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Monday, February 27, 2017

It is Good for Us to be Here!

Matthew 17:1-9 Transfiguration of Our Lord.
It is good for us to be here.
Peter’s words, spoken on the top of the mountain that day; they are our words today as well. It is good for us to be here.
            To be honest, however, I’m not sure what Peter meant when he spoke those words. Was it good – for the church - that they be there because they had witnessed this transfiguration of Jesus – and three witnesses are better than one?
Was it good – for them - that they be there because it set the three of them, Peter, James and John apart from the other disciples and gave them special insight, even authority in the church? After all, aren’t these the same disciples who argued over which one was greater?
Or, was it good that they be there because now, Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divinity had been divinely, mystically affirmed?
The truth is, the disciples’ witness of the Transfiguration of Jesus wasn’t for their own benefit, or even for their “now,” rather, it was for what was to come. Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will no longer with them, following events that will confound, frighten and even paralyze them. They need to know, believe and trust, as do we, who Jesus is, and Jesus is preparing them to lead the church confidently, knowing exactly who he is.
It was not long before this, as the disciples and Jesus were hanging out in Caesarea Philippi, where they were surrounded by pagan temples and idols, that Jesus asked his disciples the question, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter had made the bold confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
            That had been a watershed moment; An exciting moment; an exhilarating moment. And Peter had been rewarded by Jesus’ confirmation that this was not only true but that God himself had blessed Simon Peter, with this knowledge. This simple fisherman-turned-disciple, who would now be simply called, ‘Peter.’
            And yet, in the days that had followed, Peter’s confession, the high exhilaration of knowing that they were in the presence of the Messiah, had given way to frustration and devastation, confusion and darkness as Jesus began making predictions of his coming passion and death. Peter had been so disturbed by Jesus’ predictions that he had tried to shush Jesus, earning himself a harsh rebuke from Our Lord.
            And now, six days later, six being the number considered necessary to prepare for a holy event in Israel, when Jesus leads these three disciples up the mountain. And there they witness just such a holy event when Jesus is transfigured before them. The divine confirmation and full knowledge of Jesus’ deity is made complete.
            What happened on that mountain was not a simple visual transformation, where Jesus’ appearance was altered or morphed into something else. We are very familiar with that kind of transformation thanks to the assistance of computer-generated imaging so popular in the entertainment world these days. And Jesus didn’t turn into something or someone else and then turn back to himself.
Rather, Jesus himself took on a brilliant luminescence unlike anything we might imagine. Transfiguration is defined as a complete change in form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John that day, his appearance changed in such a way that they recognized their Lord, and in that moment fully comprehended his heavenly glory. It is the only time in his earthly career the Jesus’ dignity and deity were made gloriously – even spectacularly clear. They could not doubt for a moment exactly who Jesus was.
            And then he was joined by Moses and Elijah – the two historic and religious figures of Judaism who represented the law and the prophets. Jesus already said he did not come to abolish the importance of their witness of God’s majesty, but whose message and work he has come to fulfill. As the Son of God, his Word has authority to interpret what Moses and Elijah have brought and done for the people of Israel.
            Lord, it is good for us to be here.
            What follows is what makes it especially good for us to be here today, to hear the divine words that were spoken on that mountain that day.
The disciples were overwhelmed at what was happening and what they were hearing on the mountain. And in our world and in our lives today, so often, we, too, are overwhelmed.
            But as Jesus literally shines and glows before them, God’s voice is heard, declaring God’s verdict on Jesus’ identity. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” And finally, the first of three instructions coming to us from this gospel text today: Listen to him. Listen to Jesus, who is God’s Word incarnate. And God has much to say.
You see, despite what some might say, God is not silent in our world. God is not silent in our pain. God is not silent in the face of injustice. God is not silent in the face of our confusion, our doubt, our questioning. God is not silent in the face of evil. God is not silent in the face of sin.
The fact is, God talks quite a lot! If only we have ears to listen. God invites us to listen now, to the Word of God present, speaking, teaching and living in Jesus Christ. Listen to Him God commands. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Now, listen to him!
