Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding" - Sermon from February 5, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding”
Pastor Andrew Davis
February 5, 2017
Matthew 5: 13-20

        How many of you enjoy watching cooking shows on TV?  I have to admit that Food Network is a mainstay in my house when there’s nothing else on TV, or when I get bored with sports or tired of the news.  Many times, I enjoy watching Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” “The Kitchen,” or "Burgers, Brews, and Ques,” to name a few.  Just don't watch while hungry, though. But in the early days of Food Network when it first became available on Comcast in Sacramento in the late nineties, I found myself particularly drawn to Emeril Lagasse’s shows, more notably “Emeril Live.”  Now if you’ve watched Emeril Lagasse before, his culinary style tends to focus on Cajun and Creole cooking.  Basically, food that's loaded with flavor and spice.  While we haven’t seen Emeril on TV very much as of late, what drew me to his show “Emeril Live” was his charismatic personality, his obvious passion for food and flavor, and his catchphrase, “let’s kick it up a notch!” Or whenever he’d sprinkle something with his trademark seasoning, called essence, he’d go “BAM!
        Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like food that is bland or has no flavor.  I need to have some salt or seasoning on my food, in which there is definitely not a lack of abundance of these days.  In fact, whenever you go to Safeway or SavMor and walk down the spice aisle, you’ll see a number of seasonings and if you walk by the meat department at SavMor, will see a number of specialty seasonings and marinades on top of that island case.  Yes, spices and seasoning, even salt has become sophisticated. It's as if it's a taboo not to have seasoning on our food.  Of course, we also know too much salt or seasoning is not good for us, but there’s something about salt that brings out and enhances the flavor of food.  And thinking of ourselves as salt can bring out something in us as disciples of Jesus Christ when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding in us. 
        As we continue with our great invitation to discipleship and following Jesus during this season of Epiphany, there’s something to be said about salt, light, and righteousness in this morning’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, as Jesus is calling for each of us to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” as he begins teaching the disciples and teaches us lessons in righteousness (Matt. 5: 13, 14, 20, NRSV).  Last week, in verses 1-12 of Matthew 5, Jesus was pronouncing blessings on everyone gathered to hear him as he began the “Sermon on the Mount,” but as we roll up our sleeves and get into the rest of the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus is getting into the nuts and bolts of his sermon and what it means to be his followers and disciples.  Jesus says who are blessed in the beginning of this sermon, but now is calling the disciples and each of us to be salt of the earth and light of the world, and to live righteously in God’s kingdom. But the most important role that we have as disciples of Jesus Christ is to share that great invitation with others, inviting people to come and see for themselves who Jesus is, then invite people to follow Jesus, then to think of how we are #blessed and how we can be a blessing to others.  We're now being invited by Jesus to be salt and light and live righteously. Perhaps as Jesus is sharing this message of being the salt of the earth and light of the world, Jesus is telling us like Emeril would tell us, let’s “kick it up a notch!”
        When we extend this great invitation to people to come and see who Jesus is, to follow Jesus, and to be blessings on those we encounter each day, we need to have this joy and zest to us, something like the specialty seasonings we come across at SavMor or Safeway.  Although ordinary salt will do too.  Just as I don’t like bland food, we also don't want to just sit around and become stagnant, as seasonings loose that zest the longer they sit on the shelf.  As Jesus says in verse 13, “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.” It’s about keeping that zest for Christ!  But of course, Jesus is also talking about the “wisdom and grace exhibited in speech” when he talks about us being the salt of the earth.[i] Just like seasoning a piece of meat or some veggies with a little salt, we are called to season the earth and season our community with the hope, joy, love, grace, and peace that following Jesus can bring us and that we as the hands and feet of Christ can bring the same to others throughout our community.  It’s more about BEING a disciple and showing how to BE a disciple when we are the salt of the earth, not so much about the doing part, as “the life of discipleship is conceived throughout as life within the community of faith, a community charged with a mission to the world.”[ii]
        Our mission to the world is not just about going around and kicking things up a notch and going “BAM!” Like Emeril does when he seasons his dishes. Yet when we are salt of the earth, Jesus also calls us to be the light of the world.  Light of the world, or being a “city on a hill” is not about being superior to others if they don’t follow Christ, but more so that it’s about what people are going to see when they see our light shining bright and our zest for Christ, particularly when Jesus tells us to “let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven” (Matt 5: 14, 16, NRSV).  How are we going to shine for others, especially so others can see the good work that we do?  But more importantly, how are we going to BE disciples, especially in a rapidly changing world? 
When we invite people to come and see who Jesus is, to follow Jesus, and when we are blessings for the different people we encounter in the community, we are showing them our light, but as Jesus also says, we don’t want to hide our light “under a bushel basket” either, but instead put it “on a lampstand” because “it gives light to all the house” (Matt 5: 15, NRSV).  It’s just like producing fruit; in a perfect world, we share that fruit with everyone, not keep it to ourselves.  We share our gifts and talents, we share our time, we share compassion, we break bread with each other like we will do at the Communion table shortly, and many other ways that we can be salt of the earth and light of the world.  We need to let our light shine, not hide our light under anything that will stifle it.  Just like speaking words of wisdom and grace when we are salt of the earth, we can shine our light of love, grace, hope, peace, and joy on each other, but also on each person we encounter during the week when we get beyond the walls of our church.[iii]
        Now shifting gears a little, some of the nitty-gritty of this part of Jesus's “Sermon on the Mount” is also when Jesus tells us that he comes “to fulfill” the law in verse 17 (NRSV).  Jesus speaks to us about righteousness, or living a life pleasing to God.  Yet once again, Jesus is showing how God’s kingdom will not be like the kingdoms or world of now, as Jesus was preaching to a rapidly changing world at the time he was preaching in, not really any different from what our world is like today.[iv]  But there’s still the law and as Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser explains,
The law is about doing. It is about practicing righteous living by following the commandments of God. We need the law, so we can know what to do and what not to do. When Jesus says he has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, I think he is suggesting that being his disciple is not as much a matter of DOING as it is a matter of BEING.[v]

