Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Salt and Light” based on Matthew 5:13-20 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, February 9, 2020
At the time Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which is included in the Gospel account today, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did everything that they could to devote themselves deeply to the keeping of God’s Law. They saw themselves as the moral authority on matters of faith and life and regarded it as their duty to not only point out when people were trespassing against God’s Law, but also to live their lives as examples of how everyone else ought to be living according to it.
That was their goal. And, in truth, that’s not a bad goal to have. In reality, however, they were, to use Jesus’ terminology from the section of Scripture before you today, actually abolishing it.
They took God’s holy and unchangeable will for his people and their lives and turned it ever so slightly to their liking. They took the commands that they were able to keep, and that few others were, and they focused on those. They promoted those as the most important commands and let everyone know just how well they kept them. But the commands that they did not so easily keep, they made sure those faded into the background and were all but forgotten.
Jesus most certainly had those Pharisees and teachers of the law in mind as he preached on the mountain, but they weren’t the ones sitting and listening to him speak that day.
Instead, at the beginning of the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, it says that his disciples came to him and he began to teach them. He knew, and described in the Beatitudes, that his people were different than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
You, as his disciple, are different than them, too, aren’t you? Of course you are! You aren’t seeking to abolish God’s Law by focusing on the good stuff you do. You know that breaking God’s Law, whether it’s moral or venial, whether it is a fraudulent life or a little white lie, whether it is literally stabbing someone in the heart or just doing so metaphorically, it’s all wrong.
But, does it ever happen that, instead of seeing things so clearly in black and white, the line gets a little too gray to distinguish?
It could be something so small. Etsy and Amazon are filled with posters and mugs and t-shirts with little sayings like “I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.” It’s cute and it might make you giggle. It’s nothing serious. It’s just a little joke, right? You don’t actually believe that’s an ok motto…do you?
Is it any different with the types of entertainment you enjoy? You don’t seek it out because of the foul language, the sexual content, or the gore. You just enjoy the melodies, the storyline, and the cast of characters. That’s where you keep your focus. You do your best to ignore all the other stuff. You know in your heart of hearts that those things are wrong, but it’s ok—as long as you don’t let things get out of hand.
Like a highway patrol police officer who clocks you at six mph over the speed limit, your conscience might dismiss those sinful thoughts and attitudes and allow them to continue; that is, until you start getting reckless.
You come out confidently and condemn abortion. That is murder and murder is, you know, one of the things the 10 Commandments clearly speaks against.
But what about the flip side of that sacred commandment? What about if, instead of focusing on how you haven’t actually taken anyone’s life, you focused on helping and befriending your neighbors in every bodily need? Do you give food and clothing to those who need them? You can think of all kinds of good and proper reasons not to give your money to the homeless person on the side of the road, but if you aren’t helping him, are you giving your time and treasure to help someone else? Or have you abolished that part of God’s Law?
You condemn homosexuality (while in Christian love, caring for the homosexual), and rightly so, because it is a violation of God’s law protecting his plan for marriage.
However, what have you been doing to keep the commitment you made to your spouse? Are you speaking only kind words to your spouse, and only kind words about your spouse? Are the unmarried leading pure and decent lives in words and actions? Or have you abolished that part of God’s Law?
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Done. For whatever reason, you may have tried to abolish the Law, but Jesus lived a perfect life in your place. He fulfilled the Law for you. You are forgiven. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, as far as your eternal life is concerned, that is, indeed, all you need to know. While you will hear a “however” in just a couple seconds, there is nothing that can be said to take away what Jesus has done for you. He earned righteousness and credited it to your account. Period. Full stop.
In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used two different metaphors to remind his followers, including you and including me, that his perfect life and innocent death does give you freedom from the punishment for sin. However, his perfect life and innocent death does NOT give you freedom to sin. Listen again:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
You know that, at one time, because of the sinfulness inside of you, you lost the savor of flavor and you were stumbling around in the darkness. You know that salt cannot suddenly become salty again on its own. You know that light doesn’t just spontaneously appear.
In fulfilling the Law and the Prophets for you, Jesus changed you into being pure salt. Like a lamp on a stand, he lit you. But, in so doing, he didn’t just change your status before your Father, he also gave you purpose in life!
You are the salt of the earth. In making you pure salt, Jesus calls you to preserve the people who live on the earth around you. Help and befriend your neighbors in every bodily need. Lead pure and decent lives in words and actions and, husbands and wives, love and honor each other. Seek out the Law of God, not to see how you stack up against some and not others, but for direction on how to live your life in thanksgiving for the work that Jesus has done for you so that
You are the light of the world. Why do you light a lamp or, today, turn on a light? Is it so that you can stare at the flame or filament inside the bulb? Of course not! You shine, not to be stared at either, but rather to give light to what is needed to be seen. Shine the light so that others can see how Jesus made them salty again; how he redeemed them and gave them purpose and direction as well.
Yes, donate your time and treasure to the poor and the needy. Stand up for the sanctity of human life and sexuality. Be salty! But, as you do, also give people what they need the most. Let your light, given to you by Jesus, shine on Jesus so that everyone will know that he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets for them, too. Amen.