Spicy Lights Goodly Made

A sermon based on Matthew 5:13-20
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on February 9, 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Last week we talked about how The Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are about heaven being near, and how that has here and now implications– including that we are to reach out to help bring heaven to earth working to end oppression of the least among us and those reviled and persecuted.
Our lesson today is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. And heaven on earth continues as a theme . . . so I thought I’d start with a fun story I found about heaven on earth. A husband and wife offered to help rewire lighting in a church sanctuary. The husband turned the power off, then held the ladder as the wife, an electrician, climbed up to a ceiling crawl hole went in and scooted along the ceiling rafters. While his wife was up in the ceiling the man sat in a pew in the dim of the stained glass light with his hands folded and eyes closed. As he sat the pastor quietly wandered in giving a tour to a group considering joining the church. Just as the group all got in the husband in his prayerful-like pose raised his head toward the ceiling and yelled out “Ann, Ann are you up there? Did you make it okay?” The new member class was startled to hear a disembodied voice break in from above “Yes, I made it up here just fine!” The class quickly scurried out . . . And all of them joined the church the next Sunday. 1
Heaven may not be on earth like that new member class thought they experienced, but Jesus does teach that heaven is near –at least as near as a church ceiling. He taught we need to act in ways that help heaven break in from above on earth so it is not just near, but present and here.
Last week when we talked about The Beatitudes I mentioned that they are a part of Jesus’ efforts to reverse the ways of the world which elevate some over others to the point that others are made outcasts and expendable. The next part of the Sermon on the Mount in today’s lesson can also be heard to continue Jesus’ theme of reversal. Jesus shifts the focus from outcasts and expendables to include, along with them, all the rest of us ordinary beings. Basically what Jesus does is reverse the idea that any of us are ordinary beings.
Earthly power and earthly realms may treat those of us who are non-elite as such, but heavenly power and God’s realm in no way considers any of us ordinary. We may not matter much to earthly powers, but to God, we are extraordinary. But, we resist that truth. We have it so drummed in our heads by the culture and circumstances that we are ordinary . . .that we buy into it. We may even think that walking humbly with our God requires us to surrender a sense that we are more than ordinary but that is not so . . . at least as long as we do it without thinking that it means we are superior to others.
I picked Psalm 8 to I read as the invocation this morning because it makes it so clear that we are extraordinary. It’s right there is the Bible. Addressing God the Psalmist asks “Who are we that you should care for us?” The answer given is that the Creator divinely “made us barely less than God, and crowned us with glory and honor.” Later in the Psalms, Psalm 139 has a lovely song to God that starts out “YHWH you’ve searched me and you know me” and then it describes how in all of our existence God is there with us from the birth to death and all the times in between. Psalm 139 has these lovely lines that show we matter so much that God endeavors to be in our company in all places and times (7-10):
Where could I run from your Spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you’re there. If I make my bed in Death, you’re already there. I could fly away with wings made of dawn, or I make my home on the far side of the sea, but even there your hand will guide me, your mighty hand holding me fast.
The Creator of all that is, and ever was, is with us always. That is extraordinary. And we are extraordinary, God’s care for each of us proves it so. The dictionary definition of the word “extraordinary” includes the meaning “very unusual and special . . . ” 2. People– you and me and every other person– are one of a kind, like the beautiful snowflakes that came from heaven this week. We are, each of us, unusual in that regard.
I know a lot of you might agree that you are unusual (and may be ALL agree that I am), but most of us balk at the notion we are special. But we are also, special. Each human being has unique gifts and talents and perspectives and life expereinces. We have survived ups and downs and made people laugh and cry and we have helped them and loved them. We can, and have, moved people with things like song, dance, music, writings, words, hugs, touch and kindnesses. We ARE special for all those reasons and every other thing that makes us . . . us.
And there is at least one more thing, and this in critically important, we are loved far and wide – our well being is desired by many people, family and friends for sure, but, also teachers and preachers and people in the pews, even most everybody we have a casual connections with in life. Our doctors, nurses, dentists, cashiers, servers, cooks, mechanics, and librarians desire our well being. And that list goes on and on. There are those who may not desire our well being, but most people actually, really, do.
Others’ desiring others’ well being–that is the definition of love.
And our well being is not just desired by other people, or even our pets; our well being is amazingly desired by most of creation which longs to aid us and drive us to not just survive, but thrive.
The maker of all that is, the Creator, God loves us too. Not just now and then but always. The Bible repeatedly tells us God’s love is steadfast and endures for ever!
The very God of all creation loves you, me . . . everyone.
What all this means is that virtually all of existence loves us. We matter. You matter. I matter. Everyone matters. We are special in our own unique existence . . . and to almost all that exists in the here and now.
