Epiphany 5 – "You Are Salt and Light of the World" – Matthew 5:13-20 – 2/9/14

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“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” These are the words that immediately follow the Beatitudes. “He opened His mouth and taught them saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn…’ ‘Blessed are the meek…’ Blessed, Blessed, Blessed, Blessed, Blessed and Blessed.” Nine times, He blesses them.

And then, no sooner does bring them into His kingdom of heaven and bless them, but He sends them right back out into the world again. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.”

He had to bless them before they could be a blessing; just like He did with Adam and Eve in the beginning. Before He sent them out into His brand new world “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” He blessed them.

The order is important. He didn’t say, ‘if you are fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth,’ I will bless you. Just like He doesn’t tell these disciples to “become salt of the earth and become light of the world” and I will bless you. No, He blesses so that we may be a blessing.

Getting the order right is critical to being ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world. If our performance must come before He blesses, then to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ is LAW, COMMANDMENT, REQUIREMENT. And His blessing is His REWARD for our work.

But if He blesses first, then to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world is pure grace, pure gift, pure privilege, pure joy, by grace alone.

“You are the salt of the earth.” Sometimes we’ll say that someone is ‘the salt of the earth.’ That’s a compliment. It means that we think the person does good things because he or she is a good person. We also may say that someone ‘isn’t worth their salt.’ That’s not a compliment. It means that we think they’re not very helpful or useful. But what did Jesus mean when He said to those whom He had just blessed, “You are the salt of the earth”?

In Jesus’ day, salt was a very basic commodity that was hard to live without. Before refrigeration, salt was the only way to preserve food from spoiling. It was also critical to basic first-aid to sterilize cuts and wounds. It bites and stings as it preserves and purifies.

Jesus calls His disciples, ‘salt.’ He brought them into the Kingdom of Heaven, and now He’s sending them out to have a preserving and sterilizing effect upon a decaying and wounded world. They would follow Jesus for the next three plus years, and then He would sprinkle and scatter them onto the earth.

Just like Adam and Eve, they would go to “all nations” to be fruitful and multiply and subdue a wicked world by baptizing and teaching. They were to apply the ‘salt’ of Jesus’ life onto the world, preserving and sterilizing it with His Word and His Water and His Bread and His Wine, calling sinners to repentance, drowning the old sinful nature and giving the new birth of the Holy Spirit, and feeding the flock with Jesus’ very body and blood.

And the same goes for us. We’re here today because they ‘salted’ the earth with Jesus Christ. We are the fruit of their ‘salting.’ We are the offspring of their baptizing and preaching and teaching and we are blessed with all of the same blessings that they received on the mountain. And we are now the “salt of the earth.” Wherever God sprinkles and scatters us, our family, our neighborhood, office, school… we are the “salt of the earth.”

This is not an appeal to become the “salt of the earth.” “You ARE the salt of the earth.” Through Holy Baptism, we were brought into the Kingdom of Heaven. We season the world in which we live like salt on a wound. So, we shouldn’t be surprised if a wounded world responds to us with, ‘hey, that stings. That burns.’ “Blessed are you when they all manner of evil against you, because of me.”

Jesus did not say, “You are the sugar of the earth.” As any dentist will tell you, sugar promotes decay. Salt stops the decay. And that’s what we have been blessed to do.

And just what are we to do? What does the ‘salty’ life look like? Simply put, it is to be what Jesus has blessed you to be. You are ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘meek,’ hungry and thirsty for righteousness,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘pure in heart,’ ‘peacemaker,’ and ‘persecuted unjustly,’ and you rejoice in the fact that you are blessed by God.

You are blessed because you carry the life of Jesus inside you. Your ‘saltiness’ is not yours. It is Jesus’. We have been blessed with His ‘poverty’ and His ‘meekness’ and His righteousness, and His mercy and His pure heart and His peace, and yes, His persecution, His cross.

We ‘salt the earth,’ not by avoiding these things or teaching the world how to avoid them, but by rejoicing in them because we know that the Lord God has blessed us through them.

A word of warning is in order here. It is possible for salt to loose its saltiness.

