Salt and LightMatthew 5:13-20 (NRSV)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
You may have seen it in the bulletin already, but today’s sermon title is “Living Well.” What does it mean to “live well?” Living well seems to be a hot topic today. There are magazines, websites, life coaches, and gurus of all kinds that tell us about living well. And, for the most part, living well goes beyond physical fitness. Wellness is a holistic concept that encompasses a person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual being.
The belief is that living well gives you the energy to engage with life in a more meaningful and fulfilling way. But you know what? This holistic idea of wellness and this sudden push for living well is not something new. It’s been around for thousands of years. Even back in Jesus’ day, Jesus taught about balance. Jesus came to teach and model a way of living not just to change behavior, but so that people’s hearts and minds would change as well, taking care of their whole selves so that they could also then care for others.
Our scripture reading today was a part of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus sat on the hillside and taught his disciples and the crowd that had gathered. Now, the Sermon on the Mount starts with the Beatitudes which we heard last week, remember? Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. And Jesus went on and on telling the crowds about those who are blessed and why they are blessed. As we talked about last week, he did it in such a way that even people who were struggling in life could find blessings within themselves.
But then he ramped up the excitement a little. He turned to the crowd and he looked out among them and said, YOU, you are the salt of the Earth! Don’t ever lose your flavor.” Meaning, be the person you were created to be. Share with the world what makes you you! Your personality, your humor, your quirks, and your gifts. And YOU, you are the light of the world! Don’t hide your light under a basket. But let it shine for the world to see.
You see, the people of Israel had been wandering in the darkness, waiting for the Messiah to come and save them. What Jesus was seeing was that the people who were called to be the light-bearers had actually become part of the darkness. They were tired and frustrated, and though Jesus tried to inspire them, they were probably wondering what made this Jesus any different than the rest of the leaders of the day? They were longing for something new and exciting that would take them away from the weight of the laws and covenants that held them down. And I’m sure that many of them were disappointed when Jesus said that he had not come to abandon the law and the prophets.
But the truth is, Jesus had not come to remove all responsibility for keeping God’s law. Instead, he showed us the “goodness” of it, the fulfillment of it, and how to use it in living well. Because the laws the covenants and the rules were not bad. They actually carried with them the ancient stories and promises of God, and they helped the community work together and function as one. The problem was, as many times happens, the rules and covenants and laws were looked at as burdens rather than gifts. They were looked at as stumbling blocks that stopped people rather than helpful guideposts along the way.
Let’s take a minute to think about today’s storybook, Bedtime is Canceled. If you remember, the kids in the story were excited because bedtime had been mistakenly canceled. And it may have been fun for a few hours to do something different, to get your own way, and to do whatever you want, whenever you want. But as the story continues, we find that maybe canceling bedtime was not the best answer. Because people get too tired and start making mistakes, like buttering the dog’s tail instead of the toast. They put their clothes on backward and have trouble remembering things. They make mistakes at work, and sometimes they get so tired, they even fall asleep in their dinner.
Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like living well to me. And Jesus taught the same kind of lesson. Jesus explained to the crowd that the rules and the laws and the covenants were not meant to be a burden, weighing everyone down, but a structure put in place to make sure that community could function smoothly and everyone could experience living well.
Because it’s not about you, and what you want, and what you like. It’s about us!
And we need to work together. Of course, we want to do things the way we like to do them, and we always want things to go our way. But when we work together, sometimes we need to compromise. We need to listen to one another, and we need to set rules so that everyone can live well. Not just the leaders, but also the followers. Not just the outspoken, but also the quiet. Not just the rich, but also the poor. And not just the healthy, but also the struggling.
Friends, Jesus came to earth not to simply uphold the laws, but to teach us about living well. Yes, Jesus came to challenge us to change our behavior. But he also came to inspire us to change our hearts and our minds as well. So that we might be healthy and strong. So that we might stand firm in our faith. And so that we might always know that we are held in the hand of God, who loves us unconditionally.
Sure, there are rules and laws and covenants, but they are there to remind us of who and whose we are and to guide us on our way. So that we truly can be the salt of the earth, sharing our very own gifts and passions with others. And so we can be the light of the world, mirroring the light that Christ shines so brightly in us.
Friends, here’s the important part of today’s lesson. We can come to church. We can read scripture and pray. We listen to Christian music all week and memorize the Bible, if we want. But if we don’t live out our faith, working every day to reach out, loving and serving others as we strengthen and lift up the body of Christ, then we are not living well.
If we come to church and worry about having things the way we want them, making sure that we get to sit in the right pew and we only hear the songs that we like, making sure that the kids don’t make too much noise, and the pastor doesn’t challenge us too much to do the things we don’t like to do, making sure that we aren’t asked to do too much, or heaven forbid be a part of the worship service, then we aren’t living well.
Because if we can’t see Jesus in the person that sits next to us in church and feel the presence of God in the songs that we sing whether we like them or not, if we can’t hear the voice of God in the sounds of our children and be inspired and encouraged by challenges to go out and make the world a better place, if we don’t find joy in working together for the good of the church or loving and serving others, then we’ve missed the boat. We obviously didn’t understand the Sermon on the Mount. We worried only about changing behavior and didn’t allow our hearts and minds to be opened. And therefore, we are not living well.
Friends, we are the Body of Christ! If we are truly to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, then shouldn’t we be reaching out to others? Shouldn’t we be doing all that we can to heal and teach and to love others?
And rather than worrying about what pew we’re going to sit in or what song we’re going to sing, how much noise in the sanctuary or what kind of donut we’re going to get at coffee hour, don’t you think we should focus our energies on loving and serving others as we truly follow Jesus out into the world?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I urge you to look for balance in your life taking care of yourself, while loving and serving others. Remember that laws and rules help us to live in harmony with one another. And don’t just change your behavior, open your heart and your mind. Experience the presence of God in your life and share the joy of truly living well with others. Because then you will truly be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, simply by being you!
May it be so, thanks be to God. Amen!