Last week, I received an abnormal amount of hits on one of my previous sermons "Salt and Light."
Every three years, this particular teaching of Jesus is placed before pastors and congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Last Sunday was the appointed time for this text:
13“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.
14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
16In 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.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
18For 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.
19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Apparently, some folks had reached the bottom of the barrel when it came to looking for sermon hints, and in a last ditch effort, several read mine. :-)
As I saw the hits mount, I decided to read that sermon again. I don't think it was all that bad, but as I read through it, I thought to myself, "Where is the grace?"
There was none.
My sermon focused completely and totally on action: my action, my congregation's action, the things we were supposed to do.
Where was forgiveness?
Where was God's love for us?
Where was the transformation of heart and soul gifted by the Holy Spirit?
It just wasn't there.
And a straight forward reading of this text, with no other context, doesn't have much grace at all.
But if you place it within the larger context of the Gospel message...
You ARE the light of the world...
You ARE the salt of the earth...
Intriguing use of words there by Jesus, is it not?
Not, if you follow me and believe in me and do what I say, then you will be. No. You ARE!
We are created to be light for the world; salt for the earth. It is our purpose. We didn't ask for this. We didn't seek out this purpose. We didn't ask God for the light to shine through us--God put it there. We are created to shine light into a world of darkness by doing good works and glorifying our Father who is in heaven.
The problem: we like putting a bushel basket on ourselves. And it's not because of some sort of humility driving us to do that.
There is a part of us that craves the darkness. There is a part of us that craves being superior to everyone. There is a part of us that craves the baser things of life, and when light shines on such things, it shows them for what they are: sinful.
And so, we cover the light. We hide the light so it doesn't shine and reveal the fact that we enjoy sinful pursuits and perverted pleasures. We hide the light so it doesn't show our complicity in systems which promote poverty and abuse and subjugation. We hide the light so it doesn't reveal our darkest secrets and desires of greed, lust, envy, anger, and the like. We hide the light so that we can go on thinking we are good people because we don't act out those very thoughts.
20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
You see, the Pharisees and scribes were the purity folks of Jesus' day. They were the folks who concentrated on following all the rules to a tee. They were the folks who put on an air of holiness, and Jesus tells His followers their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
Well, the scribes and Pharisees might have had an external facade, but it was the inside that counted. That's where true righteousness comes from. True righteousness comes from having a heart oriented toward God--a heart that unashamedly and humbly puts itself on a lampstand to shine light into a room.
And who can have such a heart? Who can make their heart do such a thing?
Not us. Not on our own. St. Paul wrote in the 7th Chapter of the book of Romans:
19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.
22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,
23but I see in my members another law at war with
the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in
24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
We know the good we should do. We know the light we should shine. We know we shouldn't have certain thoughts of anger, lust, greed, envy, and contempt. But we have them anyway. We don't do the good anyway. As much as we would like our hearts to be oriented toward God, we keep fighting to have them oriented toward ourselves.
Yet, despite this, Christ still died for us. Christ still offered Himself on the cross to reconcile us unto God.
Only a love like that can change a heart. Only a love like that, once it's power infiltrates through our barriers can change a person. Only a love like that can bring a person to his or her knees with thanksgiving and humility and awe and wonder.
"You ARE the light of the world..."
"You ARE the salt of the earth..."
What terrifying, humbling, and empowering words at one and the same time.