February 9, 2014
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Salt. Light. Bread. Homes. Clothes.
Things all of us need. Things that many of us take for granted. Unless they are missing. Then food becomes bland. We cannot stay up as late as we like. We get hungry. We have no place to call our own: no shelter, no bed. And we are cold.
But most of us rarely have to deal with such problems. The occasional power outage gets us every now and then. Or the doctor tells us we are getting too much salt. Or Dr. Adkins says “Don’t eat bread.”
Salt. Light. Bread. Homes. Clothes.
Jesus is surrounded by crowds, with his disciples at his feet, and he is teaching. But he does not talk about needing salt and light, which surely they did. Instead he tells them that they are salt and light. We might expect Jesus to say that he himself was the salt that is needed, the light of the world. But he tells his disciples and the crowds that it is they who are.
You are the salt of the earth. Be salty! You are the light of the world. Shine!
In a world where food will spoil if it is not salted, where salt brings out the flavor of the foods it is used on, where salt is so necessary that it was often used as pay for salaries, you are the salt! Let your faith so flavor what you do that it will last in the lives of those around you. Let your compassion make everything you do taste like it was a gift from God.
In a world darkened by diminished hope, dim visions, and difficulty seeing one another as children of the God who made us and saved us, let your faith light the way for someone else who is stumbling around in the dark. Get together with others so that your lights together might let people know where it is safe and warm and they are welcome, and they will know that these gifts are from God.
Jesus goes on to say “unless your righteousness exceeds theirs, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Righteousness, whatever else it means in the Bible, is always in the context of the covenant of God. Later in Matthew’s Gospel we hear the key to this passage:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
And he said to him,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend
all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
This is the what Jesus comes not to abolish but to fulfill. This is the basis of any righteousness we might have. Loving God, and loving our neighbor.
The scribes and Pharisees are used as a negative example here. They know every law, every commandment, every teaching, every line of the Torah, and yet such is not righteousness. Unless you do better loving God and loving neighbor than this, you have missed the kingdom of heaven.
Such a teaching echoes words of Isaiah from centuries before. It is a damning passage: We fast, but treat each other badly, Isaiah says. We make offerings, but ignore our neighbor. We despise one another but then ask God why God does not listen to our prayers. The answer is equally difficult: Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.
Recently a national chain of hobby stores made the news for claiming that they should be allowed exceptions to the law because they are a Christian company and they have moral objections to certain requirements. But their shelves are filled with products produced by slave labor in foreign countries that mandate the very same practices that this company objects to supporting for their store employees.
Is morality only for when it is convenient? Is God’s desire for us to purchase cheap goods as long as we can pretend not to know the conditions under which they were made? Is morality only for those on whom we can command it? Are not those who make the goods we buy also our neighbors? Isaiah’s words ring as true today as they did centuries ago:
“Is not this the fast [the religious obedience] that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
[Isaiah is saying the homeless/naked
one is our brother/sister]
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
Let us be salt. Let us be light. Let us give bread. Let us build homes and welcome the stranger. Let us clothe the ones who are cold. Then God will be our life. Then we will make of the world a neighborhood in which we can live.
Thanks be to God. Amen.