Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 5, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Sermon Theme: “Salt, Light, and the Kingdom of Heaven”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; “Paradiso,” Wikipedia; Online “Defining the Parables of Jesus – Defining the Kingdom of Heaven”; Christian Doctrine by Edward W. A. Koehler; “The Kingdom of Heaven, Bible.org; original ideas; What Luther Says, an Anthology published by CPH)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. Bill Mosley tells about the time he fell asleep after reading our sermon text for today and had a disturbing dream.
In the dream, Pastor Bill and some friends were getting into heaven together. Saint Peter told them they were to wait at the gate for transportation. Each of them would be getting around in Heaven in a style appropriate to the service they rendered on earth.
Soon a white airplane landed. The back door opened and Bill could see a spacious interior with a flight staff and a well-equipped kitchen. He was thinking it was for him, when Saint Peter called out, to his disappointment, “Kenneth.”
Just then a big silver RV arrived. It was self-contained with air conditioning, kitchen with microwave oven, and bathroom with all the extras. “I could really go places in this,” Pastor Bill thought; but Saint Peter called out, “John.” Bill tried not to let his disappointment show.
Suddenly, a golden pickup truck pulled up. Bill drooled over the front-wheel drive and he wondered where a person could go off-roading in Heaven. Just as he was about to ask St. Peter if it had a CD player, the revered Saint called out, “Marvin.” It was becoming obvious to Bill that the modes of transportation were getting smaller, so he was hoping for at least one of those 10-speed bicycles for himself, handmade custom frame with a cushioned seat and puncture-proof tires and balanced wheels.
Right then, Saint Peter handed him a pair of roller skates. Then he looked in his book again, shook his head absentmindedly, and took one of the skates back. Pastor Mosley was glad to wake up from his dream.
In our sermon text for today, Jesus begins by telling about those things He expects a true follower of His to be: the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. He then tells the disciples and us that He has not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. He concludes by saying, “Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of thee 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.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say that if you relax on one of the commandments you’ll be kicked out of the Kingdom of Heaven, but that you will be considered the LEAST of those in His Kingdom. Only the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World will be called GREAT.
The fact that you won’t end up outside the Kingdom but called “the least” is consistent with the truth of the Bible, ‘We are saved by grace through faith alone,’ not by works.
This passage and others similar to it bring up a long-standing controversy over interpretation, which is no doubt why the Church is divided into various denominations. Some theologians believe that “the Kingdom of Heaven” and “the Kingdom of God” refer to the same thing; others believe that each is different. The Calvinists believe that without works you are not saved. Some believe that while we are all saved by grace through faith alone, there are levels of placement in the Kingdom of Heaven, — kind of like the ‘jet plane-one roller skate’ example in Bill’s dream.
We have to look at it from a Lutheran perspective. We believe that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are the same thing, the point being that Matthew used the term “Kingdom of Heaven” and the other Gospel writers used the term, “Kingdom of God,” in the same way. Either term means God’s government with Jesus Christ as King, and because Christ rules from Heaven, it is called the Kingdom of Heaven.
According to Edward Koehler, Professor Emeritus, Concordia University, River Forest, the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of three components, — the Kingdom of Power, the Kingdom of Grace, and the Kingdom of Glory. The Kingdom of Power is the entire universe over which Christ rules. Matthew 28:18 says that all power is given to Christ in earth and in heaven. The Kingdom of Grace is the rule of Christ in the hearts of His believers, — in other words, it is the church. So, we are a part of the Kingdom of Heaven right now, because the Kingdom of Grace is one of its components.
Now what we usually call “Heaven” or “Eternity” is the Kingdom of Glory, and it’s located in Heaven, not on earth. You and I and all the saints that have passed away are a part of the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God, but you and I are not yet part of the component known as the Kingdom of Glory.
Here is what Martin Luther taught about the Kingdom of Glory (within the Kingdom of Heaven) in a sermon on Romans 8:18-23 he preached in 1535: “Although one saint may be more glorious than another in yonder life, the same eternal life will be enjoyed by all. . . . So there will also be many degrees of splendor and glory in yonder life (eternity), as St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:40; and yet all will be alike in the enjoyment and delight, and there will be but one glory for all, because we shall all be the children of God. . . . Grace is granted equally to all and brings full salvation to each individual . . . and yet there will be a distinction in the glory with which we shall be adorned and in the brightness with which we shall shine.”
Whether travel in eternity (that is, the Kingdom of Glory) will be by one roller skate or by jet plane, our works do not get us through the Pearly Gates, — only grace through faith. But Jesus makes it clear in our text what He expects of us while we are still here on earth in the Kingdom of Grace, as a part of the Church of true believers. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Followers of Jesus influence the world as salt affects food. Salt suggests three characteristics: purity, preservation, and seasoning. The purity of salt originates from the process of using sea water and sun to acquire salt. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things because it came from the purest of objects – the sun and the sea. Christians are to be morally and ethically pure because the purity comes from the purest object – God!
Salt preserved meat from spoiling by keeping it fresh when there was no refrigeration. Living in a corrupt world, the Christian must become a preservative of God’s righteousness. A pure heart has God in focus.
Seasoning is salt’s greatest quality. Without salt, food tends to be bland. Christians bring seasoning to life. Christ’s followers are not to be prudes or bores, but sparkle with the seasoning of God. Christians need to laugh, smile, sing, and bring the joy of the Lord to a flavorless society. This way the world will discover genuine life!
However, in addition to the general meaning of salt as a metaphor, the Israelites had an even higher regard for salt because of what the Old Testament said about it. Leviticus spoke of the “salt of the covenant,” because of the Lord’s instruction that all cereal offerings brought to the altar should be seasoned with salt. The priests and the people were to offer salt with all their offerings. In Numbers 18, all holy offerings were called a “covenant of salt forever before the Lord.” With that in mind, being the salt of the earth takes on an even deeper spiritual meaning.
Jesus also said that His followers were the light of the world, and that our function is to shine before others. However, you have to be turned on before you can remit light. Christ has given us the Holy Spirit, an illuminating Spirit, that enables us to reflect Christ, the light which came into the world’s darkness. The Holy Spirit is our baptismal gift which we take with us into a world of spiritual darkness. By grace through faith, we receive the light of Christ and it should shine through us and we are to bring it into the world’s darkness. If we put our light under a basket and hide it from the world, we have not fulfilled our call. We must be more than a dim porch light attracting moths.
How important is it to be light and salt? Jesus answers that question by concluding our text with these words: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.