To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Matthew 5:13-20
As I think of our rich history as a denomination, I also remember that we have had our struggles concerning issues of faith and morality. Perhaps at the core of these issues are that there are some who believe that it doesn’t matter what we say or do in life because they believe we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves for our actions. However as Christians, we know that we are not free from any of God’s Law; we cannot pick and choose which laws to obey. Admittedly however, it’s easier at times to neglect this reality of Scripture. Jesus tells us as God’s children it does matter what we do. God does not grade us on a curve because we are accountable for all our actions. It is not enough for us to refrain from murder, slander, adultery, lying, or stealing. We must refrain from those underlying causes of these actions and replace them with positive actions. Jesus emphasized this in our passage by saying that unless our righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We learn in this passage that God is always calling us to a life of righteousness.
As we speak of righteousness it’s important to note there are two kinds of righteousness. One is legalism, for which the scribes and Pharisees were well known in Biblical times. The other is obedience to the spirit of the law, which requires a sense of mercy and justice. Jesus implied that getting caught up in the letter of the law was not the answer. The point was not to ignore or abolish God’s law and the witness of the great prophets; rather we are called to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in ways that reflect the mind of Christ. Jesus calls us today to go beyond the purpose of the Law and Prophets and follow his greatest commandment that says:
You shall love the Lord your God with you’re your heart, and with all your soul, and with you’re your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-39)
In order to accomplish this within our lives, we must be the salt and the light that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew.
Salt and light are powerful metaphors. Salt is a preservative that works only when it penetrates into food. Salt becomes useless when contaminated by other chemical substances. It must remain pure to do its job. Likewise we as Christians must penetrate society while keeping ourselves from being influenced by the temptations and sins of the world. Similarly, light penetrates darkness. To know the truth and fail to stand up for truth is as senseless as lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket according to Jesus. In other words, we don’t just live out our faith within the walls of our churches and our homes. We are not to be just a part of the world, but we are to be in the world striving to make a positive impact. We are citizens of an earthly kingdom as well as a heavenly one. As citizens and as Christians we are called upon to participate in our culture and society and to help influence and shape our culture and society for the benefit of those future generations of followers.
As Christians, living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, we have the ability to influence the world for good, as salt has a positive effect upon the flavor of the food it seasons. For example where there is strife, we are to be peacemakers; where there is sorrow, we are to be the ministers of Christ, binding up wounds, and where there is hatred, we are to exemplify the love of God in Christ, replacing evil with good. Our faith must provide a real witness in the world. As our sermon title shares, we are to be the word and witness. In thinking of being a witness in the world I recall reading about an experiment with nursery school children, a psychologist organized children into playgroups and let them play for several days with some toys and games that were the same each day. Each group developed its own behavior patterns as well as its own traditions of who played with which toys and games. Once these patterns were set, the psychologist added another child to each group, introducing the newcomer as the leader. Children who had shown signs of dominance in other situations at nursery school were often selected as the leaders. All these new leaders tried to take charge, but most failed. The psychologist’s explanation: “The group absorbed the leader, forcing its traditions upon them.”
Thinking of that experiment and experience, there were those in the audience to whom Matthew’s gospel was written who wanted to do the exact opposite of these nursery school children. They wanted to do away with the old; they wanted to throw out the old rules and traditions of the past because in their minds they did not work anymore. These people came to Jesus hoping he would abolish the old law and introduce some type of new order. In our gospel reading we see that Jesus was calling us back to the original purpose of why God had given these laws. He corrected this way of thinking when he said:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but fulfill. (Matthew 5:17)
This passage presents a wonderful way we should look at our past as we look towards our future. Through this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us some important things about our faith.
- Our faith builds upon the past.
- Our faith demands our listening to God’s call.
- Our faith is to provide a witness in the world.
As Christians and Moravians we are called upon to build upon our past, to listen to God’s leading and to be a witness in our community. As a congregation, we must build upon the positive things of our past, while allowing ourselves to “let go” of the past so that it does not hinder our continued growth for our future. Every generation of followers must construct new structures and forms for ministry and worship to effectively reach others in our community. As we face this challenge here at Christ Moravian Church, our epistle lesson from first Peter, reminds us that we are living stones who are to be built into the best spiritual house and holy priesthood we can be. To accomplish this task, a commitment to change and a commitment to serve the church will be required from all. We can begin this commitment by supporting our church with our prayers and contributions of time, talent and treasure.
How are we going to share the light of Christ in the world through our involvement at church? While only God knows for certain how this will take place, as we think of this task ahead, I recall the story of a parent asking their child about their Sunday school experience one day. The parent asked their child who was teaching their class that day. The child answered, “I don’t remember her name, but she must have been Jesus’ grandmother because she didn’t talk about anyone else.” Grandparents certainly love to talk about their grandchildren I think we can all agree! In thinking of this analogy, do our conversations reflect that kind of love for Jesus? Do our words give away that fact that we have an ongoing personal relationship with Christ? It is our hope that the enthusiasm this teacher shared about Jesus, will be reflected in the way we talk about our faith.
To be the word and witness in our world we must recognize that our personal witness will flow from our study and understanding of God’s word. We must educate ourselves by studying Scripture, and at the same time, discusses and discover ways that the gospel can be witnessed to in our daily lives. Together let us follow the teachings from our Savior and strive to be the word and witness for God’s Kingdom in our community.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 5, 2017