Sermon preached by Pastor Daniel Locke on February 09, 2020 @ St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, FL
Listen to the Sermon here:
13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
On the North shore of the Sea of Galilee, as the small hills climb right out of the water there is a small town called Capernaum. The small town on the North East edge of Galilee became well-tread territory within the public ministry of Jesus. It’s near these shores that Jesus called his first disciples, ate fish for breakfast with Peter, calmed the storm, and fed the crowds. This is holy ground to be sure. And today, from the sea of Galilee, as you climb the hill side full of banana trees, there is a Roman Catholic Church known as the Church of the Beatitudes. It is a beautiful church with an incredible view. And it is there that Christian history remembers the beatitudes and Jesus’ profound moment of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. Research says that the natural curve of the landscape would have made for great acoustics for Jesus to teach and the shade from large trees would make it appealing for listeners to sit and learn.
This is one of the many sites we’ll visit when we take our trip to the Holy Land in October. It’s the site from which our gospel text comes this morning.
And as we dive in, I want to say a quick word about where we are and why the Sermon on the Mount is so important. I mentioned last week that we’ve been following the life of Jesus in a chronological sense. From the Advent of his conception, through the birth narrative and baptism, through calling his first disciples and beginning his earthly teaching ministry. Today we continue that chronology as we Jesus gathers on the Galilean hillside to teach, and it marks a significant shift within Jesus’ ministry.
You see, in chapter four of Matthew’s gospel, once Jesus has been baptized and called his first disciples, the text tells us that he Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Then it says, “His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him.
In today’s understanding, we might say that Jesus has traveled from town to town playing all the local coffee shops and small venues. His name and reputation is spreading. And now, after much proclamation and teaching, rather than going town to town to meet the people, the people have come to him. His proclamation of hope, demeanor of love and acceptance and his power to heal have drawn the interest and desperation of the crowds. They now follow and press upon him.
And in the 5th chapter of Matthew, it tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught them. With the crowds growing in overwhelming numbers, the time had come for the disciples to understand and accept the responsibility of their discipleship.
The implication within Matthew’s text is that he is teaching the disciples. But certainly, we can presume the crowds are close enough that they can hear him also. And through the teaching moment, Jesus is educating and equipping his disciples for the full weight of the ministry to which they’ve been called.
Telling them not who they should become, ought to become, might think about becoming, or here try this...but rather telling them who they are now. Discipleship without action is not discipleship. Disciple as a noun is good and well, but to be a disciple of Jesus is to embrace the verb, to go about the work of being a disciple. Discipling. And Jesus calls the disciples, indeed us, to so much more. By the nature of being a disciple, they carry a great privilege and responsibility within the ministry of God’s kingdom. Called with reason. Claimed for a purpose.
And this section of passage is incredibly significant. For one, it is the longest continuous teaching by Jesus in all of scripture. Three chapters in fact of Jesus teaching on an array of subjects. And because of that, this is one of the most well-known and highly quoted portions of scripture.
Jesus’ sermon on the mount is powerful discourse, not only about the glory of the kingdom of God and God’s grace-filled redemption God’s people, but it is also a lengthy discourse on the role, the identity, and the responsibility of being disciple. What it means to be disciples. These chapters are an impactful commentary on what discipleship in action looks like and the responsibility of the call.
So, Jesus says, YOU! You are salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are. Not you should be. You could be. Or, you ought to be. But, you ARE the light of the world. You are salt of the earth. And salt that has lost its taste cannot be restored. It is thrown out and trampled upon. And light shines to give vision. Clarity. And Direction. No one lights a lamp and then immediately covers it. A light by purpose is lit to shine and reveal. You are light. You are salt.
What does Jesus mean?
Salt, in Jesus’ day was an incredibly important commodity. It was necessary to their daily life, and not something to be taken for granted. They would harvest salt by pouring water from the dead sea into big pits or cistern to let it evaporate, leaving only salt. Salt, as it does today, had a wealth of purposes. Salt was used not simply to season food but to preserve it as well. When rubbed on food it preserves the meat and stops slows the process of decay. It prevents corruption. Salt was used to treat wounds. The law of Leviticus instructs the use of Salt in religious sacrifice. Scripture talks about the use of salt in making covenants and establishing relationships. Salt is a valuable product of trade. Even newborn babies were said to have been washed in salt.
Light was also a necessity. Obviously, without light, you couldn’t see. Light enabled and empowered the necessary functions of daily living. Light creates vision. Clarity. Direction. Light unveils the darkness and reveals the hidden. Light guides and makes clear the path ahead. Light was essential. And as the natural light of the sun set, it was necessary to spark new light. And Jesus makes the point to say, no one, no one having lit a lamp immediately covers it up with a bushel. That’s ridiculous. Why light it in the first place. Rather, a light is lit for the purpose of shining. That’s what light does, and to inhibit a light’s ability to shine is to intentionally hinder the light’s ability to be effective. To dismiss its power all together.
