Lutheranlady's Weblog


Salt of the Earth: A Sermon on Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5
February 13, 2014, 10:18 am
Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Grace and peace to you, from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The first words we hear from Jesus in today’s gospel are “You are the salt of the earth.” We see a photo of large salt grains on our bulletin cover. As I prepared to preach today, I was trying to think about our modern relationship with salt and how that helps or hinders our ability to hear who Jesus is calling us to be.

I think what we most often hear about salt is that we shouldn’t consume too much of it. We’ve lost sight of how precious it has been to the generations before us. Salt preserves food, flavors it, and has healing and cleansing properties. It’s necessary for our bodies to work correctly.

To reclaim salt as an image for today’s sermon, think of the new trend in chocolates: sea salt. We’re selling fair trade chocolate bars with toffee and sea salt. I’ve enjoyed sea salt crusted chocolate fudge. Maybe you have your own favorite.

I try to make my children’s sermons more visual and tactile to form connections to the text and theme, but I think it’s a disservice to you adults that you are expected to only need to listen. So, you’ve received samples of chocolate and brownies with sea salt. I know this probably goes against everything you’ve been taught about how to behave in church, but if you’re up for it, I invite you to take a piece, put it in your mouth and slowly taste it. We’ll take a moment for all the rustling and tasting. Experience the surprise and the enhancement of the salt. It’s a noticeable flavor and it changes the chocolate.

Salt is salty. It changes whatever it is paired with. If the salt were not salty, it would cease to be what it is, it would no longer be useful, it would be trash.

Jesus preaches, “you are the salt of the earth” to his disciples and the crowds below him on the mountain. These words echo through the centuries to us today. You are the salt of the earth- you have something life-preserving, life-giving, to share with the world. You have a flavor that is meant to alter the experience of living on this earth.

To get at what that flavor is, let’s explore our reading from Isaiah. The reading is a dialogue between God and the people with some interjections from the prophet’s own voice. The people have experienced the destruction of the holy city Jerusalem and of the temple. Now they long for restoration and rebuilding. They long for God’s protection and justice. So they have tried to do what they thought would make God happy. They’ve been fasting and praying to try to get God to do good for them again. But God doesn’t seem to be doing much for them.

When the people complain that they’ve been working so hard at trying to be holy people, pleasing God with their sacrifices, God quickly rebukes them. They’ve been trying to look good, with their signs of fasting, but all the while they haven’t been living a truly repentant life. They are ritually and symbolically turning to God and asking for justice, all while they are oppressing those over whom they have power. God declares this half-hearted fast won’t cut it.

This outward, half-hearted fasting is the same as being salt that has lost its saltiness. There is nothing flavorful, nothing transformative about it. Their hearts and their impact on the world aren’t being affected by this shallow fast.

God declares what a righteous fast, what a salty life looks like:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

God calls us to have an effect on the world around us. Our faithfulness is a reflection of God’s justice that has a real impact on our daily lives and our interactions with all creation. Our faithfulness is not meant to only change our Sunday morning. The light of Christ is not meant to be covered up and tightly held within our own hearts. It is meant to spill out into our actions so that the world can see them.

God declares:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday. 

 

God created you, God claimed you, God fills you with God’s own light, so that you can enter the places of darkness and gloom, where hope is lost, where poverty crushes, where oppression is strong. You are called to act as light, to act as salt, protecting, preserving, and restoring life.

Faith is not meant to be private, as if God wanted us to hold all of God’s love in our heart and not let it spill out in our words and actions. This was the problem of the people who listened to Isaiah- they thought they could show their repentance and be right with God through little signs of righteous penitence that affected no one but themselves. They thought these outward gestures would win them God’s favor.

God has come into your life to transform you. God doesn’t want your pious words, your perfect church attendance, or even memorization of the Small Catechism, if that holiness is only a veneer on your surface. God has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within you: to transform you into salt that flavors the world, into light that brightens your surroundings. In whatever you do, you are meant to be aligned with God’s priorities and purposes: to care for the poor, feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and act for the well-being of all creation.

This comes about by your living as God has created you to be and the Spirit empowers you to live. As God spoke through Isaiah to say God didn’t want fasts for the sake of earning favor, neither does God want that kind of relationship from you. Rather, God calls you to action that arises from your identity as a beloved, saved, claimed child of God.

This is the new identity we welcome Colton into today. He is baptized and united with Jesus Christ forever. He will be a child of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and sent into the world to act as Christ. The promises parents Jenny and Dave are about to take on, the promises of his sponsors     Sarah and Andy  and the promises you all will accept are promises to help Colton enter into the kind of relationship God wants with him. He will need to be nurtured in his new identity as salt and light, and helped to understand how to live as a baptized Christian. God is coming to Colton to form this life-transforming relationship with him. God needs each of you to live up to the promises you make today, so that Colton knows how to live out of God’s relationship with him, experiencing the joy of a full relationship that transforms deeper than a holy veneer.

 

The Christian life comes from Christ’s presence within us, transforming us to live as Christ lives. Our work for justice and peace, our care for the poor, our sharing of the gospel, does not arise from a desire within ourselves to somehow score points in God’s record of who’s been good. Rather, these works arise from Jesus’ presence within us. In Luther’s commentary on Galatians chapter 2, VERSE 20. But Christ liveth in me., Luther writes, “Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then first are we able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.” (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/gal/web/gal2-17.html)

By uniting you with Christ in baptism, God makes you righteous. In Luther’s image, you are the righteous tree and the works of justice are the apples you produce because of who God has created you to be. Producing fruit is a natural growth of what it means to be a tree. This fruit is the salty flavor, the illuminating light, given to you by God for the sake of the world’s transformation. God has made you to be salt and light. Your works of bringing flavor and light to the world is simply your living out your God-given identity. Be who you have been claimed and created to be. In this way you will be joined with God’s life-giving and ever-loving mission. Thanks be to God for entrusting to us such an amazing joy and responsibility. 

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