        Being a disciple, being salt, and being light is something we need to strive for, while also holding the law in balance.  It’s also like balancing the different tasks we do each day, especially work and play!  Yet, what really stands out is when Jesus says in verse 20, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20, NRSV).  Kind of a high bar there, but it's about living into the word, living the Gospel, living a life that is pleasing to God, being salt and light regardless of what's happening around us.  As Dawn said above, it’s about BEING and how we are to be disciples in our own rapidly changing world of today.  It’s about being salt and light and living righteously, although as I've said before, be careful not to confuse righteousness with pride. 
More importantly, we as followers of Christ need to rise above when things are testy or in conflict, loving one another unconditionally, shining the light of grace on each other and those we encounter, and speaking words of grace when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding.  I don’t really need to dwell too much on and quite honestly am becoming very weary of what we see in the news each day, yet in a rapidly changing world that we are living in and times we presently live in, we need to be that salt of the earth even more, sharing that zest with one another by encouraging and loving the people we encounter unconditionally.  We need to be showing grace, be compassionate, be a listening ear and kind presence to everyone, be willing to extend help, and be willing to engage in sometimes difficult conversations.  At the same time, we have this great opportunity to let our lights shine through our action.  Such acts are how we show our righteousness and let our lights shine and show that zest for Christ as salt of the earth.  There is good news that we receive by being salt and light for the world, in that we have this teaching from Jesus and this encouragement to share that salt and light for others to see when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding. 
So like Emeril Lagasse would say, “let’s kick it up a notch” this week as the salt of the earth and light of the world and let our righteousness abound within each of us and around this great invitation to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Let’s keep our zest and maybe go “BAM!” when we show others our joy and hope in Christ.  But let’s also be light, shining brightly so that others will be curious why we shine, and invite people to come and see who Jesus is when we are salt of the earth and light of the world.  Plus with the big game on this afternoon, I'm sure we’ll be tasting some salt since Super Bowl Sunday tends to have its share of salty foods and will see some bright lights from the pregame and halftime show.   As we jump into this new week, how are you going to be the salt of the earth and what does it mean to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ?  And how are you going to let your light shine for everyone whom you encounter this week?  Don’t hold back or let your salt lose its flavor and don't hide your light, as we keep inviting others to come and see, invite others to follow Jesus, be a blessing to others, and let salt and light and righteousness abound in all of us. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN! 

[i] Bible, Blue Letter. ‘Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV)’. 2017. Accessed February 1, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g217.
[ii] The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 181. 
[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding — Preaching Notes’. 2017. Accessed February 1, 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/salt-and-light-and-righteousness-abounding-preaching-notes.
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid.  

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