Matthew 5:13-20 (2017)
Isaiah 58:1-9a Psalm 112:1-9 1 Corinthians 21:1-12
Today we continue on our themes based around discipleship through our Gospel readings from Matthews Sermon on the Mount.
Remembering what I said 3 weeks back – That Jesus does not invite us to follow Him because we believe in Him. But that He invites us to follow Him because He believes in us!
That is very much reflected in the opening verse today, verse 13, and in verse 14 – “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
These 2 verses are a great and holy attribute and promise of discipleship. To think, that we are salt and light to the world.
A simple illustration of how powerful salt can be – take a black cup of coffee – and if it is too bitter – put a pinch of salt in it – just a pinch – and discover the difference. The illustration being that you are that pinch of salt – and that just a pinch of salt, a few grains of salt – you can and will make a difference.
Jesus’ use of powerful images of salt and light, describes what it means to live according to the ways of God’s realm. Those same images of salt and light are used in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe covenant and law. King David and his descendants are called a lamp before God.
In today’s reading Jesus tells his followers that at this very moment they are salt – cleansing, preserving, adding flavour.
At this moment they are light – revealing what is hidden, allowing all to see. God’s reign is not only a future promise; it also is present reality, and to think that we participate in that reign as we live in God’s ways.
Our light should shine before others, not so that they can applaud our piety, but so that our works can direct others to give thanks and praise to God.
God, through us, gives light to “all in the house.” The word translated here as house is the word for “the established world” – it is a big house!
WE therefore being the Salt and light for our Lord is very touching and very encouraging when you think about it – a real honour to the call of Jesus.
But while encouraging to us – Jesus does not stop there, because with this blessing comes responsibility.
It’s one thing to know and to claim your identity as a follower, as a disciple of Christ, but it’s another thing entirely to live it. But, we have to. Why?
The answer is – for the sake of the kingdom of heaven coming to pass here and now and not just in our future.
Think back to the passage from last week and the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount. To learn is to put information into action. The disciples have learned who they are. Now, they need to know what difference this makes.
Well knowledge without action is an impediment to the implementation of the Kingdom of Heaven for the now.
All too often we only have the first part to our church life – we are light, we are salt – but HOW?
This is often what our sermons can sound like, our churches sound like, our discipleship sounds like. We have a lot of information about Jesus, about God, about the Holy Spirit to share, but that’s as far as it goes.
We tend to amass information for information’s sake and not for the sake of the difference it might actually make for another person.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that knowledge about God cannot exist as simply knowledge.
Knowledge about God, theology, if you will, is God’s very presence in the world. But it is not enough to know about God.
As disciples, we have to be the activity of God in the world.
We are called to live out our identity as salt and light. In fact Jesus goes further in that he says in the closing verse – “unless your righteousness exceeds or surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law – you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now without creating fear from the verse about whether we are in or out of the kingdom – I want to say that this verse focuses on our righteousness – meaning our being put right with God.
Being put right with God is to understand our knowing, our knowledge of
God and accepting the forgiveness that comes to us in confession – we touched a little on this last week.
But because we recognise our own brokenness it makes it easier to accept people who are currently outside the kingdom and also for us to stand up for what is right. (It is like we see someone who used to be like us before we accepted Jesus as Lord – our thinking says, If God can change me – God can change this person)
For example a hot topic at the moment worldwide is the treatment of refugees.
In this regard it is knowledge without action that perpetuates the existence of racism in our world.
It is knowledge without action that contributes to our silence about sexism.
It is knowledge without action that continues to oppress the poor, to ostracize the marginalized, to overlook the hungry.
Unfortunately for us we have this unusual default setting which leans toward comfort, conformity, and complacency – when what Jesus really needs from us is to be the salt and the light—the salt that just might sting and the light that just might expose what we do not want to see.
What Jesus needs from us, evidently, is a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. “No!” we might say, “Jesus didn’t really mean that.”
But what if Jesus did? What if Jesus’ intention was for us as disciples is to imagine and live into a righteousness that makes the kingdom of heaven possible? If this is true, no wonder Jesus tells this to his disciples from the beginning.
Jesus is in many ways challenging the disciples, challenging you and me that discipleship is not just a certain way of being in the world, but an ultimate way of being in the world.
What Matthews Gospel does is to show us that there are high standards for discipleship, there are certain expectations, and the sooner we realize this, the better.
He challenges us to realise that a hungering and thirsting for righteousness is no easy feat. That there is an expectation for a certain excellence in faith, a requested resilience in belief, a mandate for all determined disciples that very well might trouble our hearts and minds.
We all know that Jesus is accused by the scribes and Pharisees of not keeping God’s law, but he is faithful to the law’s intent.
However Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it.
In today’s reading Jesus calls us as followers to live righteous lives, showing justice and mercy to all. Jesus calls all followers to go to the heart of God’s law, fulfilling the spirit of it. Those who break God’s law and teach others to do so are least in God’s realm; they are not banished from God’s reign, but need to change and be restored to a right relationship.
The concern of the scribes and Pharisees was obedience to God’s law. Jesus’ followers must be just as whole-hearted in following the intent and spirit of the law.
In summing up what Jesus calls us to, is a life of “righteousness,” that is – the ethical actions expected of those who believe in and follow Jesus the Christ. AND “Matthew stresses that the disciples’ light, which is meant to be seen by all – can be smothered only by the disciples’ own failure.
That as disciples we can cause the failure of our mission if we ignore others and live only for ourselves.
Ministry is the bringing of Christ’s light into the world in the daily life of each and every one of us – all Disciples of Christ and also in the corporate witness of the church here in Katikati and in the world at large.
Let us pray