Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness’

You Be You 2-5-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ reminder that we are salt and light. This is followed up by Jesus’ reminder that he has come to fulfill the law. So what’s that mean for us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-be-you-2-5-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

If I was to ask you to name one story written by the famous author Edgar Allan Poe…I’m guessing most of you would offer up The Raven…perhaps even quoting the raven…Nevermore.

But there’s another story written by Poe, perhaps not quite as well known, but its stuck with me over the years…its called the Tell-Tale Heart…Within the story, we hear the narrator, offering up to us an account of how he committed murder…but was captured after the victims post-mordum hearbeat drove him temporarily crazy and he confessed to the crime.

Now that in itself is strange to be sure…but there’s a detail within the story itself that always bugged me. You see, the premise for this whole murder was weird to begin with…apparently the victim was an okay guy…but one of his eyes was weird…apparently wide and menacing like a vulture is how Poe describes it. And the man who committed the murder, well he couldn’t stand it…so he decided to kill the guy.

And so…for a period of time, he plotted the murder…planning to do it at night…creeping into the man’s home…into his bedroom, where he would commit the crime…and so for a long period…night after night…the murderer would bring a long a lamp, creep slowly into the house, and down the hall to the bedroom door. Once he got his and arm inside the door, he’d open a shutter on the covered lamp, casting a light on his victim’s eye…night after night its shut…and its not until a slip up makes a noise that wakes the man, that he finally commits the murder.

Now the rest of details aren’t really important…but here’s the thing that’s always bugged me. The guy lights a lantern…and closes it…taking a lot of time to creep into the room. And if I know anything about a lantern…I know that it’s basically a candle burning inside a frame…and if you completely close it…which you would have to in order to keep any light from coming out…well then that candle is quickly going to use up all the air available to it…and its gonna go out long before he makes it into the bedroom…I don’t mean to be nitpicky Mr Poe…but that’s how a candle works…put it under a cover after its lit…well that’s just stupid. (pause) I’m guessing you see where I’m going with this.

Today, we dive into the meat of the Sermon on the Mount…a long period of teaching by Jesus…both to his disciples as well as the crowds that have gathered around him…and through the written word of the gospel…teaching aimed at us today. That’s the setting of today’s gospel…Jesus has just finished up the beatitudes, which we heard in worship a week ago…telling his audience about the unexpected people who are blessed in the kingdom of heaven…including You…we hear that…blessed are you. (pause)

And that leads directly into where we pick up today. A passage that seems to have 2 main parts…You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world…and then Jesus switches gears and starts talking about the law.

Now admittedly, this first portion seems a little strange…all this talk about salt and light…and while Jesus’ statements about light might seem kinda obvious, the salt thing is perhaps, a little harder to understand.

I was thinking about salt this week…where it comes from, what we use it for…things like that…and I compared this to Jesus’ words. If salt looses its flavor its worthless, so throw it out in the road…but when we think of salt now…what do we use it for? For its taste, to season our food, and to keep the ice off the roads right? And now…think of where we get salt…typically at the grocery store…and its pure right…because we’ve refined it…and so, for the salt to loose its saltiness, means that there’s nothing left…Pure salt, if its lost its saltiness, is nothing right? So I guess there wouldn’t be much left to throw out on the roads in the first place.

But in Jesus’ day, salt was a little different. They couldn’t go to Hy-Vee or Fareway and pick up a batch. Rather, salt came from a mine where it was chipped out of the rock…or it was scooped up from the sea-shore at lowtide, along with whatever sand and sediment was mixed in with it.

