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Salt, Light, Law, Love

Epiphany +5, Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 5:13-19

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

It’s one of those Sundays when
we let the children slip out before we knuckle down to some grown-up conversation.
I’d love to say we’re done with the text for today,
but the Gospel text doesn’t really let us off that hook;
it insists that we hear Jesus out, because he’s not done yet.

So, let’s finish the passage.
“….Let your light shine before others so that they can see how you live the Dream of God, and give glory to God our Father in Heaven.
And, do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
on the contrary, I have come to fulfil them.
For truly I tell you, heaven and earth will pass way before one letter, one stroke, (one jot/tittle)
is altered, or removed.
So, be clear on this; if you choose to break covenant, or cause another to do so,
you will be called least in God’s kingdom,
and if you keep God’s covenant, and encourage others to do so,
then you are surely great in God’s Kindom.”

I have walked around and around this ending to the text so many times in the past month,
“Do I, don’t I include?”
“Can’t I just stick with the blessing bit, Jesus?
This last bit feels as harsh as salt in my coffee.”

(One helpful way to read a difficult passage is to take up a position within it, to identify with a person, try to see it from their perspective)

First place I went was to stand behind Jesus, looking where he was looking
when he said all of what we’ve read last week, and today.

On that hillside, with disciples right in front of him,
and the desperate and curious behind them.
His voice raised to “all” as he called out eight times,
“Blessed are those who” to the crowd.
To the world beyond our walls.
To the little people cursed by empires,
yet blessed by God.
But then his voice drops in volume a little,
his focus narrows to the small group,
the newbie disciples who’ve just left jobs, wives, houses to follow him.
“You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.”

It’s a job description, or at least the title of it.
“Disciples are not merely hangers on and ‘yes’ people.
Your job as a disciple of the Incarnate One
is to embody God’s blessing, God’s Dream,just like I do.
You are salt, and light for the world.
Essential to the living out
of the Dream of God in the world
so that God’s blessing does indeed reach
the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the humbled,
the despairing and hopeless, the merciful, the peace-seekers,
and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness.”

Now, if I move to where I belong in this story, among the disciples,
I’m still reeling a bit at being called
“Light of the World” and “Salt of the earth”
I don’t think I deserve such lofty titles,
I’m not sure I want to wear that much responsibility.
I mean, how in God’s name do I light the world?
And I know even less about what being salt of the earth means.
If we’d ended there, we’d have a name badge,
but not much of a clue how to be “Salt” or “Light” would we?

And that’s where this next bit of the passage comes in.
It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s the handbook for Salt and Light Discipleship.
We may expect a lot of new, fresh ideas, a glossy PPT, the Jesus way of Saltiness.
But no. Nothing new at all.

He throws this at us.
All of it. Law and Prophets:
everything from “God said and it was so” through every unpronounceable king, and prophet
of promise and doom, every song in the Psalms.
“Nothing in this gets changed just because you follow me.” Jesus says.
Nothing that this (Bible) says about God’s Dream,
God’s utter justice that convicts kings for their treatment of the poor,
the widow, the orphan, the alien, none of that is abrogated, superseded,
redacted, left out.

Jesus, after all, is God’s Dream
made known in flesh and bone,
in breath and blood,
in law and love incarnate,
lived out, dying and rising
among the ordinary, the outcast,
the sick, the sinner,
forgiving, restoring, and calling
Blessed and Beloved.

Now, I know that we fools rush in with a “but…!”
We progressive types will list off the hellish texts
of the Law and Prophets;
the genocidal smiting of Canaanites,
the violent war stories,
the patriarchy and the misogyny,
the out-dated cultural norms that are used
by non-Progressive types to shut out
people of colour, LGBTQ+ people,
divorced people,
from their narrow rule-focussed deformation of the Gospel.

But that argument will only hold water if we hold on to the erroneous assumption
that every jot and tittle of the Bible was penned by Godself.
It wasn’t.
This text is a collection of the good, the bad
and the ugly literary deposits of multiple generations, peoples, societies,
some of whom were belligerent,
most of which were patriarchal,
all trying to figure out life on earth lived
in relationship to its Creator God.
And they got it wrong about as often as we do. Frequently.

Scripture is a mirror of our human failings,
and of God’s utter fidelity to God’s Dream
despite all our failings.

Martin Luther King famously spoke of a long arc of history bending towards justice,
because he saw in Scripture that same arc.
Like a golden thread, woven through the polyvalence, the contradictions,
the outright ugliness of texts that testify to our errors of theological imagination,
is a discernible arc of God’s covenantal love,
God’s unwavering commitment to justice,
to the sharing of earth’s abundant blessing
with all creatures, to loving no matter what, no matter who,
no matter how long heaven and earth shall last.

So if we want to know
how to be Salt of the Earth
and Light of the World Christians,
we need to get to know this (Bible)
almost as well as Jesus did.
We need to see, like he did,
that eternal Love of God shaping
every law, every human ethic that is founded
in a common quest for truth, honesty, integrity,
that is expressed as boots-on-the-ground
life-and-death solidarity
for justice seekers at the borders,
with the water protectors,
the child protectors,
the earth protectors.

There’s a reason why today, we can feel Jesus
turning his gaze upon us, saying to us.
“For the world’s sake, today of all days,
You are the Salt of the Earth,
You are the light of the world.
Let your light shine before others,
so that through your living and loving,
God’s Dream is made known on earth again.
Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

Amen.

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