Jesus can be heard to be telling us that in our lesson with his words that echo through time.
But if we stop and think about it we can sense it in our heart and our brain that we matter and our well being is desired. That is the presence of Christ, God incarnate, within.
What gets in the way of our embracing the truth of all this “we matter and are loved and worthy of well being” stuff, is earthly powers’ and earthly realms’ assertions and teachings throughout our lives that tend to lift only the elite up as the spice of life, that lift only the elite up as lights in the world.
We let a few voices, and the cultural norms they set, overwhelm THE WORD OF GOD.
And it is not just Jesus who teaches we matter. The Bible starts off with it, telling us in Genesis that God declares humans goodly made, that God put divine breath in each of us, that each of us – male and female– are made in God’s image.
Tragically earthly powers’ ways convince us otherwise. They talk us out of the divine truth that we are extraordinary and matter much.
Consequently instead of appreciating our worth, we tend to find extraordinary and worthy only a few in power.
We do not consider ourselves the salt of the earth.
We do not consider ourselves the light of the world.
But if Jesus is to be believed . . . we are.
And it is not that elites aren’t . . . but that WE are too!
In New Testament times the same thing was going on, man’s empire claimed that people not of their elite ilk were not spicy enough, were are not the salt of the earth and so people felt (like we often do) as Jesus puts it “thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Man’s empire claimed people not of their elite ilk were not bright lights and tried to hide the lights of the non-elites.
Jesus comes along and tells the everyday Joes and Janes back then – and forever– the truth, that they are each of them, extraordinary.
“You are salt of the earth!” Jesus declares.
“You are the light of the of the world,” Jesus proclaims.
Then he goes on to teach don’t hide the light that you are, light is not made to be hidden. He teaches us to let our light shine.
And it’s not just for us that we shine, but to help others find out that they are extraordinary too, that they are loved, that they matter. That is the Good News followers of Jesus are supposed to spread and out to the ends of the earth.
Jesus did not treat anyone as ordinary. He treated everyone as extraordinary; all as goodly made; all as full of the breath of God; all as made in the image of God; all as worthy of love.
Since Jesus started his ministry two thousand years ago – right up to today– he has claimed as worthy every leper, prostitute and tax collector; every poor, hungry, sick and alien person; every child, woman and man; every Gentile and Jew; every outcast; every expendable and non-expendable person . . . and, yes, you.
In the words of a hymn most of us grew up with “Jesus loves . . . All the children of the world, Red, Brown, Yellow Black and White “They are precious in His sight Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
He loves all the adults of the world too. Because every person is loved as a child of God just as they are. As our banner out front puts it “God’s love has no strings attached!” That is a paraphrase of the Biblical declaration that God’s love is steadfast– and that it endures forever.
And I know we hear Biblical texts used to suggest otherwise. But they are being looked at through a clouded lens not cleared up by applying Jesus’ teachings, especially his commandments to love.
For Christians Jesus is the decisive revelation of God, he is, as the Gospel of John puts it, The Word of God. The end of the lesson today affirms that idea with a slightly different spin, declaring Jesus as the fulfillment of the law.
As the decisive revelation of God Jesus becomes our interpretive key. The Feasting on the Word commentary for today puts it like this
As Jesus declares … he has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, he claims his place in God’s history of the liberation and covenant with God’s chosen people, but he does so without dismissing the tradition or breaking the covenant, thus fulfilling rather than abolishing the law and the prophets. In an important sense Jesus himself is the hermeneutical key for interpreting the law and the prophets in line with God’s will for the present time and until the end of time. (334)
The commentary goes on to point out that the last verse of the lesson explains the other verses in the lesson.
In the last verse, verse 20, Jesus is pointing out that unless his followers’ righteousness exceeds that of the traditional religious elite, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Being pious alone does not serve to bring heaven to earth.
The Feasting on the Word notes that Jesus followers are both commanded and enabled to surpass tradition
“Exceeding conventional righteous means that Jesus’ followers seek to live justly as an expression of their worship of God; they have been blessed and are passionate about being participants in God’s vision of the world” (p. 336)
In other words, Christians are to help heaven break in so that God’s empire reigns.
The Good News is as we heard Jesus declare in the lesson.
We are the salt of earth.
We are the light of world.
We are extraordinary.
We are so loved and so well thought of by God that we are not just loved, but called by God to help bring God’s Empire to earth.
When we get all that . . . and answer the call . . . nothing short of heaven itself breaks in!
Everyone in existence matters much just the way they are.
The arc of all that bends toward each of our well being, every person is loved and matters much.
Please leave here today, understanding that, THAT includes all of you ! AMEN

1. Hodgin, Michael 1001 More Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking, p.158
2 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/extraordinary