Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #36 – Salt of the Earth

Feasting with God #36

Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13

13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

By their way of life, the disciples of Jesus (that means you and me and anyone who would call himself “Christian”) will be as useful as salt is.  Think of your delicious dinner meals: pork or beef or potatoes or corn.  All delicious and juicy, but with just the right amount of salt, those dishes are improved, and may even reach perfection.

But if the salt in your shaker isn’t particularly salty, why would you dash it onto your food?  It’s completely useless.  You might as well throw it out.

In this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is instructing his followers in their way of life.  They are as salt to the world.  Humanity is the dinner dish which needs the salt.  So the followers of Jesus are to improve humanity.  Just what this meant Jesus said at the end of his earthly ministry: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 18:19-20).  If humanity is lead to “observe all that [Jesus] commanded,” certainly that’s an improvement.  Jesus “commanded”: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), and “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12), and “Pray then like this…” (6:9ff.), and “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow” (6:34), and “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20), and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (11:28).  Observing all these things (and countless more), can humanity not be improved?

It is the mission of Jesus’ followers to “Go,” to teach these things, and to “make disciples,” to make more followers, to spread the saltiness.  If they don’t perform this mission, can they possibly be called Jesus’ followers?  This question, asked another way, is, if salt isn’t salty, can it possibly be called salt?

“I’m not a missionary,” says one Christian.  “I’m not a pastor,” says another.  “I don’t teach Sunday School,” “I can’t speak in public.”  These objections are nothing but excuses that our sinful flesh makes to avoid doing what is in reality a difficult task.  For those who undertake the mission given them by Christ, he also warns, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves….  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings…” (Matt. 10:16-18).  So these excuses are legitimate, because by avoiding the mission, you avoid the suffering.  But if you avoid the suffering, avoid the mission, then you also avoid the blessing: Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

That’s the last of Jesus’ “Beatitudes,” where he describes the blessed ones who are members in his Church: Those who are in his church, therefore, can expect persecution, can expect opposition to the righteousness they proclaim, and beyond this they can expect the kingdom of heaven as their reward and inheritance, and they can be confident, because they are not alone, but “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  A veritable cloud of witnesses, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mighty Christian men and women go back in history as an example, as friends, as coworkers in the kingdom of righteousness—these great ones were also salt of the earth, just as we are.

And if we are still concerned about how to talk to people, Jesus promises as well, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:19-20).  And don’t fret that you aren’t a pastor, or a missionary, or a Sunday School.  Each member of Christ’s Church is a salt that is specifically designated to be applied in a different way and in different circumstances, as we sing in the hymn:

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Off’ring life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your off’rings
You can do what God demands;
You can be like faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

(“Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, #191)

Lord, guide us to fulfill the mission you have for us, in whatever station of life we find ourselves in.  If we are to preach, give us the words to preach.  If we are to teach, strengthen us with the knowledge of your Word and the ability to impart it to others.  If we are to serve your kingdom and be the salt of the earth in some other way, prepare us for that service, and encourage us through the Gospel of your Son who paid the price for our sins and enabled us to come into this service, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #35 – Satisfied

Feasting with God #35

“Satisfied”

Text: Matthew 5:6

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

In the apostle John’s first letter, he writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Between that statement and this passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we can see the whole story of salvation: as we are on our own, we are full of unrighteousness, we are brimming with sin, we are overflowing with wickedness; but to confess our sins, to pour out this pitcher of our hearts, emptying its putrid contents on the floor at God’s feet, asking him to give us righteousness in its place, to put good hearts back where were our wicked ones, this leads to forgiveness and satisfaction.

It seems absurd.  It seems like we’re swindling God, conning him into a terrible deal.  “Give us your holiness, your righteousness, and godly glory, and we’ll give you a mortal, death-pocked heart, rotting away with sin.”  Yes, it certainly seems that God is getting the short end of the stick, but that’s the essence of grace.

Martin Luther was fond of illustrating our salvation as a marriage: Christ was the groom, rich and powerful, and we his Church were the bride, poor and lowly, wicked and criminal.  This mighty, wealthy man selected this bride out of the slums and married her.  Because of that wedding, all her crimes were attributed to him, and he had to make the payment for them.  And at the same time all his wealth, his mansions, his feasts belonged to her.  This is called the “Great Exchange.”  Our sin was given to Christ on the cross, and in exchange his righteousness was given to us.

The problem is, when the groom comes looking for us, we tend to scurry deeper into the garbage heaps we call home, fearing that his extended hand means us harm.  After all, if he pulls us into the light, won’t our ugliness be revealed for all the world to see?  If he removes the hoods from our faces, our diseases will terrify those around us and send them fleeing.  And besides, we know how often we have offended this very prince himself: we’ve cursed his name to our friends, we’ve mocked his grace, we’ve preferred to be our own masters than under his rulership.

The problem is, we don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We proudly ignore the rumblings in our stomachs and say, “I’m fine.  I don’t need a handout.”  We really had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the slums, objecting that we were being persecuted, oppressed, and assaulted by this prince.  We were like rats cockroaches who never willingly come into the light and instead convince ourselves that we’re content to feed on garbage.

But his grace, despite our protests, carried us to his mansion, washed us clean, dressed us in fine silk and jewels, vowed to keep us as his own, “to love and cherish,” “in sickness and in health,” “for better or for worse,” “as long as we both shall live,” and then he placed before us the most magnificent feast we had ever seen, with the richest bread, the sweetest wine, in endless supply.

Taking our first bite of this grace, we can see how hungry we really were, and this leads us, ever afterward, to realize when we are starving for lack of grace.  Then we hunger for this righteousness once again.  We are moved by our Lord always to seek his grace.  And in that we are given the promise: he will never allow us to go hungry again, there will never come a time that he does not offer us his righteousness, we shall be satisfied.

Dear Jesus, for your sacrifice we thank and praise you, for we could never deserve such a rich gift as you give us in the righteousness you have earned and with which you have clothed us.  Lead us never to become complacent, never to forget what great nourishment you offer us in your Word and Sacraments.  Guide us ever back to the study of your word, with which you satisfy us in your righteousness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.