GOSPEL: Matthew 5:13-20
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages his followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, doing good works and keeping God’s commandments
[Jesus said:] 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. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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. 18For 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. 19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What is the nature of Love in the Bible? In a different passage of 1 Corinthians than the one we read this morning, Paul says:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. (NRSV 1 Co 13:4–8).
Paul absolutely believed that all people are worthy of love. Jesus absolutely believe all people are worthy of love. The challenge for us, in the 21st century (and also for Christians in the first century) is that the center of love, from our perspective, from Jesus perspective, from Paul’s perspective, is giving of ourselves out of love for others. That’s what being “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” are all about. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says he preaches Christ Crucified. For Christ Crucified is a story of self-giving love on the part of God: God the Father who gives up God the Son for the sake of a sinful world, which rejects and kills God the Son, and yet at the same time is made righteous and saved by the same God the Son who it killed.
From the world’s perspective, the story is ridiculous.
Does anyone think it was easy for Paul to travel from place to place telling others about God who was executed by the Romans (and remember most people loved the Romans, and thought that the people the Romans executed were usually thieves, murderers and troublemakers who brought it on themselves). The testimony of Acts, and the testimony of the letters of Paul, says that things were hard for Paul everywhere he went, hard and dangerous.
Not because he was Jewish. Not because he was a religious man. Not because he was simply an out-of-towner. He was opposed because the story he told didn’t make any sense.
- The idea that God became a human being in the person of an itinerant Jewish preacher in Israel. Didn’t Make Sense.
- The idea that God was more concerned about the poor and the downtrodden, the sick and the lame, the imprisoned and the oppressed and the blind and disabled than about kings and princes and merchants and soldiers. Didn’t Make Sense.
- The idea that a man who was found guilty of treason and blasphemy and executed by the Romans with the assistance of the Priests died to bring forgiveness and life and salvation to people who believe. Didn’t Make Sense.
- Finally, the idea that someone who was once dead came back from the dead and ascended into heaven. Didn’t Make Sense.
These four points didn’t make any sense to most of the people Paul would talk to. And frankly they don’t make much sense to the world today either.
If you think about what religious stories make the news today, it’s stories about violence: Either violence between people of different religions, Christians and Jews here in Pittsburgh in 2019, Christians and Muslims in the Middle East for the last fifty years or more, Muslims and Hindus in India ever since the partition.
Or if you watch the news, sooner or later you’ll see an argument about science – but always, always, in the media, the argument will be – “Real Christians” deny science and “Real Scientists” deny faith.
It’s absolutely irritating to me – personally – because the dichotomy that draws eyeballs in TV debates doesn’t at all describe or even acknowledge the beliefs and teaching of our Church, the ELCA, and millions of Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Orthodox Christians around the world.
We believe that God exists. We believe that God created us everything that exists and still sustains all even until today. (That’s a rephrasing of the explanation of the first article of the Creed from the Small Catechism, you can look it up on page 1163 in your hymnals if you want to check – or if you’re bored with the sermon you can read the catechism and stop paying attention to my blathering1.)
We believe and teach that God did not intend the book of Genesis to tell us about God’s universe. It’s not a book about how the planets move around the sun, or the stars move around the center of the galaxy. The book of Genesis is not a book about how the pistil and stamen produce fertilized seeds. The book of Genesis doesn’t provide an explanation for why the coral reefs are dying.
Genesis is a book that tells us about God. It tells us about God’s love for the world. It tells is about our human gifts – gifts from God – that empower us to figure things out and improve things. Genesis tells us about our sinful nature – how we always, inevitably, choose sin at one point or another. And it tells us that God, nonetheless, chooses to work with us as we are, and to use the bad things we do, or the bad things that happen along the way, to do good in the world.
The arguments in the news about Christianity versus science try and talk about the “truth” of Genesis. But – if you go back and read Genesis this week, you’ll see what I’m talking about! It turns out, most of Genesis isn’t about the creation stories at all. Most of Genesis is the story of how God works through one family, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his eleven brothers, and all their wives and children, to start bringing the world the truth about God and God’s love for all people.)
The truth about God is that God loves us, and God works to care for us, through nature, through the environment, through the gift of love we have for each other, even the gifts of love of those who don’t know God and toward those who don’t know God. God works to care for us in the midst of struggle and pain and sorrow. God works to care for us through workplace setbacks, through bad breakups, through high inflation, through violence in the world around us.
God gives us forgiveness when we can’t even forgive ourselves. God gives us Godself, when we have nothing left to offer to God, or the world, than our pain and our suffering and our failures. God gives us Godself and says: I have called you by name and you are mine.
Paul today says he came preaching nothing amongst the Corinthians but Christ and him crucified. Christ and him crucified. There isn’t much space to talk about Christ when you’re trying to understand how a nebula forms. But there’s a lot of space to talk about Christ when you’re deciding whether that girl you study nebula’s with is the one you want to spend your life with. There’s not much space to talk about Christ when you’re trying to calculate the force of a projectile weighing 40 grams travelling 370 meters per second. That’s not a problem that Genesis or First Corinthians has a lot to say about. But whether or not to fire a .22 caliber bullet has a lot to do with God and Christ and Genesis and love of self and self-giving love.
If you’re hunting for food to feed your family (well, first, you’re probably using the wrong gun), but, anyway, then the calculation is one thing. If you’re intervening in a domestic dispute at the house next door, then it’s another thing. If you’re in a firefight in Ukraine, then it’s a third thing. If you’re standing in line outside a club in Pittsburgh after it closed at 2:00 in the morning, then it’s a fourth thing.
The mechanics of how the world works is something we Christians, we Lutheran Christians, aren’t afraid of, whether it’s evolution, or plate tectonics, or the big bang theory (I mean the science part, not the TV show), or how DNA amongst God’s created world compares or is related. What matters to us, of course, is that we use the gifts of God’s world to care for others, and to share God’s love with them.
That’s what Paul’s mission to Corinth was about, sharing the hope we have in Christ. That’s what Jesus calls us to be doing as we are salt of the earth and light to the world.
So Go out from here and share God’s love. And give of yourselves to others. Then you are doing the work of God. Enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. Even the details of astrophysics and astronomy and geology and biology. But in all that you do, be a blessing to others with the blessings you have received from God.