christianity where everyone lived according to God's Law without the additions and subtractions. What salt of the earth, what a light in the world it would be.
Try to imagine a world where the One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church lived in the complete freedom that Christ has won for it by His cross and grave. What influence upon this world would His Church have if the men and women, boys and girls that professed to be members of it, actually believed that since He has kept the whole law for us we don't need to dumb it down so that we can keep it.
And what if one day, this Christian Church so salted the earth and enlightened the world with this one, true faith, that it overcame the world?
Try to imagine a world without anger, where everyone settled their difference out of love and respect for one another. In this world there is no adultery and no divorce but only holy marriages that are the 'hi-def' image of the relationship of Christ to His bride the Church. And in this world there is no need for oaths because everyone is true to their word, and the peace of Christ moves everyone to be reconciled with their enemy.
It's hard to imagine I know. But this is precisely the world that Jesus has established by His life and death and resurrection from the dead. "Take heart," He says, "I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) "This is the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, to give to them." (Deuteronomy 30:20).
And so this little outpost that God has established in this world to be "salt" and "light" goes back a long way and includes many. We are the beneficiaries of their witness to the one, true faith. May the Lord bless us to be "salt" and "light" in our generation.