Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 6, 2011)

Wordle: Untitled

“Salty and Shining” (Matthew 5:13-20)

The Super Bowl may increase your risk of a heart attack, according to a recent study. If you are a passionate follower of one of the teams that are playing, and your team loses, you are at greater risk of a heart attack. The emotional stress is too much on certain hearts. I wonder, though, if it has something to do with the sodium-laden junk food that is copiously consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, fluid retention around the heart, among other health issues.

On the other hand, salt has many benefits. It is a preservative. It enhances the flavor of foods. It’s used in water softeners to keep the pipes in some homes working properly. It melts ice on frozen roads and sidewalks.

As the football season comes to a close, we begin to notice that the days are getting longer. We appreciate the light that is with us for a few more minutes every day. Light, like salt in moderation, is beneficial. Light is absorbed by chlorophyll molecules in plants and converted to energy to help plants grow. In humans, sunlight is necessary for the production of Vitamin D which aids in absorbing other vitamins and minerals in our bodies, helps to alleviate depression, and may help to minimize the development of various types of cancer. And it goes without saying that the electric light bulb was probably one of the greatest inventions ever, giving light to our homes and our workplaces long into the evening. No longer do you have to carefully trim wicks and keep oil lamps from getting knocked over, creating a mess and causing fires.

The Creator of salt and light sits on the mountain in our text today and says to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” Clearly, Jesus has in mind the beneficial nature of salt and light. Following right on the heels of the Beatitudes, where Jesus described life in the Kingdom of Heaven, here are two more pictures of how Christ describes you, the Church. You ARE salt. You ARE the light. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says you are blessed, even though your life often seems otherwise. Likewise, in Christ, you ARE salt and light, whether or not you realize it or recognize it. The powerful, creative Word of the Lord of the Church is active in the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). He makes you to be salt and light. Your presence in the world is a blessing and a benefit. You sprinkle and season the world with your prayers, with your influence, and with your good works done on behalf of others and in the name of Christ. You reflect the light of Christ and shine his love and light as you point others to Jesus and the life and forgiveness that he freely offers.

Although Jesus makes us salt, he warns us that there is a danger of becoming bland and tasteless. He says, “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.”

In this day and age of marketing and competitive business, you see many churches trying to market themselves as though they were businesses vying for your attention. Their ads will contain words such as “exciting!” … “dynamic!” … “authentic!” … and even “fun!” Their brochures and posters contain images of young, healthy, smiling families … as if to say, “Come to our church and you’ll be just like this!” No one wants to be accused of being bland or tasteless. And so churches try to “spice” things up a bit.

Some people might accuse us of being bland or vapid. Our worship is much the same thing week in and week out with a slight bit of variety. It’s also tempting to get on our high horse and accuse certain churches of being tasteless, introducing practices which we think are improper for worship. We can criticize them all we want, but the truth is, no matter how much we think we are doing certain things right here, if we receive God’s gifts here and keep them for ourselves, if we are unresponsive to the needs of our community and each other’s needs, then we have indeed become bland and tasteless, in spite of how aesthetically pleasing we think we are. We are no longer salty. We will not have much of an impact on the world around us. We are worthless. We may as well be tossed out on the ground and trampled underfoot. We are as useless as a lamp hidden under a basket. We have become like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3. Jesus told them that when it came to their works, they were neither hot nor cold. They were lukewarm. Bland. Smug and self-satisfied. Unless they repented, Jesus was going to spit them out of his mouth. And unless you and I repent of the ways in which we have been tasteless … unless you and I repent of the ways we have taken God’s treasures we are called to share and hidden them under a basket … then we will face the same judgment.

Under the Old Covenant, salt was added to certain sacrifices. Not only was it a valuable item added to the sacrifices. It was a symbol of permanence because of its preserving qualities. It reminded the people of God’s faithfulness to his promises. And in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the salt of his sweat was added to the blood that dripped from his wounds. God was faithful to his promises to send us a Savior. With the sins of the world placed upon him, Jesus was thrown out and trampled underfoot by God’s wrath in our place. He himself had fulfilled the Law in all its entirety, down to every single iota and dot. (We might put it this way today: “Every “t” was crossed and every “i” was dotted.) The condemnation of the Law was not relaxed upon Jesus. He tasted God’s wrath over sin to its fullest. His righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees by a longshot. And he did this for you so that, through Baptism and by faith in him, you enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In his death and resurrection, Jesus trampled upon our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. They have become worthless and are unable to season our lives any longer with fear and keep us in the darkness.

This Jesus preaching on the mountain is the one who came to give light to “a people dwelling in darkness” (Matt. 4:15) Jesus is the light of the world shining upon our darkness. He forgives your sins and makes you salty again. You are Christ’s redeemed people. The permanence of Christ’s salty sacrifice has been sprinkled upon you. You eat and drink the fruits of his sacrifice in the Sacrament of the Altar. Christ’s body and blood strengthen you to let your light shine as living sacrifices. Like a city set on a hill and a lamp set on a stand, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Here’s a cliché you may have heard: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” That sounds profound. But it’s profoundly untrue. The Gospel is the message of Christ crucified. And to preach that message, you gotta use words. Even unbelievers can do nice things for people. But doing nice things for people will do them no good unless they hear the Name which motivates you to serve others with the love of Christ.

“Let your light shine.” Your light is the light of Christ. The works you do are in his Name. The Name of Jesus must accompany the works you do. Otherwise people will not be able to give glory to God. The works we do in Christ’s Name are done so that people will “give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” They are done so that God will be glorified and worshiped, so that people come to trust in Christ and worship the Triune God.

By the way, when Jesus says, “Let your light shine,” he is not saying “Allow” your light to shine. This is Christ’s powerful Word of command … “Shine!” The same strong Word that cleaved the darkness, the same strong Word that bespeaks you righteous, makes the Church to “Shine!” We shine brightly with Christ’s own holiness. “Glorious now we press toward glory, And our lives our hopes confess.” (Lutheran Service Book 578.1, 3)

You ARE the salt of the earth. You ARE the light of the world. That is what Christ has declared you to be. His Word makes things to be what he says they are. He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). And so we pray:

“Give us lips to sing Thy glory, Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim,
Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak Thy holy name.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
May the light which Thou dost send Fill our songs with Alleluias,
Alleluias without end!” (Lutheran Service Book 578.5)


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