In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Our sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epihpany comes from the Gospel just read in Matthew 5:13-20.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20 ESV)
Yarr!!! Blessed Epiphany! Ye be salty dogs! Don’t worry, for those of you with a nautical mind or children who’ve ever watched Sponge Bob, you know that being salty is a good thing. When it comes to Jesus calling us salt, however, we don’t quite know what to do. Light’s a little easier to grasp; but just what do these distinctions mean? Let’s get a little background first.
Before our text for today, in Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus has preached the Beatitudes, as you have heard before these Beatitudes have nothing to do with what we are to do in our lives, but have everything to do with the actual bestowing of the kingdom of heaven, comfort and mercy by Christ, to those who heard Him. The hearers have seen God in the flesh, and by virtue of His work they will become the Children of God, the Kingdom of heaven is theirs, they posses it! It’s been given to them and having just received all these gifts from Jesus they now have something to give… they have been shown mercy by the Word Himself and thus can show mercy, they have been comforted by the Word Himself and can now comfort and the like.
So we see that Jesus bestows the blessings and ordains the callings of the people, He is both the gift and the gift giver and each who hear Him that day hear Jesus understand when Jesus says affirmatively YOU ARE, He is not saying you should be this, you should aspire to do this, you should be saltier of lightier than others, He says YOU ARE, that is; you have been made to be this by simply hearing the word, faith has been founded and grown by the working of the Spirit with the Word. Here we begin to see the power and great certainty of God, He does the work to make His hearers salt and light.
So what about saltiness? Is He talking like a scurvy sea captain at the beginning of the sermon? Ye be salty yarr!!! I’m afraid not. Instead, Jesus says: What I give, What I have given, and what I will give, has been given to you, you are freed, you are forgiven I have come, I am the kingdom I have made you a part of me and you are my beloved children, everything needed to sustain, preserve and nourish you has been provided by your Heavenly Father through Me; You are Salt, You are Light, here a brief explanation of the ancient uses of Salt come in handy.
Salt was a necessity of ancient life. It was used in many cultures as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a component of ceremonial offerings, and as a unit of exchange (often used as a base currency that drove national economies thereby making it very valuable). Thus when Jesus says that the hearers are Salt He is inseparably connecting them to what He has done, what He is doing and will do by the Gospel and His work and states that as the hearers go out with this same Gospel proclaiming the wonders that He has done they will season the earth, preserve the life that has been freely given by Christ’s death and resurrection, by His message given to them they will disinfect sin, He will wash people clean through them and usher in pure grace and mercy. In addition Jesus says you are more priceless than any measure of Salt that could ever be sold. This is who you are!!!! You are salt! You are valuable not because of anything you have done to make yourselves salt, saltier or saltiest, Jesus has salted you with His Gospel and His gifts, His death on the Cross and, as we will hear in just a moment, Jesus has salted you with His perfect obedience to the law.
What is apparent by Jesus calling of His disciples to salt the earth, is that the world needs to be salted, the world is evil, corrupt and deficient. People need to be called to repentance in order that they may see and be freely given the forgiveness of sins, that they may see that the kingdom of Heaven stands near. The world, to use a common cliche; is tasteless, rancid and decaying and desperately needs to be salted. Jesus says that they shall be good for nothing, except to be thrown down and trampled under foot by men. This is a plight that has less to do with the misery of this world and more to do with the world to come for being trampled under foot pales in comparison to being cast off from the Kingdom of Heaven. There are horrible consequences for those who cast off their saltiness, not because this is the desire of God, as He reminds us in Ezekiel 18 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” The salting, which the Lord ordains is also that which the Lord accomplishes, He sends His salted disciples out to proclaim the promises of God knowing full well that all are free to cast it away or reject it. God takes no pleasure in affirming the decisions of those who have cast off their saltiness, but with exceeding pain and grief, must acknowledge the freedom of His children to reject Him. This is a key point!!!! God Salts, through His pastors, through you His disciples, God brings to faith, bestows all good gifts, grants grace, mercy, peace and forgiveness and yet there will be many who, having been given these gifts freely, will throw them away.
A simple story from my childhood could work to explain this: At the age of 12, all I wanted was a Nintendo game system, I instead received the gracious gift of an intelevision (google it), the gift was mine, it had my name on it, it was my possession as ordained by Bruce and Chery. After opening it, weeping, lamenting and throwing a temper tantrum, I threw my gift in the trash, days later, that gift, which was still mine, although it lay in a trash bag in our neighborhood dumpster, was picked up by Waste Management, compacted and hauled to the dump. My decision to deny and throw the gift away was ratified by my mother and father, and waste management helped and it only as I write this sermon that I realize the similarities of that Intelevision to the Gifts of God. Good freely gives, sends pastors and Christians into this world to salt, salt, salt away, to give give give and in the end we have no power over who rejects the gifts that are freely given.
