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.
We continue today with more of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It isn’t so much of a sermon as it is a collection of Jesus’ teachings. Matthew is known as Jesus’ teaching Gospel. Jesus is teaching his followers. Now, as our mission theme for this next year is Feeding Minds with the Love of Jesus, it is only appropriate that Jesus and his sermon on the mount be our teacher. Perhaps Jesus’ words can feed our minds in a way that will impact that rest of our year. Last week, we heard Jesus giving the beatitudes and we learned that maybe Jesus wasn’t telling us what we had to do in order to be blessed, but rather Jesus was simply giving a blessing. A blessing in particular, for those who so often don’t seem themselves as blessed. The outcasts. The marginalized. Jesus refers to them as the poor in spirit. The meek. The persecuted. According to the people in our Gospel of Matthew Bible study, today’s marginalized, today’s people who don’t often receive blessing might be the immigrants in our country. Or our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Or the homeless. Or perhaps our aging parents and grandparents who aren’t receiving proper care in their nursing homes. Might those groups be where Jesus’ sermon on the mount blessing extends to today?
Well, if Jesus was performing blessing last week, not a lot has changed this week. Our gospel begins with these words, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ Notice the present tense. You are the salt of the earth. Not you will be or you could be, as long as do enough acts of kindness in your life. It is simply a blessing – you are the salt of the earth. Jesus continues, ‘You are the light of the world.’ You are the light of the world. It’s who you are to God. And Jesus emphasizes this point by talking about salt losing its saltiness or lamp hiding under a basket. Salt can’t lose its saltiness. Or else it is no longer salt. And a lamp can’t hide under a basket, because the flame will go out. What Jesus is saying is that you cannot not be salt and light of the world. It’s who you are. It’s who you will be.
And here’s the thing about salt and light. You don’t need a lot of it for it to have a big impact. A little bit of salt has the power to add flavor to an entire pot of stew. One candle, one little light, can illuminate an entire room. You are part of the way in which God changes the world. Now the trap door in this is that this can lead us to thinking that we better go out and be salt and light of the world, or else…That if we don’t become these things in the world, then God will some how punish us or love us less. And the last line of our gospel doesn’t do us any favors.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Unless you exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The problem here is that we likely hear this as Jesus talking about what happens to you when you die. But that’s not what the kingdom of heaven means for the Gospel of Matthew. Remember, earlier in Matthew, Jesus (and John the Baptist) proclaims that the kingdom of heaven has come near. That realm of God, that God’s dwelling place has come close to us. That God’s home is right here and all around us. Not some far off place, off in heaven, but here. So when Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he isn’t saying that you won’t go to heaven you pass from this life. What he is saying is you’ll never encounter or experience the fullness of God’s intention for you and for this life. You’ll never encounter God here and now.
When I was in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, people were giving their big idea for the future of Christianity. Kent Dobson, a pastor out in Michigan, gave an idea that has stuck with me. He said, “I think we should leave behind the afterlife for awhile.” He said, “As Christians, let’s act as if there is no afterlife, because then maybe we will make the most of this life.” Let me be clear. He is not saying there isn’t an afterlife. But so often our Christian faith has been so focused on making it into heaven, that everything we do here on this earth becomes simply about that. Trying to be good enough to deserve heaven when we die. Like the big reward at the end of the game. And that can too often lead to one of two things. Either feeling like you can never be good enough, so who cares and why try. Or trying, trying, trying, trying, trying to make yourself worthy of God’s love and acceptance by doing, doing, doing, doing.
When the MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group in Owatonna hosted a pastor from the Cities a couple of months ago, this pastor looked around at the MOPS group and the topics they’ve had in previous months and she said, “It seems like you all are feeling the need to do more. And what I want you to know is that what you are doing as mothers already is enough.” And perhaps that is a message we all need to hear.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the great flavoring agent for this life; you illuminate the room. You already are doing things that care for your neighbor. This isn’t about you leaving here thinking about how awesome you are. “Alright, I am the light of the world. I am going to shine, shine, shine. Watch out world!” But rather to leave here knowing that you are light, you are salt, but that light and salt never exist simply for themselves. They exist for the sake of the other. You exist, you matter for the sake of other people in this world. Your life has an impact on this world. And it’s why the church exists – not for the sake of itself but for the sake of others. And it’s because of Jesus, not because of our big ideas. It’s Jesus who transforms and changes the world. He just happens to use the likes of us!
You are the salt of the earth when you pack your child’s lunch each day. You are the light of the world when you advocate for your elderly loved one’s well-being. You are the salt of the earth when you watch your grandkids so that the parents can have a break. You are the light of the world when you wake up early to heat the church. You are the salt of the earth when you reach out to your gay family member who feels rejected and scared. You are the light of the world when you teach Sunday school. You are the salt of the earth when you faithfully go to work day after day to provide for your family. You are the light of the world when you make fake telephone calls with your niece who is across the room from you. You are the salt of the earth when you sit through your 15th basketball tournament just to support your child or grandchild. You are the light of the world when you bring a bouquet of flowers to a congregation member who broke her hip. You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world.
This isn’t about heaven. It’s about who you are. It is about the light and life of God breaking out in visible ways through you. For the sake of your neighbor. Thanks be to God. Amen.