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February 5, 2017

Season and Shine

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Being SJLC 2017: It's All About Jesus Category: Biblical Scripture: Matthew 5:13–20

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 4-5, 2017
Matthew 5:13-20

“Season and Shine”

On this Super Bowl Sunday, whether you’re in it for the Falcons, the Patriots, the commercials, or the food, we’re all thankful that the days are getting noticeably longer. Slowly but surely, light is returning as we head toward spring. There’s natural light (sun, moon and stars), and then there’s artificial light, available to us by flipping a switch. Our cellphones turn into flashlights for a nighttime walk or to read the menu in a dim restaurant. But we are becoming more and more aware that we may have too much light. Think light pollution that obscures the night sky. Think LED lights on our electronic devices that disrupt rest and sleep patterns. Salt is the same; it’s as close as the shaker on the table. It’s now available in many varieties: sea salt, kosher salt, pink salt, Himalayan salt, Celtic salt. If anything, we have too much of salt and light – our lives are over-salted and over-illuminated. We eat more salt than we should – not good news on this Super Bowl Sunday with all of the food that goes with the big game. We also take in more light than we need. Doctors and scientists would love for us to have less salt in our diets, and to step away from the illumination in our phones, tablets, and computers. And yet in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that as his redeemed people, we are salt and light to season and shine in the world around us. That is the purpose of both things: salt is to season and flavor, and light is to shine and illuminate. Jesus tells us that this is what we, his dearly loved children, are meant to do. Based on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, the theme for the message today is entitled: “Season and Shine.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson come from his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which is the first of five major sections of Jesus’ teaching that Matthew records (chapters 5-7; chapter 10; chapter 13; chapter 18; chapters 24-25). Scholars draw parallels between Jesus’ teaching here and that of Moses in the Old Testament. There are five sections of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, just as there are five books of Moses in the Old Testament (Pentateuch, or Torah). Like Moses, Jesus brings God’s instruction down from the mountain to the people. This is a helpful connection as we look at Jesus’ words in the second half of today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus affirms that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but rather he came to fulfill them. All of the Law and the Prophets find their meaning and fulfillment in Jesus who came to live that perfect and sinless life of obedience to all of God’s commands. This is Jesus’ active obedience. He came to do for us what we could never do on our own. All of the “thou shalts” and all of the “thou shalt nots” in God’s Law that we stumble over, that we fail to live out, the evil we do and the good we fail to do – all of these have been perfectly fulfilled in Jesus. He lived the life we could not and he died the death we rightly deserve. All of this he came to do for each one of us so that we might be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson are divided into two sections: verses 13-16, where Jesus tells us that we are salt and light; and verses 17-20, where Jesus calls us to righteous living. We’ll look briefly at each of these sections. First, maybe the ways these verses are grouped should be reconsidered. Looking back to the Beatitudes (“Blessed are meek,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” “Blessed are the pure in heart”) that we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 5:1-12), they’re all in the third person until verse 11, when they shift to the second person: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And this use of the second person continues on in verses 13-16: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before others…” Notice here that Jesus doesn’t urge his followers to be salt and light. He doesn’t say we should aspire to be these things. He says that is what we are! It is a present reality for us as the redeemed people of Christ. We are salt and light to season and shine! We don’t make ourselves to be these things. It is Jesus at work in us and through us. It is his saving grace that causes this to be, not our own efforts. So if we actually start this whole thought at verse 11, rather than verse 13, what emerges is this: if the pressure of persecution causes you to lose your saltiness, you’re not much good to anyone. Or if persecution causes you to hide your life in Christ, your witness to him, under a basket, you’ve become a living denial of your very purpose. What could be more meaningless or useless than saltless salt or hidden lamps? Remember how the liturgy for holy Baptism closes? Jesus’ words in verse 16 are spoken to the infant, child, or adult newly baptized: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus, who is the Light of the world (John 8:12), shines his light and love through each one of us into the lives of others. We’re not the source of that light; we’re just reflecting it. The praise doesn’t belong to us, but to God, as we join Jesus on his mission.

The second section of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson are verses 17-20, which may be more of a challenge for us to grasp. We see here “Jesus’ relation to Judaism, the church’s relation to the synagogue, the Gospel’s relation to the law of Moses” (Preaching Through the Christian Year – Year A. Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1992; pp. 107-108). “So what?”, you may ask. “The point here is that following Christ does not mean being careless about conduct, nor does grace mean permissiveness. On the contrary, the very opposite is the case, as verse 20 makes clear” (Ibid, p. 108). Sometimes followers of Jesus will say things and do things that are very un-Christ like, thinking that they can do whatever they want since everything is covered under the canopy of God’s grace in Christ. Be very careful! Do not use your liberty in Christ as an excuse for license. This is the very thing we hear of in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 58:3-9a), where God rebukes his people for observing all of the outward rituals of faith like fasting, but not living out what faith means. Hear what the Lord God says: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 person into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58: 6-7). When all is said and done, the obedience which Jesus demands here in his Sermon on the Mount “must be understood as response to, not an effort to gain, God’s favor” (Ibid, p. 101). Because of what God in Christ has done for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are moved to obey freely and willingly, not because we have to, but because we want to. And that is where God’s people begin to season and shine in the world.

No matter who wins the Super Bowl, no matter what happens in the world around us, we go out into the world as the people of Christ to be salt to season the world, light to shine in the world, to be Christ to our neighbor until Christ shall come again. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.