Old Testament Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm Psalm 112:1-10
Epistle 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Gospel Matthew 5:13-20
"We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us." In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus seems to have a precarious relationship with the law. He is constantly at odds with the scribes and Pharisees, the contemporary interpreters and keepers of the law. Based on how Jesus finds the world in the first century, a reinterpretation is necessary. Many Jews had gotten caught up in the letter of the law, and strayed from the Spirit of the law. Rituals and sacrifices and "thou shalt not's" ruled the day, and pursuit of a righteous life had become quite complicated. We can't blame the keepers of the law. Alfred E. Neuman stated, "A lawyer is someone who writes a thirty page document and calls it a brief."
The scribes and Pharisees were applying the culture and customs of the world to something that is deeply spiritual. They ascribed a complex system of life to something that Jesus reinterprets as much more simple. Love God. Love others. Everything else hangs on these simple commandments. The scribes and Pharisees missed this point. They were performing rituals and actions, but were not living kingdom lives. They were not really practicing what they preached. Jesus offers a new way. Righteousness involves fidelity to God's will revealed in Torah and Jesus' interpretation of it.
Jesus reinterprets the law, helping us to grow in the knowledge and love of God, as God always intended. Jesus states clearly that the Law is not to be cast aside. "I come not to abolish (the law and the prophets) but to fulfill," to realize, to complete.
Jesus states, "Truly I tell you ... not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." The original text reads "not one iota." Iota is the Greek letter for "i" and "one stroke" refers to the smallest of brush strokes making up the law. Jesus is referring to the smallest details of the law, dotting "i's" and crossing "t's". Nothing of the Law and the Prophets will pass away until all is accomplished. All of scripture is important to guide our faith when interpreted through the life and ministry of Jesus. This should remind us of the organic relationship between Judaism and Christianity. This should also cut a pathway against anti-semitism. This path should maintain respect for the Jewish background and setting in which the Christian texts and community originated. Many early Christians saw no contradiction in following both Torah and Jesus' teachings. It is unfortunate that we have labeled scripture "old" and "new". They are both testaments to God's saving relationship to humanity and the covenant relationship with God based in God's love and compassion for Creation.
Our faith is about following and joining Jesus in fulfillment of the law. We are all a part of accomplishing this! The law is not a solo pursuit; it is a corporate thing. God's law is designed to build a people whose life together reflects the nature of God, and so makes it more credible and inviting to others. Whoever follows this path and teaches others to do the same is great in kingdom. Great in the kingdom does not imply a particular status, but inclusion, participation, and reconciliation with God and others. That is the kingdom that the law envisions and Jesus invites us into.
Jesus calls us, invites us, and challenges us with blessings. "You are the salt of the earth." Salt is used to flavor food, to preserve, and as part of sacrifices. God expects us to be spicy! God calls us to be agents of change. We are empowered to participate in God’s vision. Our call is to sprinkle spice over life, which might otherwise be bland and tasteless without God. But we must wield this blessing faithfully. As Uncle Ben told Spiderman Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Salt will not lose its taste, but it can become adulterated.
Jesus also blesses us by proclaiming, "You are the light of the world." A lamp is not meant to be covered by a bushel basket, but to be placed on a lamp stand so that all might see. Lest we be caught up in our own brightness, we must always remember that God is the source of all light. Our call is to reflect and shine God’s light, visible to all, so that none are in darkness, until there is no darkness. We are called and equipped individually and collectively to be salt and light.
We are called to shine the light of Christ on the world. We are called to flavor the world with God's love and compassion. As people of faith in the larger Church, how are we to do this? What kind of light shines forth? Are we an incandescent bulb, or fluorescent, or LED, or the flame from a candle? No matter how we emit light, what matters is that we shine. It less important how we care for each other, but that we care for each other. The world is watching to see if our light is true, steady, from a constant source. The world needs the divine brightness to illuminate the shadows.
And there is no more shadow in our world today than in politics. Politics has become a very contentious subject in our culture. I am less concerned with political platforms than how we talk to each other, or more often talk at each other, and talk past each other. For many, the battle lines have been drawn, sides chosen, and positions deeply entrenched. As Southerners say, "you are either with me or agin me." What we now call news seems to be two or more talking heads debating, shouting over each other, and no one ever seems to come together. Once we lamented the mudslinging of politics. Now people join the mob and cheer on their respective sides as the mud covers others to the point of being unrecognizable as human beings. I often see Facebook posts of political talking points titled "how to shut down your opposition in 30 seconds." As if we even give another person 30 seconds to listen to their views.
Is that the world God calls us to? To shut each other down? To win arguments rather than win hearts and minds? To minimize another to a point of view, rather than a person? Our light is not intended to blind. Our salt is not intended to overpower flavor, or cause high blood pressure. Jesus is clearly political, yet not partisan. Following Jesus demands a decision, but is not intended for division. The gospel is a guide, not an agenda. Paul tells us to take up the sword of righteousness. He does not tell us to cut someone’s head off with it.
It is more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right. St. Paul would be the first to proclaim that we are not converted by arguments, but by encounters. At the recent Revival in Atlanta, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry challenged our political divisions. He encouraged, “If you are a Democrat, find a Republican and love them. If you are a Republican, find a Democrat and love them. And if you are an Independent, just love somebody!”
We are challenged to reject the world’s law and embrace God’s vision. Embracing God’s vision involves embracing others and refusing to let go, no matter what our differences may be. As Christians, our party platform is simple. Love God. Love others. Our action items include continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons; loving our neighbor as ourself; striving for justice and peace among all people; and respecting the dignity of every human being. This is a party of invitation, inclusion, and inspiration. It is time to cast our vote.
God's blessings and favor and encouragement are the beginning of our call to be followers of Jesus. Living life in Christ is at the root of our right relationship with God and others. The righteousness fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus makes human righteousness possible. Simple acts of love and caring and generosity and kindness are in fact the manifestation of Christ's own love bubbling up in the lives of people in whom His Spirit dwells. It is our call to let God’s light shine, breaking forth like the dawn, and healing shall spring up quickly. It is our call to be repairers of the breach. It is our call to be salt and light. Amen.