You are salt; you are light; you are God’s heart. God says you are enough, and will give you what you need, so don’t be afraid, and be who you are, for the sake of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, year A
Texts: Matthew 5:13-20; Isaiah 58:1-12
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
You are salt. You are light. You are already in God’s kingdom, and are righteous. So – don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid, even if what we’ve just heard from God’s Word seemed heavy and frightening. Especially on top of all that disturbs us in our world today.
Democratic practices that have served us for centuries are threatened, ignored, dismantled. Nations with whom we’ve long been friends are rudely insulted and treated as nothing. And the first flurry of action from our new government has threatened and caused harm to the weakest, the most vulnerable, whether it’s the people or the earth itself.
And we come here for hope, for rest, but the news feels no better. Isaiah frightens with warnings and judgments. Jesus promises no slack, for none of God’s law is abolished, all, to the last letter, must be done, and if we are not exceeding in our righteousness, it won’t be well for us.
But don’t be afraid. Things are not as they might seem, at least not with God. You already know this. This truth was here, too, in these same Scriptures today. But in case you need extra medicine, remember our brother Paul: nothing, nothing, can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Nothing can.
So don’t be afraid. You might just have mislaid the truth you already knew.
You are salt. You are light. You are already in God’s kingdom, and are righteous. So – remember what that means.
Salt is gift. Salt keeps precious things from going rotten. Salt brings flavor and beauty to what otherwise is bland and dead. Salt, in our climate, keeps neighbors and friends from falling and breaking their necks. That’s who you are.
Light is gift. Light reveals truth and exposes deceit. Light brings understanding and warmth in confusion and cold. Light opens up paths for walking and beckons others to join its friendly hope. That’s who you are.
And the kingdom of heaven: that’s where people obey and follow only God and no other. It’s where God reigns in people’s hearts because God’s love has so moved and shaped their hearts that they, in turn, are God’s love.
That’s who you are. Sometimes you forget, and think whenever Jesus says “enter the kingdom of heaven” he means “go to heaven when you die” He never means that. Remember, your life is joined to Christ’s death and resurrection; life with God after you die will not be taken from you. Remember, what Jesus is always saying is, if you aren’t living under God’s rule, shaped by God’s heart, then you aren’t living in the kingdom. Simple truth, but easily confused.
In your baptism God claimed you as righteous and holy, as beloved child. That’s who you are, you who live with God’s heart in yours, you who reveal God’s heart to this world.
You are salt. You are light. You are already in God’s kingdom, and are righteous. So – be who you are.
That’s all Isaiah and Jesus ask. Isaiah doesn’t expect that one person will end oppression, provide clothing for all who are naked, and end world hunger. Jesus doesn’t expect that one disciple will provide light for the whole world. They simply ask, be who you already are.
Be the one who keeps the good from going rotten, who preserves precious things in this world for the sake of life. Be flavor and beauty in the ugliness of the world. You already are this, in Christ. If you can remember that, being who you are is easier. And watch out for those slipping on the ice.
Be the light of God’s hope in your place, where you are. Reveal truth; name deceit. Don’t hide that you love other people, that God loves other people, because you fear exposing yourself in a world of hate. You already are the light of Christ. So get up on your soapbox or stool or whatever you have, and shine light so others can see. If you can remember you already are light, it’s easier to do this.
And be the warmth of God’s love in the world, for you are God’s righteousness already.
God has said so; will you disagree? You already live in God’s rule and reign, in the kingdom of heaven; but sometimes you wonder if you are righteous enough.
But remember we sang with the psalmist that the righteous are “merciful and full of compassion.” That’s righteousness. Mercy and compassion. Remember that when Jesus, who said every letter of the law must be fulfilled, was pressed as to what was the heart of God’s law, he said the whole law of God was fulfilled by “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourselves.” To be God’s righteousness is to be God’s heart in the world and for the world. It is to be God’s mercy and compassion for the hungry, the afflicted, the oppressed.
That’s the righteousness that exceeds that of the best law-keepers, scribes, Pharisees, whomever. Keeping God’s law isn’t following rules and punishing those who fail. The Son of God, who reveals the heart of the Father to us, who died and rose as the truest witness of the eternal love of the Triune God, the Son of God has told us: Keeping God’s law is knowing and loving the heart of the Lawgiver, and bearing that heart into the world the Lawgiver so loves.
You are salt. You are light. You are God’s heart.
God has given you to a world longing for God’s healing. Don’t be afraid, for God is with you. Don’t despair that you are not enough, because God has said you are.
You are salt. You are light. You are God’s heart. And hear Isaiah for what that means today: God “will guide you continually,” says the prophet, “and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. You shall raise up the foundations of many generations. You shall be the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
That’s your truth as you enter a world that is frightening and disturbing, as you live in a desert and feel incapable of doing anything: you are a watered garden, a repairer, a restorer, and God will guide you, satisfy your needs, and make your bones strong. All shall be well, and all all manner of things shall be well. For God has promised.
So go, be who you are, so God’s salt and light and heart can bring hope and life as God always intended.
In the name of Jesus. Amen