Salt has a purpose. In fact, it has many purposes. Light has a purpose. And you, Jesus says, YOU are light of the world. YOU ARE salt of the earth. You have a purpose. And to be a disciple, to be a salt and light, as one commentator noted is to "be tasty and lit." Salt on a shelf is a waste of good salt. Light hidden is a misuse of light.
Given the busy nature of our callings, Sarah and I don’t always have the chance to sit down of dinner together. Even more rare are the chances to cook a home cooked meal together. So, we’ve been quite fond of a company called Hellofresh? Anybody familiar with Hellofresh? Or Blue Apron? There are other companies, but they’re all essentially the same. These companies allow you to pick any number of meals from their menu and then they send you all of the pre portioned ingredients and recipes in order to make the meal. These have been life savers for us as a family. And I really like them because it’s affordable and it pushes us to try new things. They provide everything you need for the meal except three things: Oil, Pepper, and Salt.
Now, I would guess that over the years I’ve cooked at least 60 or so HelloFresh meals. And in my brief but vast experience, I have learned that you can always count on two things: First, 90% of meals will use an entire onion. And Secondly, the recipe instructs you to Salt and Pepper everything at every step of the process.
I cooked a meal the other night - roasted poblano pepper and pork tacos. And, as expected, it called for the use of an entire red onion. And of the 3 steps in the cooking process, each and every one said, add Salt and Pepper to taste in bold. It’s becoming a running joke for us to question the recipe when a step doesn’t tell you to add salt.
When Jesus tells the disciples that they are salt of the earth and the light of the world, he is using very real and understandable metaphors to explain their discipleship. He is giving them a clear and direct mission to, as the commentator said, be tasty and be lit.
So, what does it mean to be salt and light for the world? It means to act and live in such a manner that your Christian witness is seen with clarity and understanding. It means removing the bushels of the world that we put in place to squelch the light. It means shining light in the face of injustice and revealing peace and hope. It means denouncing the bushels of hatred, envy, greed, oppression, exploitation, abuse, and shame...denouncing, as we do in baptism, the forces that defy God...so that light may be seen and reflected.
To be salt is to season the world with flavor. To spice up the despair of life. It means preserving the natural goodness of God’s creation. It means stopping the world and our neighbors from the decay of sin. It means acting in the waters of baptism and promise of salvation to work for justice and peace. It means seasoning grief and despair with hope, flavoring loss with accompaniment, oppression with freedom, and injustice and justice. It means rubbing the powerful systems of injustice with the healing power of God’s kingdom.
Salt is such a powerful metaphor. I was visiting someone in the hospital the other day, and it dawned on me…when you’re admitted to the hospital, what is one of the first things they always do no matter your symptoms or illness. They start and IV. And what is an IV? It’s a saline solution. Essentially, saltwater because salt is important to your body’s natural healing.
And if salt has lost its saltiness it is worthless and thrown out to be trampled on. It’s said that untrustworthy vendors would sell salt diluted with white sand, rendering the salt useless and saltiness-less. Therefore thrown out to be trampled under foot. Salt was essential to life. And if salt lost its flavor or saltiness, then it was worthless.
Think about it, we don’t take things and add them to salt to dilute salt and make it better do we? No. In the same way that we don’t cover a freshly lit lamp. Rather, a lamp is lit to shine, and salt is applied to preserve, season, nourish, and heal.
And I think for Jesus, he is teaching the disciples that as disciples they must denounce the bushels of the world. They must reject the sins that dilute their calling. Rather than be impressed by the world around them, they’re called as disciples to form and reform the world and their neighbors. Called to usher in the kingdom of God. To shine and season. To be light and to be salt.
My friends, YOU, You are salt and you are light. In the waters of baptism, God removes the bushels of sin, and through confession and forgiveness, God calls us to season the world with God’s grace. And like the recipe calls for...Salt everything, every step of the way.
And being salt and light looks like the ordinary acts of Christian witness in everyday life.
It’s serving at the food pantry or habitat build, working with volunteers in medicine.
It’s being guardian ad litem, giving rides to the elderly to the Dr. and grocery store.
It’s taking altar flowers to shut-ins, tutoring at our local school, and making chili to raise almost $400. It’s a red wagon overflowing with food week-in and week-out. It’s empowering a preschool that nurtures 120 kids and families. It’s adopting children, caring for grandkids, and teaching Sunday school. It’s baking a meal or sleeping on a couch so that homeless families may have a safe place to rest. It’s singing the promise of God, leading the community of faith in worship, taking communion to our sisters and brothers. It’s praying by name for anyone who asks. Salt is powerful and it doesn’t take a lot to be effective. Light is powerful and once lit it stands for all to see.
So, my dear disciples, You! You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world. And as you were charged in baptism: Let your light so shine before others so they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. Amen.
©Sermon preached by Pastor Daniel Locke on February 9, 2020 @ St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, FL