So you’ve got this salt/sand mixture…which admittedly doesn’t sound all that appealing to put on some food…but if something happened, and the salt disappeared, what’s left? Just a bunch of sand…and you aren’t gonna season anything with that are you…so you might as well throw it out in the road where it can provide some traction. (pause)

So it would seem, as Jesus offers up these two brief comments, that salt without its salt-ness…and light that’s covered up are both pointless. Neither one is fulfilling its essence…neither one is doing what it is, quite literally…made to do.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus says You ARE the salt of the earth…and then he says You ARE the light of the world. Jesus says this…Go in Human form…You ARE…not that you should be, or that you will be, or that you used to be…but you are. So be it…God told you that you are these things…so be salt…be light…be you…because you already are. (pause)

Now what’s that mean in the midst of our day to day life? Good question…and perhaps that’s why Jesus switches gears at this point…and we start hearing about the law. And he says some stuff about following the law…follow the commandments and teach others to do the same…don’t break them, because that won’t bode well for you in the kingdom of heaven. (pause) And I have to ask…what’s Jesus talk about here. Especially with his closing statement today…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you’ll never enter the kingdom. I can’t help but think that seems a little daunting…and perhaps a little odd at the same time.

Aren’t the scribes and the Pharisees always the ones that Jesus’ butts heads with? Aren’t they the ones that he call hypocrites? So why does it seem like he’s offering them up as the example today?

In order to answer that question, we need to remember what Jesus means by righteousness…and that word, one that we throw around a lot, simple means “being right with God.” And knowing that, we need to think about what the scribes and Pharisees do in order to “be right with God.” (pause) They follow the law, to the letter…and not just the 10 Commandments, but all the steps listed out to make up for their mistakes. The religious elite never claimed to be perfect, and we need to remember that…but they knew what do to make up for their sins…the right sacrifice to make…the right prayer to offer…in short…they followed the law, as they understood it, thinking that it made them righteous.

But the big question…how’d that work out for them? Not well…because we can’t do it. We can’t fulfill the law because the law is not just a list of things to do or not to do…and Jesus will spend a pretty big chunk of the sermon on the mount talking about this…that sin goes way deeper than our actions…it goes way deeper than our thoughts and words and intentions…it goes so deep into our broken human nature that we CAN NOT DO IT.

And so if Jesus is telling us to fulfill the law…to be righteous in a way that is greater than the religious elite…well how’s that going to happen? (pause) Well if we can’t do it…then I guess someone else is going to have to fulfill it for us…and maybe I’m crazy but didn’t Jesus tell us today that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it? Pretty sure I heard that in there…
I have come, not to abolish, but to fulfill…To complete…to finish…and realizing that makes me think of a couple of words Jesus uttered on the cross right before he died. It…is…finished. (pause) As Jesus hung there…his body broken…his blood shed…it was fulfilled…and today…in just a few more minutes…we will each hear those same words spoken to us…The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.

This is the gospel…we can’t do it…so God does it for us…and the broken body and blood of Christ fulfills the law for us…the broken body and blood of Christ makes you righteous, whether you think you deserve it or not. (pause)

Now this is important…that we realize that our foolish attempts to justify ourselves…our efforts and our worrying about being good enough…being smart enough…or doing enough…are all just that…foolish waste of effort. Jesus assures us that its already done for you…now. And this frees us up to be what we are called to be…to be what we are made to be.

Salt is salty, otherwise its not salt. Light gives light, otherwise its darkness. You are you…made by God…bearing the divine image of the Lord…empowered with gifts and talents that are unique to you…so be you…quit worrying about being good enough for God and realize that there is nothing you need to do in order to be good enough for God.  He made us…and then he sat back and called humanity very good. And when humanity screwed it up…Christ redeemed it…and its already done. Period.

And now Christ is telling you…be YOU…be who you ARE. And you are a beloved child of God, claimed by our Lord and empowered to join together in reconciling the world back to the one who has redeemed it.

Salt makes a difference in food…and all you have to do it eat my wife’s cooking and then eat my cooking to taste the difference…because I always forget the salt.  Light illuminates…and all you have do it flip the switch in a dark room to see the difference. These things create a change simply by being what they are…and Christ says the same about you.

So you be you…wonderful, incredible…unique you. Not perfect…flawed and broken…but still beloved in the eyes of the one who made you in his own divine image…gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. Be what God has made you to be…nothing more, nothing less…You ARE a beloved child of God. Amen.