February 5, 2017 5th Sunday of Epiphany
Isaiah 58:1-9a 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20
You’ve probably noticed that during the last month I have been preaching a progression of becoming more involved with Christ and God. We started with the baptism as the point in our lives when we consciously say “I want to leave my old life behind and move forward into a new life with God.” The next step is to Come and See; a learning and evaluation phase when we put ourselves in the presence of God through reading and studying scripture and trying to see where we fit into this construct of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Then we take up the invitation to follow Christ and we start to put what we learn into practice.
One of the first things that we put into practice is giving and receiving blessings. We understand that all the blessings that we receive are from God, for the use of building His Kingdom. And all the blessings that we give in life, we are ultimately giving back to God for Him to use to build His Kingdom. That is a mind-blowing concept. That any good thing that we do in life, God is going to use to build His Kingdom.
I want to add something about this Kingdom building concept. Yes, it might seem sometimes that some people are really messing up this world and that our life situation is getting worse – but God is STILL in the middle of that mess, building His Kingdom.
If you read the Bible, you are constantly reminded that even though the Hebrews were running around being idiots at times (and sometimes they were complete morons: doing things like promoting the worship of false gods, like Ahab; or totally unconcerned with justice and fairness like Solomon’s son, Rehoboam; or spouting a racist agenda despite the fact that several of King David’s ancestors were not Jewish, like Nehemiah) Bible history show us that God is working on the Kingdom the whole time, using no-matter-what we throw at Him. The challenge to all of us, when it seems that the world is messed up around us, is to not be a part of the problem and to instead work on being part of God’s energy that is working on building a Kingdom which does justice, and to be a person who loves kindness and walks humbly with God.
Remember, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was given to people who lived in a messed up world. It was given to people who had no political power. People who were being taxed into poverty, or taxed to keep them in poverty. People who wanted a better life for themselves and their children, but who knew that pretty much the only way they could get that better life was if they abandoned justice and kindness, accepted and participated in the corruption, and lived outside of the laws that made them God’s people. That type of person was a tax-collector, or the landowner in Matthew 25 who is hard-hearted, or the judge in Luke 18 who wasn’t interested in the persistent woman’s judgment.
The people who Jesus addressed were surrounded by corruption and unfairness and uncertainty in their lives. But after Jesus blesses them he tells them that they are the salt of the earth.
Salt was hugely important in the ancient times. It was (and still is) one of the best preservers of food. It is something that enhances flavor. It is vitally important to our health – if children don’t have enough salt they can’t develop properly, and if adults don’t have enough salt they develop goiters and memory problems. And unlike today, salt wasn’t readily available – it had to be made through a long distilling process.
But salt was an important part of the ritual sacrifice in the Temple. When a person made a covenant with God it was sprinkled on an offering. Jesus is saying to the people that as the salt of the earth that they are the covenant with God. They are the people who God made His covenant with and for. He starts his sermon to these people with no power by pronouncing them to be a sacred people. Then he goes on to state that they are the light of the world. And he tells them to let their light shine, to let people see the good work that they do in God’s name, so that God is glorified.
Then Christ talks about fulfilling the law. The first thing that comes to mind about the law is the Ten Commandments. But later in Matthew a teacher questions Jesus as to what is the greatest commandment, and Jesus replies, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The active word in both of those commandments is LOVE. Not the sentiment but the action of love. The action of giving and receiving love. The action of giving and receiving all actions, with God’s love, to build the Kingdom. When we add love to our actions that is the salt on those actions that are offerings to God.
I want you to consider that all actions of love that are given and received by us are acts of mission. The root of the word MISSION in Latin is to send. All actions of giving and receiving are sent from us to others, and are sent by others to us. So all giving and receiving can be a mission.
Part of the Temple offering was given to heal our souls, one way to prepare for that was to fast before hand. Isaiah in our scripture today says that the fast that God really chooses is not the actions of not eating, wearing old clothing, or praying out loud all day. The fast God wants us to do is to loose the bonds of injustice and to help those who are oppressed. To share our bread, or soup, with the hungry, to try to shelter and clothe the homeless; and then our light will break forth like the dawn and we will be healed of our sin-sick souls.
And every action of love that you do to comfort another is mission work, sacred and is an offering that will heal your soul.
One of the problems with mission is that it has taken on a big ideal. Most church groups when you ask them what kind of mission work they’re doing will say something like: We buy stoves for Haiti; our church collects 300 health kits a year; we raise money for Days for Girls. And there is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact it is wonderful that we are thinking and involving ourselves with people we don’t even see. Maybe we will never meet them, but we know that our love with those stoves, and health kits, and Days for Girl’s kits, is going to reach those people. Those people are going to receive them and they are going to know that somewhere in America someone cared enough about them to help them. And that will give them hope.
That’s a great ideal, but it’s not the only meaning of mission. Sometimes we forget that one meaning of mission is to be purposeful with our lives here and now. Sometimes we are looking so far away that we forget that here in our community are people who need a gift of love as well. Now today we’ve got our soup collections going. And every can of soup is a gift of love. But what other missions exist in our communities? What other needs are not being filled? What people among us need some justice, or some clothing, or some homes? You know we can’t give and receive the love and help that people around us need until we go out and look around.
I need to mention one more thing about this salt stuff. Jesus says that if salt has lost its taste then its flavor can’t be restored. The way salt loses its flavor is if it’s mixed with too many other impurities. If it gets dirty in a sandstorm or gets broken up and falls to the ground rendering it useless. Then you can’t use it and you have to throw it out, or go through the very long process of watering it down, getting the impurities out, and evaporating it to purify it so it can be used again. Jesus is saying – you’ve got to keep yourselves clean, you’ve got to keep obeying the law of God’s love, so that you can be the best usefulness that you can be.
In this passage Jesus mentions the earth, the world, a city, and a house, and he also references heaven. All places that we live, or will live, are God’s creation and are part of His Kingdom Building. Mission is the actions of love that we undertake to build God’s Kingdom. Mission is our daily giving and receiving of justice and kindness in the world, our community, our church, our work, with our friends, and with our families. Mission is the great invitation to work and live with God’s love.
So I invite you to see all of your giving and receiving as acts of love and mission for God. Be the salt that provides flavor to people, allow your light to shine into people’s lives to give them hope. See mission not just as a great something that you do for people far away, but as something loving that you can do for someone any day of your life. And when you do, no matter how crazy the world seems to be, you will be living in the Kingdom that God is creating.