Sermon for Epiphany 5 – 2.5.23

+ 5th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 5th, 2023 +

Series A: Isaiah 58:3-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church

Milton, WA

 

“Righteous Salt and Light”

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I had a professor in college who told us the very first day of class – it was Christian Apologetics – that we could skip every day of class if we wanted – go surfing or whatever – and if we only came to take the test, he wasn’t taking attendance. Some did just that, but they missed out on a semester of fantastic teaching.

 

Today I’m going to try something similar… a dangerous thing in preaching…I am going to start by giving you the end of the sermon first. And then we’ll travel the road to get there through Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. Reading Matthew 5 this week, I came to the following conclusion.

 

In Jesus’ righteousness you are righteous; in Jesus’ righteousness you are his righteous salt and light and in Jesus you do righteous good works he gives you to do.

 

Now, how do we get there? How does Jesus’ teaching at the beginning of the sermon on the mount lead to that conclusion? Two simple questions will help us: Who are you as Jesus’ baptized, blessed disciples? And, who is Jesus?

 

Who are you in Christ? Jesus uses two images. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

 

A couple quick points of grammar. “You,” here, is plural. Ya’ll as they say in Texas. You, all of you, are salt of the earth. And this is present tense, indicative. You are. Not was. Not will be. You are. In a world that is obsessed with identity, identity politics, identifying by certain pronouns, the identity that matters most is what God declares of you. We don’t determine our own identity, Jesus does. Jesus gives you this identity: baptized, blessed, bought with his precious blood. You are salt of the earth.

 

What does that mean? Salt is a common thing in Scripture. Used for preservation. Flavor. Cleansing. Used in the OT sacrifices. Jesus is telling us that as his baptized believers, your life in his righteousness is one that has a preserving, flavoring, cleansing, sacrificial effect for those around you. You are Jesus’ salt of the earth. Paul says it this way in Colossians… Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 

How, then, does salt become unsalty? It’s a compound element after all. It can’t lose its saltiness. And that’s the point. Unsalty salt is an oxymoron; it goes against the very nature of salt. It would be like saying, “Have a cup of dry water,” or “throw a hot ice cube in your iced tea.” Unsalty salt is useless; it is untrue to its nature. This is what Jesus is getting at, he is teaching us to be true to who God has made us to be in Christ. Jesus is calling us to be true to the nature of who you are, of whose you are. And who you are is righteous in him. True, once you were unsalty, useless in sin and death. But now in Christ’s death and resurrection you are his: forgiven, beloved, baptized. You are his salt. You are righteousness in Christ (more on that later).

 

Jesus makes a similar point with a different image. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

 

You, all of you, are. Present tense, Christ’s light of the world. If the nature of salt is to be salty, just as the nature of a disciple is to be true to Jesus’ word and ways, it is the nature of a light to shine. A city set on a hill is meant to be seen. A congregation with a beautiful A-frame church is set on Milton Hill in order to be seen. To be a light in the darkness of this fallen world. To be a light to our community, our preschool, your neighbors. To live in the light of Christ and be ever watchful for his coming. To live by the clarity and radiance of Christ’s words…his word that calls you out of darkness into his marvelous light; his life-giving word, water, body and blood that dispel the darkness of our sinful hearts and illuminate our lives. Darkness in Scripture usually means evil, danger, lostness is at hand. And yet, light is life. Even a little light – a small oil lamp can light a whole room. You are the light of the world, Jesus says.

 

The key to all of this, of course, isn’t found within us. We are not salt of the earth or lights of Christ on our own. The key is in Christ. In Christ’s preserving, cleansing, sacrificial death, you are salt of the earth. In Christ who is the Light of the world, overwhelmed by darkness on the cross yet risen in glorious light out of the grave, you are the light of the world.

 

In the same way, Jesus says, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Notice who gets noticed there. It’s not you. Not me. It’s our heavenly Father. The good works God gives us to do and prepares for us are given to point to him, not ourselves. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. The fruit of good works is all his doing.

Who are you in Christ? You are Jesus’ righteous salt and light, made salty and shining with his righteousness given freely to you.

 

The best way to answer the question, “who are you in Christ?” is to answer the second question of Matthew 5, “who is Jesus?”

 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 

 

When Jesus says “The Law and the Prophets”, or simply “The Law” he’s referring here in this context to the Old Testament. It’s as if he’s saying, “I didn’t come to abolish or toss out the whole Old Testament. No, I came to fulfill it. Every word of it. Every prophet, every book, every sentence, every word, every letter, even down to the smallest Hebrew letter Yod (iota in Greek), and the smallest squiggle of a line on a letter of the Old Testament Scriptures…they all point to me, and I fulfill them all.”

 

Jesus is the “Yes” and “Amen” of all God’s prophets and prophecies. Jesus is the period of every Old Testament sentence; the exclamation point on every one of God’s promises. This is both a warning and a comfort. A warning to his disciples then and now: don’t set aside, soften, or slack in teaching Jesus’ words – all of them. And yet comfort, for in, and with his word Jesus tells you who he is – fulfiller, keeper, and giver of God’s righteousness. Jesus’ word is where he tells you who you are in him: salt and light and righteous in his living and dying and rising for you. Teaching, hearing, living in Jesus’ word, that is what brings greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is God’s righteousness enfleshed for you.

 

This is what the scribes and pharisees were so confused about and why they opposed Jesus so violently.

 

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

The scribes and pharisees were looked at like religious super stars, the best of the best, the gold medalists of piety and faith. And they did have a righteousness of sorts. A righteousness that looked at the works of the law, not the Scripture’s fulfillment in Jesus. A righteousness of their own efforts and making, which is really no righteousness at all.

 

As the prophet Isaiah says, our righteousness is like filthy rags. But in Christ, God gives you a righteousness that is not your own. We don’t need a righteousness that we can work up on our own; we need the righteousness that is received. The righteousness Jesus is, and fulfills, and gives. The righteousness that exceeds the scribes and pharisees is the righteousness that comes to you in the saving work of Jesus, in his righteous words that forgive you, cleanse you, and feed you. In Christ crucified and risen you receive the righteousness that declares you right with our heavenly Father.

 

And that brings us back to where we began. In Jesus’ righteousness you are his righteous salt of the earth and light of the world, in Jesus you do the righteous good works he gives you to do. In Jesus’ righteousness you are righteous.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Beautiful Savior

is a traditional Lutheran Church, faithful to God's Word and His Sacraments. We equip God's people to serve, love, and encourage one another as we grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We reach out to the community as beacons of light, sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Church Office Hours

Monday - Thursday 8:30am-3:30pm

Friday 8:30am-11:30am

The office is closed on Fridays during the summer months of June, July, and August.

Preschool Office Hours

August - May
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
8:30am-12:30pm

By appointment only June and July

Contact

Address
2306 Milton Way
Milton, WA 98354
Phone
(253) 922-6977
Fax
(253) 922-6977