The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (2/5/2017)

Texts:Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12] Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (4) 1st Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16] St. Matthew 5:13-20

Prayer of the Day: Lord God, with endless mercy you receive the prayers of all who call upon you.  By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do, and give us the grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:13 [Jesus said,] “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 under foot. 14 You 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 lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In 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.

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these 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.20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

St. Matthew 5:13-20, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

An Invitation to Shine

You are the light of the world; you are the light of the world. So shine, shine, shine where you are. You are the light of the world. (Chris Tomlin, © 2000, ThankYou Music)

When Lutherans deal with matters of faith, we often like to speak in terms of “Law and Gospel.” Law, simply defined, has to do with those times when God’s word convicts us of sin. The Law helps us to see what it is that God asks of us, and points out to us how far short we have fallen of God’s expectations. Gospel, simply defined, has to do with those times when God’s word forgives us. The Gospel puts us at peace with God through this gift, offers us the possibility of a new beginning, and allows us to live with hope and joy. One of our commitments is to distinguish, as clearly as we can, between Law and Gospel, without ever disconnecting them from one another. The Law creates within us the desire to be forgiven, and the Gospel responds by assuring us that forgiveness is ours.

When we reflect on texts like this weekend’s Gospel, we occasionally ask ourselves whether this is an example of Law or Gospel. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he declares to them: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… You are a city on a hill.” Then, echoing the words we lift up after every baptism, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

One might read this as Law, thinking of it as a command from Jesus to season the world around us, shine light into the darkness of our world, and be as visible (in faithfulness) as a city is on a hill in the middle of the night. Often we do read it this way, and there may be times when such a reading convinces that we haven’t fully enough been a light to others.

But one might also read this as Gospel. After all, Jesus doesn’t say, “Be salt. Be light. Be like a city on a hill.” He says, simply, “You are.” This is who we are; who God has created us to be. We don’t have to imitate someone else’s faithfulness. We don’t have to concoct extraordinary ways to live up to God’s expectations. We are invited by Jesus simply to be who we are. Children of God. Sinners, who have received the gift of forgiveness. Disciples who have been given a variety of gifts and abilities. Lovers of Christ, who experience joy in the occasions when we are able to participate in what God is doing in this world.

The passage ends with challenging words: Jesus says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is easy to imagine that he is inviting us to a righteousness contest with the scribes and Pharisees. But perhaps this is invitation as well. We are put right with God through Christ. We are invited into a chance to work together with each other in areas that are of concern to God. We become aligned with God, and experience life in a new and powerful way.

There is good news for us — Gospel for us — in this weekend’s lesson. May we faithfully embrace the invitation to follow God’s vision for our lives and for our world!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do the images of salt, light and city cause us to imagine?
  2. How does Jesus’ vision become a fulfillment of the law and the prophets?
  3. What are some examples of when the kingdom of God breaks into this world?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What would it look like for my faith to shine in the darkness of someone else’s world?
  2. In which specific ways might I be involved in the work of God today?
  3. When has the light of my life caused others to give thanks to God?