Monday, February 7, 2011

Salt and Light

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 5:13-16
February 6, 2011
Epiphany 5A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Regardless of what the final score of today’s game ends up being—regardless of who wins and who loses—at the end of the game a select number of players will be described as “difference-makers.” In football, the “difference-makers” are those who are in the right place at the right time. They make a key tackle, execute the perfect block, snag the interception, pounce on the fumble, toss the touchdown pass. The difference-makers regularly change the game’s trajectory and re-shape the outcome. And they accomplish all this simply by doing their jobs to the very best of their abilities—by playing their assigned positions with smarts and strength and skill. They are the difference-makers.

Today, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is also describing difference-makers—difference-makers of a different kind. They are salt and they are light, He says. They are men and women called by Jesus to follow Him in faith. They are always in the right place at the right time precisely because they are following Jesus. By their words and by their deeds—by living out their assigned positions in this life to the very best of their ability—they change the world. They do the ordinary work of their callings; but they do that work extraordinarily well. And on that last day when the fourth quarter finally expires for planet earth—only then will it be fully revealed how these difference-makers changed the trajectory of history and brought life to a dying world. Today Jesus declares that you are one of these elect, select, difference-makers.

These difference-makers are the disciples of Jesus—those who follow Him in faith. These difference-makers are distinct from all the other players on planet earth. There are plenty of nice, friendly folks in this world, but not all are difference-makers for the Lord. For when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world,” He wasn’t addressing those words to the entire crowd that had gathered on the mountainside, but only to the select group of disciples whom He had called. They (and only they) are blessed (we heard last week). They (and only they) are salt and light.

Those are the two simple, yet powerful metaphors Jesus uses to describe difference-makers like you. You are the salt of the earth, and you are the light of the world. Salt and light are difference-makers. Salt is used for flavor. Salt is a preservative. Salt melts snow and ice. Salt is a necessary nutrient. If you do any cooking at all, then you know the importance of salt. Rarely does a recipe call for more than just a teaspoon of salt; but if you forget to add the salt you’ll realize it when you take your first bite. And light—light is indispensable. Light brings safety and security. One night this past week I drove from Whitefish Bay (a community with the good sense to install street lights) into a small municipality just north of here—a municipality which I will not name because it does not have the good sense to install street lights. Let me tell you, driving from this village to that village—from light into darkness—was not a good feeling. The difference on that dark night was astonishing. Why? Because light—and salt—are difference-makers.

Jesus says you are salt. You are light. You are a difference-maker in this world. And please notice the present tense. It’s a done deal. You are salt; you are light. This is not due to any decision that you make. It’s no achievement on your part. Jesus isn’t saying that you should aspire to be a difference-maker the way high school football players aspire to be like Aaron Rodgers or Charles Woodson. It would be absurd to think that a handful of uneducated fishermen from Galilee could be difference-makers for the whole world because of their own efforts and skill. No, they—and you—are difference makers because Jesus declares it. Jesus makes it so: “You—you who follow me in faith—you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world—a city set on a hill—a brightly-burning lamp.”

And your marching orders—the way that you will make a difference as a disciple—is simple and straightforward: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” That God-given light inside of you is shining for the sake of others. Your good deeds are to be done, not just to be nice and helpful, but so that others may see and hear your good and gracious God, and possibly become difference-makers themselves.

These words of Jesus are ultimately about good works. Good works are the whole reason that we are here. Of course, God doesn’t need our good works; but other people do—our family, our neighbors, our fellow believers. Good works from God’s perspective are anything a child of God says or does in faith, for the glory of God or for the good of your neighbor. And based on that definition, you are doing good works all the time.

But there’s something peculiar about these good works that we do. On the one hand, they are supposed to be noticeable. Our good works are obviously supposed to be public and visible and audible. We are supposed to let our light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds. But notice that it doesn’t say, “see your good deeds and praise you.” It’s “see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The good works we do in faith—the truth that we speak—the seasoning and light we give to this tasteless, dying world—is not to put the spotlight on us, but on the gracious God who has called sinners like us to follow in faith. A little later on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes clear that those who do good works only to be seen and praised by men have already received their reward in full.

We are called to let our light shine—to be difference-makers in this dying world—to act in mercy and to speak the truth in love. But the great temptation for the Christian church is to hide that light—to blend in and conform to the world around us—to water down the truth that we are called to bring to the world. For instance, churches that cannot speak clearly about God’s gift of life and the sin of abortion have ceased to be salt and light. Churches that cannot speak clearly about God’s gifts of sex and marriage and about the intrinsic sinfulness of pornography and adultery and homosexual acts—those churches have ceased to be salt and light. Churches that do not proclaim Jesus Christ crucified for our transgressions and raised again for our justification—there is no salt and no light. Rather than making a difference in the world, those churches are taking their cues from the world—adopting whatever fads and trends the world is offering.

For each of us as individuals, as well, there is the danger of conformity to the world, of blending in, of keeping and holding our faith so private that we are indistinguishable from unbelievers. We do good works—we let our lights shine—we are difference-makers in the callings that God has given us—within the family, within the church, on the job, and in the neighborhood. In those ordinary vocations you are called to do extraordinary things. Parents, are you raising your children any differently than the un-believing parents down the street? Are you difference-makers? Teenagers, do you go about your work as a student any differently than your fellow students who are unbelievers? Is your attitude/behavior any different than theirs? Are you difference-makers? With friends and co-workers and neighbors, do you offer something more than idle chit-chat? Are you a difference-maker in the lives of those around you?

I’m here to tell you: YOU ARE! Jesus says so. You are salt. You are light. You have something that this dying world needs more than anything, and that something is a someone. You have Jesus. Or rather, Jesus has you. You are not your own. You are bought, purchased and paid for by the Lord Jesus, who gave His life for your life. He has called you and made you His disciple in the cleansing splash of your baptism. In word and in deed Jesus made it clear that He wants you to be His own.

You have the power to be difference-makers in this world—right here and now in the simple good works that you do in faith every day. And you have this power to be difference-makers because your life has been claimed and cleansed by Jesus—and He makes all the difference. Jesus’ death for your sins as your substitute makes all the difference between heaven and hell. Jesus is the difference-maker who makes the difference between eternal punishment and eternal life, the difference between death and resurrection life, the difference between punishment and forgiveness, the difference between losing everything and being handed a victory that no one can ever take away from you. Whether the Packers will win or lose today I do not know. But this I do know: You are more than conquerors through Him who loves you (Rom. 8:37). Thanks be to God who gives us victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57).

Jesus is the difference-maker that matters on this day and every day. Your baptism into Christ makes all the difference, for that baptism has brought you salvation. In His Word, preached and proclaimed Jesus is making a difference in your life, equipping you for a life that is filled with brightly-shining words and deeds. In the bread that is His body and in the wine that is His blood, Jesus is making a difference in you, forgiving your sins, placing His life in your dying body, so that you will live forever with Him.

Jesus Christ is the difference-maker who declares that you are salt and you are light. The words you speak and the deeds you do have sacred importance for the people that you meet and greet and work with each day. When Jesus spoke of a city set on a hill, His listeners would have thought of Jerusalem—that high and holy city where the temple was located—the place in which God blessed His people. Today you have come to that city set on a hill. The church is now that holy place, where the grace of God brightly shines—the place in which God has promised to bless and forgive His people. God grant that in our good works—that in our offerings and in our service to others—people would not see us, but see the Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us. He makes all the difference—for your life—on this Super Sunday and forever. Amen.

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