God speaks to us first and foremost in Jesus. God has given Jesus the authority to speak and to teach, to heal and forgive. As God once communicated and worked through Moses, ultimately blessing the people with life-giving law, and then spoke and worked through Elijah and the prophets, both warning of judgment and passing along God’s promises, God now speaks through His incarnated Word, making it possible for us to know God’s grace and mercy.
Lord, it is good to be here.
We gather today to hear God’s Word and to learn from and with one another how God is active in our lives. We gather to discern what God is calling us to as a community of Christ, dedicated to listening to, hearing and then following God’s will. Jesus comes to us through the Holy Spirit and helps us as we listen to the scriptures, as we observe what Jesus says and does, as we notice those to whom Jesus reaches out, pays attention, and gives a healing, helping hand. Lord, it is good to be here.
Next thing in today’s text, when the disciples were overcome with fear from the luminescent experience of the divine, what did Jesus do? He touched them. He said to them, “get up.” Only, the word used here is not just “get up,” but instead is the same word the angels use at the empty tomb on Easter morning: “He is not here; he has been raised!” (28:6)
Jesus touches his quaking disciples and tells them to “be raised up.” To be resurrected, even. And God has given Jesus the authority to make this happen. The good news for us is that even when we feel overwhelmed by the chaos in the world, and the challenge of the task before us, Jesus touches us; Jesus tells us, “be raised up.” Listen to him.
Today we might hear Jesus’ words as a call to action that energizes us, gives us the will to act and to make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve. Listening to Jesus gives us the ability to be about the works of mercy and kindness, compassion and love to which God always calls us. Lord, it is good for us to be here.
Finally, Jesus delivers a promise when he says to the disciples, “Do not be afraid.” How often have we heard those words in the stories from the bible, usually at times when only an insane person would not be afraid? And yet here is Jesus, shown in his glory upon that mountain, yet already having presented a picture of his future passion, death, and resurrection, and he says to his disciples, to us, “do not be afraid”.
We haven’t seen this heavenly, overwhelming, confusing vision, but there are many things of which we are afraid. The things that frighten us might be things like terrorism, the threat of nuclear attack, the threat or reality of illness and disease, the potentially diminishing future for our children, the devastating effects of global warming, and unexpected death – the list seems inexhaustible. You can make up your own list. And yet, into this, Jesus says, “do not be afraid.”
The gospel good news for us today is that God is God of the past, the present and the future. For this reason alone we need not be afraid. Despite the problems, hardship and suffering that are part of human life, despite our own brokenness and the tension in our world, Jesus invites us to trust God to be God, always present and always speaking into our world for our individual and communal good. And God says, Listen to him.
We gather here this morning to remember and rejoice that God is always with us. We come to hear God’s Word. God did not create us for fear and death but for life in his name, sending Jesus and granting him full authority over our lives so that we might learn to move forward with courage and confidence, even in uncertain times.
Listen. Be raised up. Do not be afraid. Jesus delivers these words then starts down the mountain. The brilliance of Jesus’ Transfiguration glory balances the suffering and devastation of the Cross to come, as he sets his face toward Jerusalem.
The reflected light and Epiphany revelation are over. The work of Lent begins this week as we, too, set our faces toward Jerusalem. Glory be to God for this Transfiguration and the promise inherent in God’s definitive declaration, This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to Him!
Let us Listen, may we be raised up, and may we not be afraid, for the glorious Word of God is with us.

The Good News for Perfectionists

Matthew 5:38-48
“Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I don’t know about anyone else here, but I have to confess that I really have a problem with certain parts of our gospel this morning. For instance, just look at those sending words from Jesus for us today. “Be perfect.” I’m sure there are more than a few therapists who have gone on lovely vacations with the money they have earned counseling wounded people who have spent their entire lives striving – and failing – to “be perfect.”
Perfectionism is defined as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable, and to regard failure to achieve even impossibly difficult goals as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness. Perfectionism has often been applied to various doctrines holding that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable and anything less should be rejected. It is said that aside from genetics, perfectionism is the strongest predictor of clinical depression in people. And the sometimes insistent demand for perfection has turned many imperfect and wounded people away from the church.
Yet in our gospel today it seems Jesus is telling us we need to be perfect – we need to be like God. Now, aside from all those other problems with perfectionism, isn’t that heretical? After all the Bible also tells us that no one can be perfect as God is perfect. And really, if we were truly capable of being perfect or acting perfectly, there would have been no need for Jesus to come to save us, right? So that cannot be correct. What is Jesus is saying really here?
