Scriptures: Matthew 5:13-20
Let us pray:
Holy Creator, the words that I craft, the thoughts and feelings they engender, are meant to honor you. May your Holy Spirit intervene if needed, ensuring the message you wish to be known despite my attempt to witness. Amen.
One of the commentators this week really got me thinking. In our last week to overlap lectionary readings from Matthew, two questions stand out as particularly important to consider in our current times and in light of current events. First, as a community of faith, who are we? Second, as a community of faith, what are we to do?
The first question has many layers. We are Christians, those who have followed the way of Jesus, yes. Some of us might be undecided about how deeply Christian, or even a combination of several spiritual traditions. This is perfectly fine; God looks into our hearts and sees who we truly are. Together, whatever we are, I pray we are a community that supports one another and our growth as human and spiritual beings.
With that in mind, I would like to quote Presbyterian Outlook Editor Rev. Jill Duffield’s weekly reflection from this past week. She writes,
True worship and religious ritual pleasing to God entails feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed and bringing the homeless poor into your home. Christ crucified is the wisdom of God, contrasted with the wisdom of this age and its current rulers. This is a week that calls into question much of our current cultural climate. When the headlines are hijacked by the political theatre happening in Washington and the word “great” has become synonymous with one end of the political spectrum and while we are watching (or not) the scrambling for political power unfold in every corner of our country, where is God’s law being fulfilled? Where are Christians being salt and bearing light? What do we imagine is glorifying God?
Examining Matthew’s Jewish Christian community very well could provide us with some insights. Matthew lived in a time of theological and social tension. Times were changing, rapidly on the spiritual front, slowly on the political, and slower still on the cultural, but they were changing. The Jewish community was in conflict regarding the future of Judaism and what it meant to be Jewish. After the first Jewish-Roman war in 70 CE failed, what was thought of to be established forever, even under Roman Occupation, was now gone. What to do to hold onto an ethnic and spiritually cultural reality in the midst of devastation, grief and loss, and in many cases dispersal?
Compare the reality of Matthew’s time frame in or around 80 CE to contemporary values and practices. Concerning Christianity in America, previous generations and the various traditional main line Protestant denominations have been operating essentially the same way for about three generations or more. Some of those practices, and institutional beliefs and structures are no longer filling the needs or realities of younger worshipers.
Denominations are experiencing loss of social power. Even as Jesus seems to be answering “Who are we” and “What are we to do” with his teaching, recorded in Matthew’s tempestuous time, so we must ask, “What does it mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ in [our setting today]?” Digging further into the text of Matthew, we find deeper meanings for Salt and Light. “In Judaism, salt was a symbol of covenant.” Also in Matthew’s time there was a prevailing belief that the apocalypse was just around the corner, with the result that Jesus would return soon and “fully establish the realm of God.” Therefore, the community of now is also a community of eschatology. In simpler terms, this means we are the Realm of God “already but not yet fully come into its own.”
Light in this passage is ascribed to be the vocation of the whole community of Israel – whether or not it exists as a physical nation or a diaspora community of like-minded Jewish peoples living across the Roman world. In their life, their spirituality, and their very comportment day to day even as oppressed and ex-patriot peoples, they were to be role models for the whole of the known world and those who governed it.
If we are to take being disciples of Jesus seriously, then we, altogether as God’s community the Church, are nothing less than a mirror for the whole world to see reflected God’s economy, God’s community, and God’s loving kindness enacted to all at all times in all places we inhabit. In short, God’s heavenly kingdom enacted on earth. The purpose of Light is to illumine.
In this work, for all of us, we stand at the threshold of God’s Realm, ready to enter, yes, but also ready to hold the door for others to enter in. The single most incredible spiritual practice I can think of that we can participate in today is to pray, with all of our being, that our eyes may be opened to see God working in the lives others and to be bold enough to ask God, “How might we take part in your work being brought to fruition in the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors? Use me, use us all O God, to be your light in the world.” May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again, even Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany” accessed February 5, 2020, http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102135377571&ca=91a9d3cc-cee6-4757-85ff-774411c1916c.
 Ronald J. Allen, “Homiletical Perspective, Matthew 5:13-20” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).