Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Liturgist Text: I Corinthians 2:1-12
Purpose: the purpose of this message is to invite the congregation into a fuller life by living kingdom of heaven values on earth.
“Let your light shine so that others may see your good works, and glorify God who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Chelsey Harmon, a coach with the Center for Excellence in Preaching, offers an illustration which serves as a springboard to our message. The Apple TV show “Loot” stars Maya Rudolph as 45-year-old Molly Wells, a mega billionaire trying to find her purpose in life while emerging from a public divorce from a tech giant by engaging hands-on with her charitable foundation. She does much good with her money, but struggles not to fall back into the ease of entitled living to which she is accustomed. The ten episodes tell the story of a woman learning to engage the world differently, with deeper compassion and benevolence. Her peers notice.
While dining with one, her friend remarks, “You’re different than other women…Fuller.” Molly dodges the observation by making a joke that she will still be ordering dessert, but of course the comment has nothing to do with her size. The man leans back in his chair, admiring Molly thoughtfully, and tries once again, slowly, with deliberation, “No. (pause) You are everything.”
Jesus Christ, as the fulfillment of Mosaic Law, is noticeably different, fuller…everything…the real deal. He does not teach as other rabbis do, but teaches with authority. (Matthew 7:29). The name that Jesus is given, Y’shua, derives from the Hebrew word, Yasha, meaning ‘to save.’ Theology aside, the word implies deliverance from harm, ruin or loss, death even. In John 10:10, Jesus casts his role as Good Shepherd against the shadow of a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. “I have come,” Jesus says, “that they may have life and have it with abundance.” Throughout his ministry, Jesus encounters people who are living, but not really, and calls them to come alive at a whole new level. He helps them live fully.
Jesus doesn’t save from sin and death and leave it there; he saves for life, calling forth the best ‘self’ possible. Fishermen, who labor all night and catch nothing, suddenly find their nets breaking from abundance, before being called into miracle work. A tax collector, ostracized from his own people for working the system against them, is forgiven, welcomed, and called to a transformed life. A Samaritan woman, tortured by mistakes and regret, is given dignity and promised ‘living water’ to nourish forever. In virtually every encounter, regardless of the person’s station in life, Jesus offers a gift or challenge, usually both, to live fully, differently, authentically, and abundantly.
In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, which form the prologue to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds his followers that they are, in fact, part of God’s kingdom on earth, regardless of their feelings of inadequacy. He then tells them who they are in the design of God’s intent, if they live truly. First, they, and by extension, ‘we,’ are the ‘salt of the earth.’ We function in the recipe of life to flavor, preserve and ‘be distinctively ourselves, as created by God.’
It is my understanding that the calcium deposits of the Dead Sea are of two forms: salt and a mineral that looks like salt, gypsum. Jesus likely would have been familiar with this. Gypsum is not salt, and has no saltiness, though it has other uses such as a compound in dry wall, plaster casts, dental impressions, chalk, etc. Salt, however, was valuable to the ancient world as a preservative, since refrigeration was millennia away. The metaphor was striking for it introduces the disciple as a vital catalyst for doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
Second, we are ‘the light of the world.’ Like salt is to taste, light is to sight. Salt without saltiness is thrown away, but a light can benefit greatly and even prompt others to glorify God for the good works it represents. In the walled cities of ancient times, many homes were built into the walls. It is my understanding that slot openings were constructed in the walls shared with a neighbor. A candle or lamp could be displayed in the opening which would give light to families living on either side. If, however, you were at odds with your neighbor, you might be tempted to cover the light in such a way that it would shine only on your side.
Jesus calls us beyond such inhospitality: “Let your light shine so that others may see your good works, and glorify God who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) We live in the world, but as followers of Jesus, we live differently in the world. We pray for enemies, walk a second mile, forgive, turn the other cheek, and again, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. As one writer put it, “Jesus is focused less on helping us get into heaven after we die, than he is on helping us to live values of heaven while here on earth.”
In verse 17, Jesus puts to rest any notion that he contradicts sacred teaching, “Do not think that I have to come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus is the fullness of righteousness, the image of the invisible God who reconciles all things. He does not put a shade over the light he offers. He does not substitute gypsum for true flavor and preservative. He is salt and light in a troubled age, and he calls us to follow his example.
And being salt and light isn’t a call to work harder at winning God’s favor. It is a gift received through faith, an invitation to recognize that we are already invested with a capacity to be salt and light in a hurting, unjust world. As the apostle Paul would later write: “If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, he who raised Christ will also give life to your mortal bodies by that Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
When I was forty-years-old, decades of clinical depression tangled with a diagnosis of PTSD were lifted from my shoulders. I learned that I had been half-alive, and that God had a new life for me. I came alive in a way I had not been in a very long time. I was fuller, even as I was fully known–salt and light in a world yearning to taste and see. Don’t you want to get yourself some of that?