Let’s remember that the text this morning, once again, comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has been using verbal building blocks in this sermon, to create a picture of what the community of his disciples should look like – how they should behave – how they should engage with one another, live together and of course, how they should work together. Jesus, the consummate teacher, has developed a solid lesson plans designed to teach his followers how to exhibit behavior that is just, yet goes beyond simple justice, in keeping with God’s merciful kingdom; teachings that will stick; teachings that make this community relevant and consistent with the characteristics that mark the Kingdom of God.
So, Jesus begins with the basics – describing what it means to be blessed in terms that no one had ever considered before. Then, Jesus said that by God’s grace we are salt of the earth and light for the world. God made us salt and light so that we can make a difference, transforming the world around us by reflecting the goodness of God, and revealing the ongoing presence of God everywhere.  
Finally, Jesus began urging his disciples to look more deeply and broadly than they ever had before at how the commandments and the laws of old help shape community so that we more faithfully reflect the justice and mercy of God.
In last week’s Gospel, for instance, Jesus urged us, don’t lash out in anger, but be reconciled with your brothers and sisters. Don’t swear by God’s name but be honest in your dealings, then you’ll have no need to invoke the name of the Lord.
And, in today’s Gospel Jesus says, “you have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, let them have your left, also. If they take your coat, give them your cloak too. Love your enemy, and pray for those who hate you.”
            Jesus takes age-old law that was given to limit vengeance and acts of retribution, and says that now there is an even better way – the non-violent, non-retaliatory way to deal with insult. The old law, good as it was in keeping people from going off the deep end of vengeance – think of road rage as a contemporary example of over-zealous retribution - is no longer necessary.
For in Christ there is a new freedom, and it is freedom from the kind of desire for self-interest and self-preservation that drives such acts of pay-back; instead we are freed and commended to act lovingly. Even in the face of insult and injury; even when you have suffered great humiliation. That is when as a disciple of Christ, we fulfill God’s desire for us.
            Jesus urges us to not be tossed to and fro by the actions of others, but to respond with our best selves, not falling prey to the little and low ways people try to pick at us, but showing them that there is an alternative way, a Kingdom way of engaging with each other even in the midst of conflict. Even those who hurt you.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, puts it this way:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’
I’m challenging that.
I’m telling you to love your enemies.
Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
When someone gives you a hard time,
respond with the energies of prayer,
for then you are working out of your true selves,
 your God-created selves.
This is what God does.
God gives God’s best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to
everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
            Peterson highlights the active nature of Jesus’ commands: Living the Kingdom Way does NOT mean acting as a door mat and letting people walk all over you. Living the Kingdom Way means actively taking control of a situation and taking initiative to respond affirmatively with love.
            Responding rationally and calmly might not make the problem go away—refusing to fight might very well lead to frustration, but it will ultimately get us further down the path of understanding and, perhaps, reconciliation. 
            Patterns of violence and retaliation get us nowhere. We see in our world today that such reactions to injustice only perpetuate the problem. Jesus was all about peaceful protest. There are times when protest is a good, healthy response to injustice. But it must remain peaceful and non-retaliatory to be in accordance with Jesus teaching of the Kingdom Way.
As Gandhi said, in the Spirit of Jesus,
“An eye for an eye makes the world blind”
It is love that transforms,
                        And creates new life.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
            The Greek word translated here as “perfect” is “telos”, which denotes not moral perfection, but the idea that something has grown up, matured, and now reached its perfect end – the intended product. Telos is the goal or intended outcome of something—for instance, a fruit tree’s telos, we might say, is to grow mature and tall so that it can bear fruit. In this way, Jesus is not simply commanding something of us…Jesus is also commending something in us.
            It might be easier to understand this instruction from Jesus within its context as meaning, “Be the person and the community God created you to be.”
My brothers and sisters, we are created children of God, empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus knows we have more to give when it comes to our relationships with one another—even those people with whom we disagree, than to be bound up in “an eye for an eye” kind of living. Jesus knows that we can be and do more than we often settle for.
We can absolutely make a difference in the world when we trust that we are created in the image and likeness of the almighty,
ever-loving, abundantly gracious God who gives us the power,
will, and courage to live the Kingdom way.