When I toured the Holy Lands, we went to the Dead Sea and learned that the Dead Sea is the primary source of salt production for the entire area. Salt from the Dead Sea is not mined, as most salt is. It is collected in large evaporation pools, which means that it’s not pure salt. There are various other minerals along with the sodium chloride. It is possible for the sodium chloride to be leached out of the rock. And if salt looses its saltiness it is crushed and used for paving roads.

How does a disciple loose his saltiness? It happens when Jesus is leached out of him. When he trades the blessings that Jesus has given him for the “blessings” that this decaying and wounded world offers. When he wants to be ‘sugar’ rather than ‘salt;’ ‘Spiritual without being Religious,’ a ‘Christian’ without the cross of Christ hanging over his head and staring him in the face and guiding every thought and word and deed.

And the really interesting thing is, throughout its history, when the Christian Church settles itself on knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that is, when the Christian Church is totally different than the world, it invariably attracts men and women to it. But when it strives to conform to the world and become just like it, it becomes useless and “is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

“You are the light of the world.” Different analogy but it’s the same idea. Light scatters darkness. In the beginning, the whole world was covered in darkness. “And God said, ‘let there be light, and there was light.’ It wasn’t that there was no more darkness, but the darkness knew its place and stayed there.

It wasn’t until Adam and Eve brought sin into the world that the darkness started to ‘overcome the light’ and didn’t stay where it belonged and men and women who were meant to live light began to live in the darkness.

Sometime later, sounding almost as though God were creating the world all over again, Jesus Christ made the bold declaration, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 12:18). “The darkness has not overcome the light.” He has undone the damage that sin has caused.

And now He says, “You are the light of the world.” He is the source of light. We live in the “light of Christ.” And we are a reflection of His light, just like the moon reflects the light of the sun.

The disciples of Jesus are to reflect the light of Christ onto this sinfully dark world. Like the Statue of Liberty we’re to hold the light high so that others may see the light and come into it. We dare not try to cover it up, either by retreating from reality so that no one can find us, or by blending in with the world so that no one can see us.

“Let your light shine BEFORE MEN that they may SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” I know that some may think that “good works” are dirty words in the Lutheran Church, but that’s not the case at all.

Good works have their place and this is it; “BEFORE OTHERS.” We don’t do our ‘good works’ BEFORE GOD SO THAT HE MAY SEE THEM. He sees them. In fact, He prepared these ‘good works’ for you to do. Ephesians 2:10. “For we are HIS WORKMANSHIP, created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED BEFOREHAND, that we should walk in them.”

No matter how ‘good’ our ‘good works’ may be, God doesn’t need them. God prepared these good works for us to walk in because our neighbor needs them and so that we may “let our light shine” “BEFORE OTHERS.”

This is how you let your faith show. Don’t expect other people to ‘see your faith.’ ‘Faith’ is invisible to the human eye. Only God can see your faith. People see your good works and your bad ones. They see your life and how you live it. They see what Sunday mornings mean to you and what’s important to you. You may not think they see it, but they do.

Here again, just like with the salt, don’t expect to receive a warm reception for being light to the world. Light is painful to a world that is grown accustomed to living in darkness. Light hurts the eyes. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:21).

But Jesus says that “they will see your good works AND GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.” Really? Maybe. But I’ve rarely experienced it. For the most part, I’d say that the good works we do go mostly unnoticed. And even if we do get a ‘thank you letter,’ I don’t think I’ve ever had an unbeliever say, ‘this really did it for me and now I will give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’

But Jesus’ said, “they will see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” And Jesus’ word is the Word of God, infallible, it always does what it says.

So maybe He’s not talking about now. Maybe He’s talking about later. Maybe He’s referring to that great and final day when He comes again in all of His glory, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, and every eye shall see.

And what will they see? They will see everything. “Now I see the good works that your Christians did and what a purifying and sanitizing and light giving and darkness scattering thing it was for me and for this world. It may be too late, but thank you Jesus.”

So, don’t get hung up on whether or not anyone “sees your good works” and gives you the glory. That’s not what drives us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ That’s what drove the Scribes and the Pharisees. They did their good works in order to be seen by men and glorified by men.

Let your righteousness exceed theirs. Rather than waiting for our neighbor to acknowledge our good works or getting frustrated or resentful when he doesn’t, its enough to know that someday he will. And one day, Your Father who is in heaven, will get all the glory that is rightfully His.

Until then, let’s just be the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ that Jesus has blessed us to be.

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