Beauty First, Then Salt and Light

Bulletin for traditional reformed worship for this reflection: Bulletin-01-29-2023 E4 YA

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16

Let us pray:

In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Spirit Wisdom, to discern the calling of our Lord’s voice, that, with you, we may follow and do God’s will.  Amen.

I referenced in the Weekly E-newsletter that going through pastoral transitions creates a mixed emotional landscape. Know that each of us brings with us to this journey the mixed emotions of this present time, all of which are influenced by the relationships we have built and enjoyed over the years. It is good and natural to be aware of our feelings – however mixed they may be; it is also important to be aware that others around us are also experiencing their own web of emotions.  So I urge you in all love to bear with one another, reach out a hand of support to one another, and bravely walk together into this new chapter of congregational life.  Fear not, friends, for God, Emmanuel, is with us.

For just such a time as this new beginning, we turn to the first public teachings of Jesus when he set out to gather disciples and settle into a new role as Rabbi in Residence. According to Matthew’s account, this pouint of transition is found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Today’s texts may be familiar to many of you, but I’d like to draw your attention to them through the lens of your Epiphany star word – and with the lens of new beginnings.

Jesus began his teaching as an itinerant Rabbi in the region of the Gentiles, called Galilee. In the fourth chapter of Matthew, we witness Jesus specifically calling ordinarily overlooked people to “Come and follow, and I will make you fishers of people.” He engaged in his itinerant travels, and gradually the twelve followed him as he moved through the region. Then he changed tactics: Once his notoriety had been well-cast, he “went up the mountain” as Matthew records, and began to teach any who came to him.  This is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, at the point of transition between itinerantcy and what grows into a new movement. What might we draw out from these familiar texts for such a time as this?

Jesus shifts here from Itinerant Rabbi to Seated Sage. He begins this Sermon on the Mount by teaching the Beautiful Sayings, what many of you more familiarly term, “The Beatitudes.” Something to keep in mind about these sayings: Each of them specifically critiques contextual realities poorer Hebrew people experienced day to day. In them, Jesus critiques both Roman Empire privilege and elite Jewish establishment.

“The Beatitudes are spoken to those groups whom God deems worthy, not by virtue of their own achievements or status in society, but because God chooses to be on the side of the weak, the forgotten, the despised, the justice seekers, the peace makers, and those persecuted because of their beliefs.”[1]

This is important to note because it shapes the next level of inquiry for us and our work here in Corvallis: Who are modern day equivalents?  Whom would God choose among our societal context today and who would fit the examples of the Roman Empire and elite Jewish establishment?  Hold that in your mind for a moment and consider this:  identifying Biblical characters as well as modern day iterations frames for us to whom Jesus is speaking for the rest of his sermon.  It is not too difficult to discern that those ancient listeners are in the same position we are: disciples whom Christ has called, those in the crowd who have come and followed, and those to whom he will eventually give the mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven near to others.

This is particularly important for us today, in our context, in our moment of transition.  No matter who resides in the office of pastor or any other staff positions, the mission of the church remains the same, and you are the church, the body of Christ!  We are in this together, and we all have a part to play.  In the next several verses following the Beautiful Sayings, Jesus provides commentary on just that; in verses 5:13-16 he teaches:

13“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 underfoot. 14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.”

In these two metaphors, Jesus “describe[s] and prescribe[s] who his followers are and what they do for and in the world.”[2] First, they are to “elicit goodness on the earth.”[3] Second, we learn from the context of the scripture that this is enacted in community, becoming like a mirror of God reflecting out to God’s people the justice and mercy implicit in God’s love, which is God’s Heavenly kingdom lived out in the world. That goes for the time of Jesus, the time of the present, and for all times to come.

Let us pray:

Thank you, Lord, for this glimpse into your heart. You who love all people, all beings, indeed all Creation; hear us as we wonder and pray: instead of casting ourselves upon you to be transformed, instead enter into us so we might see through your eyes. Grant us the grace to learn how to do ministry not to others, but with them; for even as you have been born in us, so too you have come to and are transforming others. Invite us into your heart and your work, that we might better serve you and your unfolding purposes. In Christ’ name we pray, and all God’s children say, “Amen.”

[1] Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 5:1-12” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological 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).

[3] Ibid.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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