Jesus knows this is possible because God sees more in you than you see in yourself.  Jesus well knows that it may be challenging to love, especially those people who just seem to pick and pick and pick and pick at us. But God has plans and a purpose for us. God intends to use us to achieve something spectacular. That something comes as a product of precisely who God were created each of us to be.
God created us to advance a different world, what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God – where violence doesn’t always breed more violence, and hate doesn’t kindle more hate.
Martin Luther King, Jr understood and reflected this truth when he said:
 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
By his teaching and healing, and by his death and resurrection, we know that Jesus is absolutely serious about this manner of being in the world, he showed us that through him, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here among us and within us, and living in the Kingdom entails a different way of life.
            With these lessons taught on the mount, Jesus invites us to be the people God created us to be so that we might not just persevere through this sometimes challenging life, but will flourish, nourishing Christ’s love and light in the world through pathways of peace and love, understanding and acceptance, mercy and forgiveness.
            Through the Holy Spirit God enables us to both hear Jesus’ message and to follow his teaching. And through the Grace of God we are forgiven for those times when we fail to live into the path that Jesus has set before us. Through the blood of Christ we are forgiven for the times we backslide. That is good news for all of us perfectionists, who see our failures to always live up to these teachings as convicting and shameful. The overarching message of our salvation is that we are forgiven and strengthened to try again, to live the Kingdom way. And so, we are bold to embrace the words of Jesus today:
 “Be perfect, Kingdom people, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Amen.


The Alternative Truths for Jesus People

Matthew 5:21-37

The Gospel this morning is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, but today’s teaching by Jesus are some of the most troubling in the entire bible, for us to comprehend.
Jesus has just called this community salt of the earth and light for the world. Yet as we examine ourselves in the light of this teaching, we might well feel convicted as Jesus expands the scope and application of each of these commandments.
Lately, in our everyday lives, we have been hearing a great deal about “alternative truths” and “alternative facts”, much to my dismay and perhaps to yours. Yet in our Gospel today alternative truths and facts are exactly what Jesus is giving us. the “alternatives” that Jesus delivers are not truths and facts that disregard, contradict, or go against the commandments as much as they offer a different, deeper, more complete way of understanding the impact of each commandment for the life of the community. If the church is to truly function as salt and light for the society around it, then Jesus wants us to understand these truths.
We know from our readings of Exodus and Deuteronomy that God gave the Ten Commandments to the people for their own good, and for the good of the community.
Moses says, If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 
God gives the commandments as a gift, that God’s people might live in good, healthy, mutually supportive and loving relationships with God and with one another. Fact.
From Genesis to Revelation, we witness a God who pursues, guides and provides for good, healthy, lively relationships for God’s people so that they might live in harmony with God and with and for each other and the creation God has made. Fact. It’s all about relationship!
God’s Law guides human relationships and keeps people focused on God and on such life-sustaining behavior. Fact.
So, if we accept as fact that God gave the Law for the welfare of all people, and that God’s Law is good, why does it seem that Jesus is changing the law? If God says obey this Law because it is good; then why does it seem Jesus is offering ‘alternative fact’? Is Jesus giving us alternative rules?
At the beginning of the Gospel for today, Jesus says, you shall not kill and that anyone who commits murder is liable for judgement; but I say to you that even when you are angry with a brother or sister you are still guilty, or even if you simply insult one of these, you will face judgment.
We’ve been hearing terms like alternative facts and alternative truths, and we might be tempted to see what Jesus is doing in the negative light of that experience. But what Jesus is doing here is not trying to change the Law but to give an alternative way to look at the Law that deepens and broadens our understanding of God’s intent and desire for living out our relationships.
In each of these alternative statements, Jesus goes deeper; “you’ve heard it said,” he begins, followed by a commandment, to which Jesus then responds, “But I say,” and then Jesus’s teaching point – his alternative fact.
The thing is, Jesus isn’t there to disregard or change the old teachings, rather, this Son of God will fulfill, amplify, deepen and transcend the Law. In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his disciples on how to look more deeply and broadly at these commandments and to see how they are lived out in our lives and in our world today.
