Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Salt and light people. . .

Sermon preached for Epiphany 5A, on Sunday, February 9, 2014.

    We commonly talk of folks as being the salt of the earth people – plain, decent people, reliable, dependable.  But that is not the way the Lord uses salt in the Gospel today.  To be salt is not simply to be plain old decent folk.  It is to be distinctive, to stand out, and to be noticed for the Christ who lives in you.
    Often Lutherans complain that worship and faith are too, well, elaborate, too complex.  Would we not be more successful if we had simpler worship, plainer services, and a simple faith behind it all?  Some think confessions, creeds, liturgy and hymns get in the way of an easier, simpler faith and an easier, simpler Jesus.  A basic salt and light faith that might be more appealing to the masses, more friendly to folks not accustomed to distinctively Christian things.
    Somehow this always ends up in an attempt to boil down faith to its fewest essentials.   "What is the least I need to believe or to do to be saved?"  The problem with this all is that Jesus is not simple, His call no cheap moralistic demand to be good or at least be better people, and the mystery of the faith, as St. Paul put it, exceeds what eye has seen, heart imagined, and mind conceived.  It is so complicated only faith gets it.  The salt and light Gospel for today is nothing less than the call to faith, to distinctive faith that stands out and does not worry about blending in.
    Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth."  It is the kind of thing lost to a people on low sodium diets who have learned to see salt at some thing bad or something cheap.  The salt of Jesus’ day was precious and the more potent the more valuable.  Salt here is the potent seasoning that changes flavor, that preserves, cures, and prevents decay.  It is not cheap but highly valuable and worthy.  Salt that cannot season or preserve is worthless to anyone.
    Note that Jesus is not saying you might be salt if you tried hard or you could be salt if you wanted to be.   Jesus says this is who we are by God’s grace.  You are salt.  God has made you this salt.  He has declared you salt.  You do not make yourselves salty with good behavior points or sacrificial generosity or works of righteousness.  This is who you are in Christ.  This is what happens in baptism and Spirit given faith.  This is the call to be who you are.
    With this is implicit the warning not to lose what God has given you.  There are warnings to the preacher not to preach another Gospel than this Gospel of what Christ has done and there are warnings to the hearer to refrain from itching ears that exchange what seasons and saves for what is worthless.  Lose the distinctive of Christ and Him crucified and your saltiness is gone.
    Jesus says "You are light."  Not the cheap and easy light you hit the switch for but the precious light of a world captive to darkness and light.  You are light in Christ who lives in you by baptism and faith.  You are light – the bold and powerful light that chases away the shadows of guilt, shame, despair and death.  Christ shines in you and through you.  Again, this is not an option given to us if we want but a declaration of what God has done in you by baptism and faith.
    This is not the light of human effort, organization, or plan but Christ who lives in you.  You are light.  You are not the source of this light.  Christ is. You shine with the borrowed light of Christ.  You are mirrors of Christ's bright and pure light.  Implicit here is the warning not to lose it or exchange it for the darkness of lies and death.
    We need to be salt and light Christians.  This is not a new program we need to adopt or some skill we need to learn.  This is who we are because Christ has made us to be salt and light.  The point of these words is to be who you are, the people God has declared you to be, who Jesus died that you might be, who Jesus rose that you might be, and in whom the Spirit has worked His miracle of faith and trust.
    This is not a back to basics call.  This is not about boiling things down to their simplest and most basic content.  This is about God at work in you.  He who died that you might live, now lives in you and works through you.  You do not make this happen – it is all Jesus – but you can get in the way.  You can exchange what God in His grace has done for the empty promises of sin, death, the devil, the world, and your own sinful self.  The call of the Gospel is not to become somebody different than who you are but to be who you are – a child of God by baptism and faith.  It requires the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in you to hear His voice speaking in the Word, to rejoice in the new life born in you by baptism, to receive for your good and blessing the wonderful food of Christ’s flesh and blood in the bread which is His body and the cup of His blood.
    There is nothing simple about this.  It is majestic and awesome, amazing and surprising.  It is God at work in us and through us by baptism and faith.  You are already His agents and instruments.  You are already filled with the potent seasoning of the Gospel, with the powerful preservatives of grace and mercy, and with the light that overcomes death's darkness.  Salt and light are not programs to help us become what we might be but the declaration from God who we are.  You are not in this alone.  The Holy Spirit is the power to enable you to apprehend what God has done, whom He has made you to be, and how then to live this new life.
    God needs salt and light people.  Not people to figure out what to do or be but to be who you are.  We do not need to make the Gospel more palatable but to let it be as distinctive as it is.  We do not need to simplify anything but to proclaim the full mystery of who God is and what He has done for us and our salvation.  The Spirit will work through this distinctive Gospel life and proclamation.  But we dare not dumb down or make more ordinary this extraordinary Word and faith.
    If the Church is in crisis, it is not because hymns are hard to sing or creeds hard to understand or services too ceremonial or faith too complicated.  If we are in crisis today it is because we are no longer distinctive people in Christ, people who stand out for the sake of the Gospel and shine with Christ’s light and season with His healing and preserving grace.
    This is not a call from God to shape up our behavior but to shine with the borrowed light of Christ and to season with salt our every conversation and work so that Jesus is center and God is glorified.  This is a call to faith, to extraordinary faith that stands out and does not blend in.  What God has done for us in Christ, what Christ has done in us in baptism, and what Christ has promised to do through us before the world, this is what makes us salty and empowers our light.  This is no call to be somebody else but the call to be who you are in Christ.  God make us this salt and light, for His purpose and for His glory.  Amen.

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