Salt | Light | Law

Message Version.
Matthew 5:13-20
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.
What does godliness taste like? That’s what I thought while I was mulling through this passage this week. I had a delicious lunch with some friends at a Cuban restaurant.  Does God taste like fried plantains? I also cooked this really delicious vegan meal a few nights ago with beautifully green broccoli, fluffy couscous, and roasted squash. Does God taste like fresh vegetables and wholesome grains? “Let me tell you why you are here,” Matthew says, “To be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”
Another way to think about it, we are hear to bring out the God-colors in the world. To be  light. All the time we say and sing that Jesus is the light of the world. But here it says that we are the light of the world. Do you reflect the colors of God? I don’t know about you, but in this bleak white winter blanket that is freezing our ground, I miss the summer and spring and fall God-colors. But that is outside. and our food. what about in here? in us?
What does God taste like and look like--in us as individuals created in God’s image, but also as a people committed to following God’s law? Tastiness and light. What do we make of this?  
Then we have this whole third section that points us to Judaic Law, the Torah. The Torah is the first five books of the Bible, say them with me if you can: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. If you did it in order you get extra points. Jesus makes clear here, He is not interested in starting a new religion. 
Jesus is Jewish. Matthew, the author of this book, is an incredibly devout Jew. Neither Matthew or his understanding of Jesus lead them to a new Law. Jesus was not to destroy Torah. He loved it. It was his history. His identity. His understanding of God and how he related to God. And yet, he knew that all Jews were waiting on something, or someone, the Messiah, to set them free. 
So here Jesus is. The embodiment of everything that a devout Jew holds near, telling people that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words, anyone can be salty or well lit. 
Do you realize that Jesus was not trying to start a new religion. It it unfortunate that everything Jewish in our Bibles is on the left “The Old Testament,” and everything Christian is on the right, “The New Testament”.
 We approach it as Jewish vs. Jesus. Or Jewish then Jesus. But Matthew and Jesus saw it differently. Jesus was the fulfillment of Torah. 
He wanted to complete Torah, not replace it. He was here to lead the most righteous, devout group of people Palestine had ever seen. They were going to transform the world. 
This is important for us today. As we sit here in a church on Taylor Blvd. on the Southside of Louisville, Kentucky in the United States two thousand years after the fact. It is important for two reasons. First, we are the Gentiles that were eventually included in this new religion. As the Jesus movement grew and as Jewish disciples, especially Peter and Paul and Barnabas, as they debated about whether or not the new converts needed to follow Torah, they eventually found ways to include those outside the Jewish faith. So, it is a gift that we are said to be salty and lighted too. 
Do you consider yourselves as well lit as Jesus? Paul tells us that our bodies are temples. Jesus says later that God is the vine and we are the branches...entangled together in profound ways. These are tangible images that point to mystical concepts. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
But I said understanding that JEsus was not trying to start a new religion is important for two reasons. When Jesus fulfills the Torah, the Judaic Law, I believe he says, “individual piety is no longer enough. Now that I am here and helping you to see God more closely, it is time that your beliefs inform your actions.” Ethics are as important as doctrine. To be salty, to shine on a hill is to live like God would live. To help others taste godliness and see God-colors, the people who know this taste and light must live in ways that perpetuate it.
This is probably not the first time you are going to hear me talk about this. Yesterday I attended an all-day retreat at the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center. I am in a class with several others who want to learn the discipline of meditation. As we experimented with the early stages of trying to tame the mind through stillness and quiet, our teacher, a long-time meditator and Catholic priest, said something that made my inner light shine. 
In an effort to encourage our novice attempts to still the mind, he affirmed that it is natural for the mind to wander. “Focus on your breathing,” he says. Let the thoughts come and then just as quickly let them go and refocus on your breath. “The goal of meditation is not to be a good meditator. The goal is to be a good person.” As we practiced turning our attention inward, to the center of the body, the abdomen rising and falling with each breath, we ended each session with the sound of the gong three times. The first time is to recenter one’s self and remember our breath in case the mind had wandered. The second gong tells you to focus on just one relationship. One person to whom you wish peace and wholeness or forgiveness or warmth. One person who needs compassion or joy. Then as the third gong reverberates you slowly open your eyes, ending the session.  
Meditation is not about stillness and quiet for the sake of stillness and quiet. It is about tapping in to the light of God that burns within each us. When we train ourselves to recognize it and make room for it, we are able to live like Jesus was teaching in this sermon. Jesus is saying, “Being salty is not just about preserving good things like Torah. Shining bright is not just about light. It’s about being a good person and sharing those gifts with others. This is the fulfillment of God’s law.” 