Jesus just finished telling this community of Christ followers that they are salt and light for the world, and now he teaches them what it means to live like it.  Following Jesus’ alternative facts means choosing life in his name.
Jesus frames teach teaching by reminding us of the literal reading of the law but then broadens its meaning and impact: he does this each time he says, but ‘I say to you’ a statement that carries the same weight in Matthew’s Gospel as his ‘I Am’ statements do in John’s Gospel.
This is the royal, the divine statement of identity and authority of Jesus in this Gospel; this is the divine ‘I’, reminding us that all religious and ethical authority rests on Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah. In obedience to God’s voice which spoke from heaven at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, we should ‘listen to him now’.
The students in our Confirmation class are currently studying the Ten Commandments, and one of the things that we are doing is going deeper, looking at the broader scope of each of the commandments.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther asks the question of each commandment, “What is this?” or, “What does this mean?” – these are like the “why” questions our kids love to ask, and the story goes that they are mirrored after his own children’s questions. In each case, Luther gives an answer, for teaching of the faith.
As we look at this commandment, Jesus invites us to go deeper and wider with our understanding of how this commandment – ‘Thou shalt not kill’ guides our relationships.
Jesus gives us an alternative way of looking at the commandment. Killing is not just murder. Killing is not just shooting someone or stabbing someone or poisoning them until they are no longer breathing. Truth be told, as far as I know we are all probably innocent when it comes to murder.
But here is Jesus’ alternative fact regarding murder. …..if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. Wow. Jesus has just put a different spin on our understanding of the commandment, and has probably indicted all of us.
We might think, that hardly seems fair. How can Jesus fault us for anger? It is an essential human emotion, isn’t it? While there are people who have anger management issues and seem to get angry about everything, acting rashly and even dangerously when they do, they are more the exception than the rule.
But for the rest of us, isn’t anger a good thing? Isn’t even the most sainted, mild-mannered among us likely to get angry sometimes? Shouldn’t certain things make us angry, and doesn’t anger sometimes spur us on to godly action, like fighting for justice, and caring for our brothers and sisters? Didn’t Jesus himself reveal anger on occasion? How can anger be equated to killing?
Well, the good news, my friends, is that Jesus isn’t talking about legitimate angry response in the face of injury, injustice, sin, and the things that, indeed, should make us angry. Instead, the Greek word that appears in this passage refers to anger that is long-lived, simmering, glaring anger, the anger that is nursed, the anger that is less a reaction to a passing insult or injury than it is a choice that is made - to hold a grudge, to fan the flame of rage or antagonism, to destroy a reputation.
Further, Jesus addresses the angry retort, the name-calling, the tendency to strike out in anger with harsh words that wound and scar. I read somewhere that “Resentment and hard words kill more people than drugs, alcohol and tobacco combined.” I don’t know about the statistics on that, but I do know, as we all do, that our angry words and actions can and do kill relationships, the very thing that God has created us for.
Anger and the actions and words that we use within the sphere of anger hurts, wounds, kills, scars, and has lasting effect on the person, family, or communities whose quality of life is whittled down by the lingering effects of anger.
Jesus came to bring life and love, grace, mercy and forgiveness to the world. Jesus came to teach us to be bridge builders and disciples, carrying his radical message of inclusivity, acceptance and deeper, broader engagement with God and with each other through the Word he brings into the world. As we look at the commandments, Jesus offers us the alternative ways of life that invite us to go deeper, and broader in our relationships. Jesus encouraged us to seek to understand how these directives for life address each and every one of us.
Today, when I look at my news feed, read news reports and editorials, when I have conversations with you, when I search my own heart, I confess that it is anger that I see rising to the top of so many of our communications and interactions that surround us. Not anger within this community so much, but anger at our neighbor. Anger born of fear and anger that inspires fear.  I confess that I feel anger at what is happening in our country and in our world. Again, some of this anger is healthy but truth be told, I know that much of it is not. It is the result of our collective feeling of helplessness. It is absorbed from the culture around us in which the debilitating, destructive, fuming, unproductive kind of anger is prominently being promoted, encouraged, and its flames fanned. And it isn’t good.
The color is seeping out of this beautiful world and the life that God offers us all through Jesus. Instead, faithful people on both sides of every argument inappropriately use the church and Scripture as a weapon to wound, insult, and drive a wedge between people.
