Matthew 5:13-20 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Who are you? How would you describe yourself? Patient? Caring? A force to be reckoned with? How would Jesus describe you? Who are we together as church? Are the words Jesus said only applicable to the particular people with whom he was speaking?
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world, Jesus told those who were gathered. You are salt and light. You are of the earth, and of the world, together in community. Jesus was not speaking to the leaders, or movers and shakers of his day. Jesus wasn’t in the Temple. He was on the mountain speaking to ordinary folks, people who were hungry and poor, the wounded and forgotten, and those who cheated on their taxes. Jesus spoke to people who were looked down upon, and people who were persecuted. They were people who longed for freedom from so many things.
You are, he told them. Not you might become salt and light, one day, but you are. It is an unconditional declaration that should sound ludicrous to us. As outrageous as telling the grieving, the poor, and the meek that they are blessed. What is more outrageous is that Jesus is speaking to us, too. The “you” in “you are” is plural. All y’all, we all, are salt and light, each and every one of you, both individually and collectively.
In Judaism, salt was a symbol of covenant. Being the salt of the earth means we belong to each other. Being the salt of the earth means we belong to God, who made the heaven and earth, and us. While we might think we are not equipped to make a difference, God tells us otherwise. In Jesus’ time, salt was a priceless and precious commodity. One commentator reminds us that calling someone salt in Jesus’ day carried a different connotation than it does now. He suggests a way to hear this as those listening to Jesus would have is to say, “’You are red hot pepper for the whole earth!’ In this way, we are reminded that the statement refers not to status, as if it said ‘You are the world’s ethical elite,’ but to function: ‘You must add zest to the life of the whole world.’”
In the time of Jesus, light came from small candles or lamps, yet could illumine all the space in the one-room houses. Most of us are afraid of the dark and yet we are all called to be light. It’s easier to shine together.
First God blesses us, and only then comes God’s command. We are lifted up and supported before God challenges us. God doesn’t call us to be anything we are not, but rather to live into the fullness of what we already are. We are loved before God tells us to give it away. We are salt and light, not for ourselves, but each other, and for the world.
Jesus talks of salt that loses its taste, and hiding a lamp under a bushel. This may be Jesus’ humor, as salt may dissolve, but it doesn’t lose its taste. And who would put a lit lamp under something that could catch fire? But there are times when we feel as if the flavor is gone, and our light has been blown out. Sometimes, we feel as if we have nothing to give.
I love this quote that is attributed to C.S. Lewis: “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” That’s what we do as people and community centered in Christ. We are created to carry each other. But know that even when we feel that we are not salt and light, God says we are. Facts and feelings do not always align.
We are called, individually and together, to be different than the world. Our secular world places value on money, looks, and position. Our calling is distinctive. God calls us to value justice, mercy, and kindness. We are to love our enemies and be generous to the poor. Our proclamation of Christ as Lord comes through what we do, and who we serve.
We have been looking at our church’s mission, and our activities as we work our way through our Mission Site Profile. Many of you are engaged with our Preschool Winter carnival today. We’ve experienced renewed passion for this ministry to our community families. We are strong in mission in many other ways, too. We have approved our financial plan for ministry, otherwise known as the budget. It includes plans for helping those without a home, and people who are food insufficient. There is more to be done, and God calls us to do it.
What an exciting time for us! God has blessed us with resources to use to bring God’s love to those outside our walls. God has given us a passion for others, especially for those who are in need. Our opportunities to live God’s mission for us in this time and place are boundless.
Jesus continues to encourage us, saying, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. To flesh this out, (pun intended), Jesus tells us to follow the law, but also that we need to do more. Jesus himself was the living justice, mercy and faith of God. He did not interpret the law; he lived it. He fulfilled the law in his flesh. The heart of the Gospel is loving our neighbors, even our enemies. Our world is having trouble doing that. In order to fulfill God’s mission, which is our mission, we need to remember we are red hot peppers, not for ourselves, but for each other and for the whole world. We have parts to play in a story that is so much bigger and better than anything story that Disney can produce.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
 Hare, Douglas. Interpretation: Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993. 44.
Paraphrased and adapted from Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Seeds of Heaven, “Exceeding Righteousness.” 6. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 6.