Note from CM: There are no extant Bach cantatas for Epiphany V or VI, so this Sunday we will post only our Sunday sermon.
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SERMON: Be Who You Are
You are the salt of the earth; but 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.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
• Matthew 5:13-20
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The other evening I was with a family that was keeping vigil with a woman who lay dying of breast cancer. She’s been fighting the disease twelve years and has done well, but she had a recent setback that led to a swift decline and as we gathered there, it was clear that she would soon die.
She had just come home from the hospital, and so family and friends were all coming to see her and her daughter and closest loved ones as soon as they could. Among those who came were a couple of friends she had come to know in the breast cancer community. One woman was a survivor who had decided she wanted to give back by helping others who were getting treatments, and so she became a driver who took people back and forth to their doctor and chemotherapy appointments. She and the woman who lay dying had become best friends through the experience.
Another woman, amazingly, was a 64-year survivor of breast cancer. Someone told me she is the longest surviving breast cancer breast cancer patient in the state of Indiana. She had also become a dear friend of the woman who lay dying, and she openly wept at the prospect of losing yet another friend to the disease.
Watching these women interact reminded me how many people I have known over the years who have been blessed and who have been so thankful for that that they decided to devote themselves in some way to giving back so that others might be blessed as they had.
Having been blessed, it was as natural as anything for them to want to be a blessing to others.
I think that is the development we see in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Last week we talked about how Jesus had come to bring the blessings of God’s Kingdom to everyone, including the people who often get left out in the world’s way of doing things.
Today, Jesus looks those people in the face — those people whom he pronounced “blessed” — and he says to them, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” You have been blessed, Jesus says, now go out and be who you are; live as blessed people in the world and others will likewise be blessed.
Please notice something very important here. Jesus doesn’t say to them, “You must become the salt of the earth.” Nor does he say, “You must become the light of the world.” Instead, Jesus affirms what they already are. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” As people blessed by Jesus, they are already salt and light. It is now their nature to be a blessing to others. They don’t have to take a Sunday School class or hear a sermon about how to become salt and light. Having been blest, that is what they are.
Notice also the warnings Jesus gives them: “Don’t lose your saltiness.” “Don’t hide your light.” He is not trying to get them to do something new, to enter some kind of program of training to learn to be salt and light. Instead, he only instructs them to refuse to let anything keep them from being who they already are.
They are the salt of the earth, Jesus says. The main use for salt in the ancient world, a world without refrigeration, was to act as a preservative, to keep food from going bad.
They are the light of the world, Jesus says. The ancient world was a world without electricity and artificial light. It was a dark world, an place in which it was easy for people to stumble or get lost. A bit of light could go a long way toward helping people back then.
Those who are blessed by Jesus are salt and light. If we will simply be who we are, we too can be a preserving influence in this world; we too can provide a little light to help others find their way.
The point is that God has not only blessed us by forgiving our sins, welcoming us into his family and promising eternal life in Christ. He has also made us new so that we can walk in newness of life. He has blessed us so that we are a blessing to others. This is his gift of grace to us. We are salt and light, and if we will just be who we really are, our lives will bless those around us.
I’ve known many people like many of you good folks in this congregation, who grew up in good families and were blessed with good parents, good teachers, good friends, and good neighbors. You grew up and were blessed by others who were salt and light. And now that’s who you are. Just by being who you are, your life blesses and enriches those around you.
I’ve also known other people who didn’t know those kinds of blessings. Perhaps their families were broken and dysfunctional, or even cruel and abusive. They grew up finding it hard to trust anyone and their way has been rough and painful. But I’ve known people like that who found redemption in Jesus and God turned their lives around. And now they are not only blessed, they are a blessing to others who have likewise had a difficult course through life. They are salt and light and it is the most natural thing in the world for them to care about the hurting.
People with influential teachers often grow up with a passion to teach others. People with coaches who mentored them well often become coaches who develop others. Those women with breast cancer I mentioned at the beginning had been blest through the care of others, and they reflexively asked, “Now, how can I help others who are going through similar trials?”
I myself was influenced by a youth pastor, and here I am, more than forty years later, proclaiming God’s Word in church. My grandmother blessed me with a marvelous example of someone who visited and cared for her elderly neighbors. And so it is a part of my very nature now to be in hospice ministry, visiting folks in the final season of life. It’s not just what I do to earn a living. It is a part of my very being. Through the blessing I was given, I also received a vocation.
You see, it is an organic part of being blessed that we become transformed into people who bless others. God’s blessings never end with the people who receive them. Instead blessed people become channels through which God’s mercy and grace flows to bless those around them.
This is God’s great gift to us. To those to whom Jesus says, “Blessed are you,” he also says, “You are salt, you are light.”
And so I want to encourage you, my dear brothers and sisters, when you go out that door today and into your world, your family, your school, your work, your community, simply be who you are. Be the blessed people of Jesus, and the world will be blessed.