Altar candle with blurred stained glass windows in background

9 February 2020: The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, February 9, 2020 was based on the following manuscript:

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
9 February 2020
St. Hilda St. Patrick, Edmonds
Epiphany +5
Matthew 5.13-20

With Jesus’ Presentation —
40 days after his birth —
falling on a Sunday last week,
We missed the introduction to Matthew 5.
When Jesus saw the crowds,
he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down,
his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying…
We’re in the Sermon on the Mount,
the core of Jesus’ public teaching
in Matthew’s Gospel.
Before our passage today
Jesus has given a series of blessings,
the Beatitudes.
We’ll hear them again at All Saints.
Today Jesus is talking to us about ourselves,
and in talking to us about ourselves,
we’re expected to learn even more about God.
First, salt.
You are the salt of the earth.
You, those around me,
are what gives the earth its pop,
what brings out the goodness in it.
Second, as with so many weeks in this Epiphanytide,
You are the light of the world.
Do good works,
others will see it,
and use your light to point them to God.

Then Jesus gives a peculiar warning
about salt losing its flavor
and being trampled underfoot.
Salt doesn’t lose its flavor.
Not pure salt,
not salt available in the first century.
It’s difficult to obtain,
and is worth a lot —
the word salary
has its root in the word for salt —
but it doesn’t lose its flavor.
Modern additives are what makes
your table salt
get less salty over time.
So what’s going to be thrown out
and trampled underfoot?
For us, it’s the good stuff:
rock salt,
sodium chloride, pure and true
is what we use for deicing sidewalks.
Okay, so we’re the flavor enhancers of the earth.

“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.”
Now Jesus is admonishing us,
which I have been for weeks at the offertory,
to let our light shine before others.
Let others see our good works,
and then give glory to God
who motivates and enables us to do our good works.,
Jesus also gives us a warning
as he talks about what’s true in the world:
a city built on a hill cannot be hidden.
If you’re taking up the mantle
“light of the world,”
people will look at you and notice you.
You can’t be hidden.

Our American forebears
wanted us as Americans to be the light of the world.
We were to be a city on a hill,
a light shining among the nations
showing them how it’s to be done.
Needless to say,
we have failed at that mission in a host of ways
and the world is watching.
They’re not only watching our Senate
allow a president who asked a foreign government
to interfere in our elections for his benefit.
They’re looking at people who lose their homes
because medical expenses run out of control.
They’re watching the new NBC sitcom about that
The self-proclaimed city built on a hill
has been bombing people with drones indiscriminately
over more than one administration.
People of faith throughout the country
have been working arm-in-arm with empire
not pour themselves out like Christ
but to gain power and influence —
following what Paul calls the wisdom of this age
and the wisdom of the rulers of this age.
A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

Sitting or standing on a mountain
with not only the twelve,
but crowds that will be getting hungry soon,
Jesus tells them and us
something about humanity.
You’re salt.
You’re light.
He doesn’t tell us to be these things.
He says that we are.
Then he tells us
about himself, about God, and about God’s reign.
“Do not think
that I have come
to abolish the law
or the prophets;
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
He goes on to talk about
the importance of following the law and the prophets
and not teaching others to break them either.

Finally he warns,
“Unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus the Jewish rabbi
tells his Jewish followers
that they have to be even more righteous
than the people
who are most regularly a thorn in his flesh
to enter the kingdom of heaven.
I can’t do that.
We can’t do that.
And that’s the point.
Just before warning about
Just How Righteous you have to be,
Jesus says that those who teach others to break commandments
will simply be least in the Kingdom of Heaven,
not that they won’t get in.

This passage isn’t about
creating a dichotomy
between Law and Grace.
It’s not a passage about
setting up Christian grace
versus Jewish legalism.
It’s not a passage about
creating the idea of The New Testament God
over and above the God of the Old Testament.
This is a text where Jesus tells us
that we’re the seasoning of the world,
that as we follow him, we make it a better place.
It’s a text where Jesus challenges us
to respond to God’s love
by doing good works
and pointing to God
as the source of all that is Good.
This is a text where Jesus says
no matter how good you are —
even if you’re as good as the Pharisees and scribes —
that’s not enough!
You have to do even more than them!
I can’t do that.
We can’t do that.
And that’s the point.

That’s the point,
and it’s good news.
It’s good news
because we don’t need to work ourselves up
wondering if we’re keeping up enough,
if we’re being good enough.
There is no enough
that comes from us.
The only enough
is God’s grace freely given
and brought to us by God dwelling among us
in man named Jesus.
God’s grace —
not any work we try to do —
is the only thing sufficient for our salvation.
We’re not off the hook, though.

While Jesus ends our excerpts today
but telling us that we can never be good enough
that’s not for us to wail about how bad we are.
But it also means that we can’t c’est la vie
children in cages
or climate change
or voter disenfranchisement
or inhumane prison conditions
or or or.
We can never have righteousness that exceeds the scribes or pharisees, but
You are the light of the world. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

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