“Salt and Light”

Isaiah 58:3-9a and Matthew 5:13-20

Epiphany 5, Year A, 9 February 2020

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 5:13-20

“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.

“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.

1

Prayer

 

Just for a moment

Lick your lips.

(Not your neighbor’s lips! Lick your own lips!)

 

How do you taste?

Taste pretty good?

I want you to remember this question throughout this morning’s message:

“How do you taste?”

 

One fallacy in the church

is the notion that

the church should be a place of peace at all costs.

Peace …

… at all cost.

That the church should not take controversial stands.

The church should be a place

where every effort should be made to

Keep Calm and carry on,

Still all troubled waters.

 

Whenever there is a problem the default is to go to the pastor

to restore peace,

and if possible, to

do it without loosing any members or,

God forbid,

with out loosing any large givers!

 

But I challenge this assumption.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning,

Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount

that if the salt has lost its flavor,

throw it out!

 

Salt isn’t worth anything

if it doesn’t have taste to it.

Neither is the church worth anything

if it is only in the business of

preserving members and major donors, or calming troubled waters.

 

For peace can only be Christian

if it walks hand in hand with justice.

If there is no justice, there is no peace.

Peace in the absence of justice

becomes oppressive and

a breeding ground for evil.

 

“How do you taste?”

 

President Erdogan of Turkey,

Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea,

Supreme Leader Khamenei of Iran, and

President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Have all been keeping a tight lid on peace for years;

But at what price?

The price of justice.

This progressive lack of justice

Brews volatility and discontent among the population.

 

Despots and dictators are easy targets;

Do we risk thinking closer to home?

Or would that crack open the lid of partisan politics,

Upsetting social issues,

Or the topic of potential controversial denominational division?

 

Peace without justice is sinful;

especially when justice is withheld for the purpose of

self-promotion,

consolidating power, or

amassing wealth.

 

Peace without justice is sinful.

Jesus is calling his disciples to

stand up, speak out, and speak truth to power.

 

“How do you taste?”

 

The Gospel calls Christians to stand fearlessly in the face of injustice.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is upsetting,

especially if – God forbid – we are the ones responsible for the injustice .

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

brings with it suffering and pain.

While the baby Jesus was born the Prince of Peace,

The Light of the World,

the Lord of Love,

King Herod was slaughtering baby children across Judea.

Try telling one of the grieving mothers that

their child was killed

in the name of peace!

 

The danger that we face as a Church

is the same danger which we face individually;

We face the danger of loosing our saltiness.

 

If we fail to speak up and act out against injustice

for fear of rocking the boat or disturbing the peace,

then we, too, have fallen to the power of sin, and we walk away

Condemned by our silence.

 

To not take a stand against injustice,

to not share the revolutionary, controversial nature of the Gospel,

to not completely give ourselves over to Jesus Christ

means that we

cover our light,

lose our saltiness, and

surrender to irrelevance.

We begin to stink of stagnation.

 

“How do you taste?”

Or, perhaps, I should ask “How do you smell?”

 

And, baby, does the Church ever know how to stagnate!

Unfortunately, to stagnate is to die;

A long painful death.

 

It’s easy to die, everyone does it.

 

But it takes courage and conviction

and willpower and confidence

and belief and faith

to turn the ship around!

To embrace resurrection!

 

“How do you taste?”

 

To live and grow in the light of Jesus is hard!

To spread the Good News of Jesus Christ is risky!

To speak out against injustice, oppression, discrimination,

and to do so in a crowd, is tough.

 

But if we don’t do it, what do we have?

What have we become?

To follow Jesus is to be salty!

Salt without flavor is nothing more than grit, and needs thrown out.

 

To seek repentance,

to take a stand against sin in our own life,

makes us vulnerable before God.

But if we don’t do it, what do we have?

What have we become?

 

Let the light of Jesus shine!

Discipleship reflects the light of Jesus to all the world.

Light hidden underneath a bushel isn’t of any use to anyone.

 

To tell a friend that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life

puts me at risk of loosing them as my friend.

But without risking that friendship,

Friendship isn’t worth a plug nickel.

Friendship demands a mutual respect of faith, both unique and shared.

 

If the church doesn’t stand fast,

Deeply rooted on the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

if WE don’t stand fast in our convictions,

then we will face the same problem the Jews had

when they were in Babylonian exile.

 

We hear the prophet Isaiah

asking the question this morning in Isaiah 58,

“Why do we fast?”

 

It had become quite the stylish thing to do:

to fast,

to go without eating for an extended period of time.

People had forgotten what fasting was all about.

Going without food had

become an exercise in false humility.

It had become a means of oppression,

quarreling and fighting.

 

Look at me everyone!

I’m going without food for an entire day!”

To which Isaiah asks, “Why do you fast?”

 

Had it been Jesus, he would throw them out.

Salt without flavor is worthless and should be tossed.

Nothing is gained in life if

we only seek our self-promotion or pleasure,

if we seek only to increase our wealth or status,

if we turn our back on our neighbors in need

if we fail to right injustice

wherever and whenever injustice is uncovered.

 

Hear the words of Isaiah again:

 

“Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?

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 flesh?”

 

It is tasteless to be selfish,

it is favorable to deny the self.

 

It is to be without flavor to look out for number one,

it is salty to place the needs of others before our own needs.

 

It is bland to love yourself,

it is rich and fruitful to love our neighbors.

 

It is dull to be served,

it is fulfilling to serve others.

 

Everyone loves their family and friends.

 

Loving your enemy is like biting into a chili pepper!

 

“How do you taste?”

I pray you’re spicy as Tabasco.

 

For the church to grow, indeed,

for you and I to spiritually mature,

we are called to replace our bland, tasteless, dull lives

with bite!

With flavor!

 

God calls on us to stand boldly against

Injustice and oppression.

This is our baptismal vow!

 

God calls on us to take risks in his name,

to let our light shine for all to see,

to not only speak out

but to act out

promoting God’s desire for social justice.

We are swimming in an environment of injustice,

if only we are willing to see, learn, and understand.

 

The despair of injustice is all around us.

Perhaps we are a part of it.

The call is before us,

to have some taste,

to take a stand,

to be willing to risk all that we are;

that peace and justice may become one,

… shalom …

here, and in every land.

 

The secret is in trusting God

that controversy,

no matter what it is,

will not weaken our relationship with Jesus,

nor will it consume us.

 

Eucharist is the substance of this trust.

The bread and cup unites us

even when we are divided by opinion.

 

The power of the sacrificial meal far surpasses

any issue or controversy

that threatens to divide us.

 

It’s risky to speak out.

It’s far easier to have no taste;

to be content with the way things are.

 

But God calls us to

upset the world,

to shake this snow globe,

to turn the world on its head with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 

God sometimes calls us into ventures and places

that are uncomfortable,

where we don’t want to go,

but that is where faith leads us.

 

Our hope and trust must

be in the sacrificial meal,

that the bread and cup keep us united

in the love and power of Jesus.

This unity will shepherd us through

all of life’s most challenging issues.

 

So, how do you taste this morning?

Do you taste salty?

Are you willing to take a risk?

Are you ready to place your trust in Christ?

 

If you are, come to the table

And feast upon the meal which has been spread just for you.

The Word of our Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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