Matthew 5:13-20

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Feb 3/6, 2011

Text: Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, 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 who is in heaven.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I haven’t heard it from Owen yet, mostly because he isn’t yet talking enough to talk back, but I do remember my brother, sister, and I saying it to our parents. And I suspect that most of you have either heard it from your own children or remember saying it to your parents. And what is it? It’s that line that comes when parents are explaining to their children that no, they won’t be allowed to do whatever outrageous request they may have, which invariably takes place at 10:30 on a school night, or that, sorry, there will be no dessert until dinner is finished. What I threw at my parents at times like these was this “But…Jo’s parents said they didn’t care if he did.” Or “Dan’s dad lets him eat ice cream whenever he wants!” And what did my parents always say back to me at this point? (I have to practice saying this so I get it right when it’s my turn) “I don’t care what Dan does, or what Jo’s parents think. That is not how this family does things, and as long as you’re living here, that is not what you’re going to be doing. Period. End of story.”

And usually that is the end of the story. Sure, there may be more protests, and more fussing that follows. But in the end, what Dad and Mom have decided goes, and that’s just how it is. Whether or not we always like it, or appreciate it at the time, by being part of a family, we have a certain identity, and a certain set of boundaries that shape our lives. And yes, in a functional family, there is room for individuals to express their own personalities, to explore their interests and potential, to work out problems in their own way. And yet, even that is shaped by our membership in that larger group. The influence of Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles goes a long way toward shaping who we are and what we do.

And here, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is beginning to show those who will follow him just who they are and what they will do.

Up on the mountain,  Jesus begins to reveal their new identities to them. Telling them who they are.  Last week, The Beatitudes began, and it sounded like Jesus was describing some group of people out there. Blessed are the poor, those who morn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers,  and the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they shall inherit the earth, they shall be satisfied, they shall receive mercy, they shall see God, they shall be called Sons of God. Until the final Beatitude, when Jesus reveals who he has been talking about all along. He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” Christ slowly lets them in on the fact that this is now their life. This is who they are. And in our reading today, Christ further explains what happens when he brings a person into life with him. “You are the light of the world,” he says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (vv 14, 16) St. Paul describes, describes in Second Corinthians how we have come to obtain this light. He says, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6). This is the light that shines through them, lighting the darkness of the world.

And so it is for us. Christ came and died for us who had no spiritual identity, who had no assurance of who we were and what we were to do. Through His blood, he brings us near to God. Through His Cross we have been reconciled to God. “Through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2:17)  In our baptisms, we have been called out of our former lives, we have been given new identities. Who we are and what we do has been drastically changed. And through the Word of God, read and heard at home and in worship, and the Body and Blood of Christ that we partake of, we continue to be shaped in that identity. Australian theologian John Kleinig explains it in this way, “It is not that we internalize Scripture and assimilate it to our way of being; rather, the Word assimilates us and makes us godly. We do not use Scripture to make something of ourselves; it remakes us in the likeness of Christ.”[1]

Christ’s imperative to “let our light shine before others” is not some kind of Spiritual requirement, something to check of the honey-do list on our way to heaven. .  We aren’t being told to go and do anything anymore than the Beatitudes were a list of things to do.  Rather, it is a pronouncement of who we are as his people.  Of who Christ has made us to be. And just as absurd as it would be for salt to lose its saltiness, for a city on a hill to be invisible, just as it would be ridiculous for us to light a lamp only put it under as basket, so too it would be unthinkable for Christ to call us, to make us His own people and then hide us from the world.

God, our Savior, “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth.” (1 Tim 2:4). The Lord God declares, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ez 33:11). And so, as Christ’s people, as his light shining in the world, our lives bear witness to Christ and bring glory to the Father.  Therefore, our lives will look different from the rest of the world. Though faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us what is the heart of true righteousness: a fear, love and trust in God above all things. That we call upon his name in every trouble and give thanks for every blessing.  That we seek out his word and sacraments in our lives because we trust that in them we have life.

These things are at the heart of what it means to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And this kind of faith is what shapes our ability to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Word and Sacrament bring Christ, the light of the world to us. And as we go back to our callings, we reflect this light to the world.

In the coming weeks, we will hear more of what Christ has to say about the life that he creates in us, about the life that he calls us to as His disciples. But today we end, with the prayer that the wisdom that shines from the cross, from the bright redeeming light of the cross of Christ, that we might be given lips that sing God’s glory, tongues that proclaim His mercy, throats that shout the hope that fills us, mouths to speak His Holy Name, that mortals, angels, now and ever, might praise the Holy Trinity[2].

[1] Kleinig, John W. Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. St. Louis: CPH, 2008. p. 21.

[2] “Thy Strong Word” Lutheran Service Book, 578

Image: Two Candles, photo by Moralist, file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.o unported license