You are light! In the same way as it was with salt Jesus says you are this!!!! You are a light to the world. What in tarnation does this mean? We are clear with the reference of Christ as the Light of the world, the one who indeed brings Light which scatters the darkness and our dear beloved Martin Luther wrote something in 1520 which helps us to see our connection to Christ our Lord; “[A]s our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christ’s to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians… In other words, we are the Light simply means that we bring the True Light to bear to all who would hear, the True light is Christ, He is the source and we are the recipients who freely receive and then freely give. Just as a City on a Hill cannot be hidden, and a lit lamp cannot be hidden under a bush, His light shines forth in us, through us. But how is this played out in our daily lives? Here are just a few examples; A Father’s protection of his family merely reflects of our Heavenly Father’s protection, the soft kindness of a mother’s kiss, reminds us of the tenderness and mercy of our Lord, the gentle yet authoritative rule of a Mayor, Senator, Governor or president should remind us of He who watches over us, protects us and serves us; the list of how the light of Christ goes forth could go on for days and if we were to pause and actually examine it finely we would be amazed at how simply the light of Christ shines in the mundane interactions of our vocations and lives, it just comes out, it happens when we aren’t even trying, it happens so regularly and so simply that it is often overlooked.
And yet, there are times where we do try to hide the light. There are times that we are embarrassed of the light that shines forth, we are ashamed to speak God’s word into the darkness and sin of our world, there are times when we give ourselves over to the dark souls, lives and temptations around us. It is as Martin Luther says in his book The Freedom of a Christian; “Alas in our day the Christian life is unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached about nor sought after; we are altogether ignorant of our own Christian name and do not know why we are Christians or bear the name of Christians. Surely we are named after Christ, not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us, that is, because we believe in him and are Christ’s one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us. But in our day we are taught by the doctrine of men to seek nothing but merits, rewards, and the things that are ours; because of this, We have made Christ a taskmaster far harsher than Moses.” And isn’t that the day we live in? The dire day when the world believes that Christ is a lawgiver, a cruel heavenly police officer, bent on bringing death, destruction, judgement and vengeance. But dear Christians, do not be deceived. Although you falter, although you fail, although you sojourn through the darkness of unbelief and sin, hear the Word of your God set the record straight.
We know that the law will not pass away: it still stands to this very day. Jesus says; “I did not come to do away with the Law and the Prophets, but rather to fulfill them.” How? Thankfully St. Paul clarifies this for us in Galatians 3 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. God gave the Law to Moses on Sinai, this we know, perfect obedience to that law was required for salvation, as Jesus reminds us “Therefore whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and in this way teaches men will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven, in other words, do not think that one who allows for even one transgression of the law to enter into heaven.” However, The One Who does and teaches these commandments will be called great in heaven.
It sounds like Jesus is saying that only the perfectly righteous will get to heaven!? That is exactly what He’s saying; to which you might be saying “How then can we be saved?” By works of the law and your own obedience to the law, Jesus sets the standard; you must be more righteous than the Pharisees, who did just about everything perfectly. Are you more righteous than the most righteous Pharisees? By your works….. No, but here is where we return to the beginning; cast off your self-reliance, repent of your felt need for self-justification, repent of your self-righteousness and hear what God has said; you are Salt. He makes you salty, He continues to call you by the gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, He salts by His word, by baptism and by His Lord’s supper. By His death on the cross you are salt and you are salted. You are light! You are saved by faith which has been given to you by His word, by your baptisms, this is not of yourselves, it is the Gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. His Light shines in you already, and like the city on the Hill this light cannot be hidden.
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees you shall not see the kingdom of Heaven…. By Christ, in Christ and because of Christ the righteousness you posses does exceed that of the Pharisees, because it is not your righteousness but rather Christ’s righteousness for you. Because of His cross and passion, because of His blessed death, rest in the tomb and resurrection, because of His ascension into Heaven and His perfect obedience to the Law for you you shall enter the kingdom of Heaven at His final coming. Go in peace this day, your sins are no more, you have been forgiven. You are Salt, You are light! His protection and mercy go with you, from this day unto the end of time. Amen.
Pinnacle Lutheran Church
 Luther, Martin; The Freedom of a Christian 1520