When the taste and colors of God shine from our being, our actions and thoughts align more fully with God’s compassion for the world. Jesus is completing the Law each time we let our light shine. Jesus embodies this saltiness and light as he teaches about the Law. 
And because this light is in each of us, the Law continues to find completeness when we stop living for ourselves and start offering compassion. Compassion is certainly a color of God. 
Let’s think for a moment ways that we can be salty and light-bearing. Like our Godspell song sang this morning, “The tallest candlestick ain’t much good without a wick.” How might we live as people whose wicks are burning brightly? 
Well, first, we need to be aware of where the light of God needs to shine. Of where there are people groups who do not know anything about the salty characteristics of God’s flavor. In the headlines this week there has been the Keystone Pipeline XL debate along with stories about the poor villages surrounding Sochi, Russia. Victims of the 50 Billion dollar expansion as construction waste is dumped on their land in the middle of the night.
The ways we destruct the earth, are ways for how we destruct ourselves, depleting our salt levels and placing bushels over our lights. The toxic chemicals we dump into our rivers and atmosphere, we eventually ingest back into our own bodies. They are chemicals that breed cancer, promote infertility, and murk our lungs so that chronic conditions like asthma are said to be normal. 
When we are looking for the taste and light of God, is this all there is to find? Also in the news this week we see people trying to help others shine. You see, we must advocate for salt and light in places that are bland and dark. I see people like Nicholas Kristof working to do this. He is a journalist devoted to the education and liberation of women across the globe. He published Dylan Farrow’s letter about the sexual abuse she sustained from her adopted father, Woody Allen. The allegations are rampant about how Farrow’s famous mother Mia Farrow convinced her of this untruth and planted lies in her young mind about what she remembers as a seven-year-old girl. To the opposite, Allen has put forth his own statement of innocence. Regardless of who or what we believe, the fact remains that worldwide millions of women are subjected to rape and domestic violence and other forms of abuse because they live in patriarchal societies. And when the abuse is reported, words like “allegation” precede any statement about what happened. alleged abuse. alleged rape. alleged affair. Women are subjected and demonized because they are not understood as light-bearing children of God. It is alleged.
Not so with Jesus. Jesus invites us with this message about salt and light and law to join his mission. We are to protect those caught in systems where God’s light does not shine. And what happens when we do this? What happens when we allow people into our homes who need a place to sleep and two months turns in to two years? What happens when we go out of our way to be sustainable during fellowship hour? What happens when we send care packages to a US platoon? What happens when we lobby state and federal legislators for bills that protect the marginalized people in our country? What happens when we rally on behalf of those whose wicks have been cut off? 
When we wake-up to our own light, our own connectedness to God and God’s Law, we do not need to hold so tightly to our grudges. We are able to let go of hurts. Our own temptations fade as we realize more fully that the kingdom of heaven is inside each of us. Our pride dismantles and grace abounds as he realize the light burns fuller when we uncover the light in others. 
Those of us who freely recognize our light, are able to help others trapped under systemic bushels of tyranny. This is experiencing the totality of God’s Law. 
Jesus knew this, and he wanted his followers to understand it. It is why he said he is here to fulfill or complete the Law. He showed everyone exactly how to live from the light within rather than the ego that thinks only of self and pleasure. The passage ends with the statement that unless we do far better than the Pharisees, we won’t know the first thing about living in the kingdom of heaven. This is not to put down his religious elders. In fact, the Pharisees upheld every letter of the Law. 
They tithed, they were circumcised, they kept kosher, and they obeyed all orders about cleanliness, ritual, and other literal expressions of God’s protection. With this statement, Jesus does not condemn the Pharisees. Instead, he broadens the parameters of God’s Law. To be more righteous than those who are already the most righteous means tapping in to the liberation inside. 
It means waking up to the trauma and destruction happening in our world and responding in ways that show light. Jesus challenges us to accept that God’s light is not relegated to the pious elite. 
The Law, in light of Jesus, means that everyone can taste God’s love because everyone shines with God’s colors. We do not need to relegate our differences to the left or right side of holy books as much as we do not need to manage the differences in our beliefs from one church to another. Under the complete Law of God we are able to celebrate that we are all citizens together in the eclectic, expansive, but oh so near, kingdom of heaven. 

Lynnhurst, taste and see that God is real. The kingdom of heaven shines from the core of your being. Jesus said so, himself, “See, the kingdom of heaven is near.” So effectuate change that others must know what Godliness tastes like and just how brightly God shines. So let your light shine. Amen.

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