Truth Telling in Treacherous Times
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 5: 13 – 20. Focus on why telling the truth in such treacherous times as these is so important. Check out Kelly Crandell and the choir following the sermon.
The sermon on the Mount continues this week. Last week we focused on whom Jesus blessed and this week on what were called to be about as his disciples. Having climbed to the top of the Mount. Jesus turns and looks out at the thousands of folks who have been following him.
He knows their suffering but even more he knows the spiritual hunger and the physical suffering of the world. He knows all too well how one oppressive government has ruled them after another for the past six hundred years.
He knows that there land, their cities and their temple have been ruled by the goyim; whose soldiers have trampled and desecrated their holy places. He knows that the prophetic promises of a divine kingship have never been fully realized and he’s heard the constant debate over the meaning of why they have suffered so since the exile. And yet or maybe because of it he tells them that in the midst of all of this God’s reign is coming to fruition.
No one else is saying this: The Sadducees haven’t been interested in the people other than as a source of revenue. The zealots haven’t been interested in the people other than to gain political favor. The Pharisees have decided that the only way to remain true to God is to be completely separate from everything and everyone that is not a hundred percent Jewish and unblemished. And here come this rabbi turning conventional wisdom on its head by declaring that God’s reign is already here and can best be seen in the least and the lost.
And then after lifting up the most unlikely people he turns his attention to us and says, “you”, which is to be heard as both reassurance and challenge, “You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.”
Now while Jesus is telling us who we are, he’s also using these metaphors to tell us what we are to do and how it’s going to affect the entire world. Talk about chutzpah. These metaphors of salt and light are meant to turn things on their head. And Jesus warns us that if we forget this we will lose our ability to make the kind of difference that God intends for us to make in his name.
If we forget that we are to disorder the status quo by valuing those who are dispossessed, caring for those who suffer, advocating for those seeking justice, by showing mercy and having integrity by being peacemakers and courageously standing for what Jesus stood for we too take our place in God’s kingdom as those blessed by God.
The images of salt and light come with many meanings. Salt was used to preserve food, to add flavor, to seal covenants and was understood as a metaphor for wisdom. When we say that someone is the salt of the earth we’re getting at the heart of what Jesus is talking about. We are to bring flavor to a world that has become bland and predictable in the way it deals with people and resources.
And we are to be a light, which in Greek is likened to an eye, which gives the body its direction. It’s what Isaiah meant when he said: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” (9:2) Those who feel lost, or in despair, or confused, those who have no idea which way to turn: on them “a great light has dawned.” In Jesus Christ, we find our way, our truth and our life and in turn, we are called to “let our light shine before others,” in order that God’s justice, love and mercy may be made manifest to the world.
Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill… Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep an open house, be generous with your lives” (The Message).
“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota the smallest Greek vowel, not a dot, the smallest Hebrew letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” So if you want this world to be a better place its time to be about building the kingdom of God in our political, judicial, economic and personal lives.
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness or justice exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In other words we’ve got to do more than merely talk the talk, we’ve got to walk it.
This is especially important in hard times, when the temptation to retreat into ourselves is the greatest, but that is precisely when Jesus calls us to be salt and light. The hardest thing in following Jesus isn’t that he expects too much from me today. It’s that he expects it out of me every single day of my life.
When you look at the church and the people who make it up we clearly are outnumbered and often overlooked by the powers that be. And unfortunately too many of us are comfortable being irrelevant. But when we come to realize that these are the times when hope is most needed then we see that being irrelevant is not an option for the church.
Just being worried about our individual survival and salvation is not enough. What Jesus is calling us to see is something much more significant and lasting. It’s about building a world filled with faith rather than fear. It’s about building a world that’s filled with hope rather than despair and its about building something so radical that will never perish from the face of the earth – and that something is love. Love of your fellow human being. Love for those who are being persecuted by the principalities and powers of our time and place.
And just as Jesus challenged the Pharisees to recognize this new thing happening in their time and place, so he challenges us to wrestle with the new thing happening in our own time and place. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Amen