Monday, February 7, 2011

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 5:13
Theme: Salt and Light

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Salt was the primary preservative and flavour-enhancer in the ancient world. Christ makes reference to it as a spiritual analogy. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”1 Jesus warns about the salt losing its saltiness. There are no ‘salt substitutes’ in Jesus’ analogy. It was a direct message to His disciples. They were charged with the apostolic ministry. If they failed to carry this out; to faithfully, in season and out of season preach the word2 then they would become like worthless salt.

The urgency of Jesus’ message is no less relevant today. Has human nature changed in the 2000 years that have since passed? Hardly! It might be too gracious to accuse some in the modern church of confusing tolerance with love. Such an accusation- and one we must always employ as a self-examination- assumes that people are trying to be faithful to God’s truth as a matter of first priority. Yet the intention often appears to be otherwise. Increasingly many church declarations are made on the basis of humanism and not Scripture. There is tremendous societal pressure to conform the church’s teaching and practice to the values of society. Sometimes concessions are made with great pangs of conscience. In these cases the Holy Spirit still leads the struggle against all ungodly opposition. Other times the church’s capitulation betrays a loss of trust and confidence in God’s truth. In these cases faith is on a knife’s edge, the proclamation of the gospel is compromised, and the primary agenda of the church often shifts from ‘salt and light’ to the activities of social welfare or political correctness.

The question is this: Can you love your neighbour through word or deed when it is contrary to God’s will? Can you comfort your neighbour, console her, help him, serve her, assist him in accordance with your neighbour’s desires? Of course! But can you do this as a Christian and child of God when your neigbour’s desires oppose God’s purposes? No longer are you showing them love, but in some way confirming them in thinking or behavior harmful to their well-being. The issue here is not sincerity but faithfulness. It is a trustworthiness that flows from belief that God’s truth takes precedence over human thinking.

A bank robber running away from a bank in Columbus, Ohio, recently stopped long enough to hand out $100 bills to two window shoppers. At least he was generous. But it shows the complexity, confusion and contradiction of us as sinners. Whenever we justify our actions in contradiction to God’s will then we are not acting out of faith. So if we think we are loving someone by by-passing or ignoring the truth then we are deceived. You cannot love your neighbour in defiance of God’s will. What may seem compassionate at the time could actually endanger their eternal well-being. When you come to someone’s defense do it according to God’s purposes with the confidence your work in the Lord is never in vain.3

And there is no room here for excusing our own transgressions. God does not tolerate your petty sins, your selfish motives or unkind words any more than He does adultery, murder or idolatry. He does not approve of our lifestyles of disobedience, greed, or apathy any more than He does the practices of abortion, euthanasia, or homosexuality. If we come here not to repent of these things but to ease our consciences so that we can go on with them then we are deceiving ourselves and inviting God’s harsh judgment.

There is no way to salvage some of your ego or reserve some of your self-worth when it comes to repentance. Common is the sinner desiring to repent who desires even more fervently to save face. We must always be careful not to disguise our hope for God’s tolerance of our sins as a desire for forgiveness. We can easily admit to sins of which we are no longer ashamed. We can even pride ourselves on such humility. But to lay bare our darkest transgressions cuts to the heart.

Forgiveness is not a conscience set at ease because it believes God excuses our transgressions. Forgiveness is the assurance and promise that in spite of our guilt and just condemnation God pardons us in Christ. God has punished sin, completely, emphatically, categorically in the person of His Son. The Scripture says God, “has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight.”4God accepts the sinner- any sinner, every sinner- through Christ only. In your baptism Christ accepts your sinful nature and you are gifted with His righteousness.

It’s only as His children, justified by grace, content in His love, and empowered by the Spirit that we can be salt and in the world. Whenever we set out with our own agendas- regardless of how sincere we are- we lose the plot. Remember what Paul said today, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”5 He said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”6 So our witness in the world must be one of clarity. Certainly the gospel message vies for opportunity and contends with what’s on offer in the world. But it must be clear that we don’t seek to compete with the world on its terms. The gospel is completely counter-cultural to any world ideology. Only the Holy Spirit can bring people to understand this.

The great apostle had no desire to compete with the skilled speakers of the day on their terms. He went to Athens and boldly spoke the gospel at the Areopagus; the famous forum where the Greek philosophers waxed on lyrically and persuasively about their latest ideologies. Their goal was always to impress people with their personal aura and style and thus gain acceptance of their theories. Paul, however, did not have an impressive personal appearance. He was not renowned as an engaging preacher. But what he did he did with unparalleled skill: He taught the mystery of God’s grace in Christ. He proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus. It serves as a warning to us not to be beholden to impressive or charismatic personalities. The word of Scripture and the sacraments are the only sources through which the Holy Spirit promises to work.

This message of Christ’s death for sins is the power of life. Whenever Holy Communion is rightly administered- distributed and received- Christ crucified is preached. Only the death of His body could give life to His people. Our faith is fed by this sacrificial gift. Unbelievers have their rewards in this life. But the saints inherit a glorious and eternal kingdom. On this basis we can be salt even in the midst of decay. We can be light even in the dominion of darkness. We press on bearing His name, doing His work in the day until the night comes “when no one can work”7 We look forward to the blessings of His immortality.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
6 February 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 5:13 2 See 2 Timothy 4:2
3 See 1 Corinthians 15:58 4 Colossians 1:22
5 1 Corinthians 2:2 6 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
7 John 9:4