The gospel good news that I wish to share with you today my friends, is that God is present and working in the midst of this chaos. Jesus came that we might have life and light in his name. We are disciples of Christ, called to bring healing and blessing to the world around us.
So let’s begin by each of us looking at this commandment and searching our hearts, our actions and our words, and remembering who we are and whose we are. There is a difficult fight ahead of us, and today more than ever before, we are sent to proclaim the love and justice that Jesus brings.
The good news is that Jesus has called us as disciples and had made us salt and light for the world, and he does not leave us alone to do this. Instead, he sends the Spirit to guide our hearts and our ways.
Jesus has called us to bring his Word of peace and grace into just such a world as this. Through baptism Jesus has anointed us to speak grace into the turmoil that surrounds us, has called us to be his church, and his blessing for the world.
Sometimes, this means that we will agree to disagree about things like politics. Sometimes this means we will get angry about social injustice and oppression. We will work together to speak out against it or to combat such things.
Always, being called to be the church of Christ and God’s heart and hands in the world, we will be guided by his love. It is love that will defeat the sin of the world when the kingdom comes to its fullness at Jesus’ return. May the alternative truth, the message of love, mercy and grace, guide us and shape us as Jesus people, for the sake of the world. 


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Salted Caramel

Matthew 5:13-20
When I first began hearing about salted caramel a couple of years ago, I was not impressed. I was, in fact, quite skeptical. Putting salt on caramel just sounded plain weird. Why mess up perfectly good caramel by sprinkling it with salt, I wondered? When some well-intentioned person gave me a box of salted caramel chocolate candy, I put it aside. I was not convinced I would find this confection to my liking.
But then the flavor became wildly popular. You see it now in everything from ice cream to flavored coffee. So, I finally tried it, and once I did, found that I like it. I really, really like it. You see, as strange as it may sound, a little bit of salt brings out the sweetness in the caramel. The salt rounds out the edges of the chocolate; it highlights the smooth sweetness of the buttery, creamy caramel.
A little bit of salt can transform what it touches. I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke with his disciples that day. A little salt – can transform the world.
When used appropriately salt brings out the flavor of whatever it is sprinkled on. And Jesus declared that his disciples are the salt of the earth!
Salt alone isn’t worth much. But applied to or mixed with something else, salt brings out the flavor of whatever it is sprinkled on. In ancient times, salt was more than just a flavor enhancer. Salt was in indispensable commodity which served as a preserving and purifying agent, was used to sterilize fields and was used in connection with grain offerings and sacrifices in the temple. Salt was used when a sacred bond was forged between two parties. And in the Gospel text today Jesus declares that his disciples are the salt of the earth! Not will be or should be, but already are salt of the earth.
Most of us know that food without salt seems tasteless. We need a bit of salt to brighten the flavor on our tongues and in our lives. Most of the time, salt does its best work when it compliments, highlights, and brings out other flavors in food without bringing notice to itself. And saltiness as Jesus speaks of it, points to the kingdom of God. How blessed are we to be used as seasoning for God’s realm.
Today’s Gospel text is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount which began last week; in fact, today’s reading follows directly on the heels of what we know as the Beatitudes.
At the beginning of this core teaching, Jesus stirred our moral imagination: the blessed are already among us, he told his disciples and they are not who you might think.
In the realm of God it is not the wealthy, powerful, happy-go-lucky, and strong who are blessed, but the meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, those who are pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the Christ-followers whom God raises up.  It is not the haves but the have-nots whom God favors. Further, Jesus said, you are blessed not when you possess qualities the world embraces but when you follow Jesus and live Jesus’ values and are persecuted for doing so.
Today we might see them as the soldier with PTSD, or the new mom with severe post-partum depression, or the bi-polar friend or acquaintance. Or perhaps you might know them as the teen who is bullied in school and on-line, or the family member who struggles with alcoholism or drug addiction, the aged person who mourns over the many losses they experience for just having lived so long; or the homeless person you encounter on the street or at the shelter. You know, the ones who feel farthest from being blessed.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Remember? Jesus includes as blessed the ones who see the least among us as beloved of God and reach out to help them – organizations that seek to assist the man, woman or child – refugees - who have been driven from their home by religious, economic or political oppression and violence; or the church that welcomes the LGBTQ teen and reminds him that he is a Child of God, and that nothing can strip him of that identity, or the ministry group that work with the ex-con to help her find a path to new life upon release from prison, or the faithful Christian who loves God and  struggles to discern what it means to live her faith in the current atmosphere of division, hostility and judgement.
In today’s gospel Jesus follows the Beatitudes by telling his disciples that they are salt and light for the world. Notice, Jesus doesn’t just compare his disciples to salt and light, or tell them that they need to become like salt and light. Rather, Jesus says they are already the salt of the earth; made that way not by their own doing but by the grace of God. And it is God’s grace to which the Sermon on the Mount pushes us.
Jesus makes a promise to his disciples in this text this morning: You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a sheer blessing to those who hunger because of who God created you to be, and God, who is righteous, sends you into the world as valuable as this commodity, blessing you in order that the world might be blessedly transformed.
Together, my friends, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, shining God’s love and light into the world by our very being, surprising the world with our saltiness and our light.
This community is created by God for relationship with God, with each other, and most of all, to the neighbor we are called to serve. Jesus has called us each to come together with other disciples in worship to our Lord, to be fed, strengthened, forgiven for the times we forget whose light we are sent to bear and then to be sent out into the world to be salt the world and increase its flavor – to soften the sharp edges of injustice and to sweeten the diversity in our world through our inclusivity, helping transform the bitterness of suffering through a word of God’s grace.
The salted followers of Christ round out the flavors of the world by pursuing justice for the least among us. We recall that salt does its best work when it compliments, highlights, and brings out other flavors in food without bringing notice to itself. Our saltiness is for the sake of the kingdom of God; we are seasoning for God’s realm.
Retaining the best properties of salt, therefore, is important. We maintain our saltiness through worship, by remaining close to the word of God, through daily prayer and reflection on the scriptures.
As a community in relationship to each other our salt blends and mingles with our many flavors bringing out the best in our community and in our world. It is in grace-shaped, salt-seasoned relationships through which Christ’s disciples best reflect the grace and richness of the kingdom.
Jesus also calls his disciples to be the light of the world, and in the text today he warns his disciples against hiding their light; a light which cannot be seen or doesn’t actually shine is useless in revealing the good which leads to the praise and glory of God. You might recognize words from verse 16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good work and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
These words are said at each baptism, as the baptismal candle is lit and presented to the newly baptized. Again, we are not called to become the light of the world, we already are the light of the world, gifted in baptism to shine brightly for the sake of God’s kingdom.
It is through baptism that God turns us into salt and light. Through the Holy Spirit we are given the stuff that we need to shine our light on God’s love and care for the world. We are called to be disciples and to follow Jesus up the mountainside, to sit at his feet and learn there how to retain our saltiness and our light so that it shines appropriately – not on us, but on God and the good that God is doing in the world.
In worship come together to be empowered to action and service in Jesus’ name. We are blessed to praise and glorify God as the community God draws together to be salt and light. God expects great things from us! God expects godly things from us. God expects us to salt and light the world with his grace and love.
In the first reading this morning Isaiah reminds us what it means to maintain our saltiness with an outward-looking perspective and reach on the world God has placed in our care. Isaiah’s words convey the same values that Jesus raises up: to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke. As salt and light for the world, in Jesus’ name we are called to share our food with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless poor, to cover the naked, provide clean water for the thirsty, to love the lonely, isolated ones, to comfort the grieving and despairing ones, to speak for the voiceless ones, to love the unlovable ones, and to constantly turn to the Word of God for the strength and wisdom to carry these things out.
Today we may worry about the dwindling size of Christian churches around the world – but remember what a little bit of salt can do.
God makes us salt and light to shine thousands of points of light into the darkness, to round out the sharp edges of the world to bring out its sweetness; to highlight God’s grace and mercy, love and everlasting presence through our interactions and works. Whether we do that by swinging a hammer with Habitat for Humanity or making a meal and sitting with residents of the Interfaith Shelter, or making bagged lunches to deliver to the homebound, or giving cans of soup and coins for the hungry, may God bless us and those we serve, making our world and the lives God touches through us sweeter and smoother by our salt. Amen.