You are…so be
Watch the service
Let Your Light Shine
What good is a good gift? Years ago there was a woman who got a set of silverware from her mother-in-law. For years it sat in the special box in which it came. Then, one day, she opened the box, and the silver had tarnished. If her mother-in-law saw it that way, she knew she would get in trouble. So she got busy, frantically cleaning the silverware. After the silverware dried she looked and there was a problem—a big problem: She had worked so hard, scrubbing the tarnish off, that she had worn much of the silver away. There she was, wondering what good this good gift was. If you just left it there, it tarnished. If you tried to clean it up and work all you can, scrubbing against it, you damage it. What good is a good gift? In our gospel for this morning we have the opportunity to reflect on the fact that Jesus has given to us good gifts. The biggest good gift is salvation from our sins. But the good gift that he speaks about in these words is that, by the Holy Spirit, we are able to do good. But, in our lives as Christians, there is where it becomes complicated. And there are times, when like this woman, we can end up saying to ourselves, “what good is a good gift?” Jesus tells us: ““You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13 NIV11-GKE)
There is this good that Jesus has placed in us. Along side the old sinful self, there is this new, living, active self that yearns to do good. But there are some problems. The first problem is that hiding the good in us does no good at all. First, it does no good because we shouldn’t hide the good in us. Jesus here uses the illustration of salt. Salt was used for preserving in the ancient world. And still today we can see how it is used. I remember when I was a child and we’d make deer sausage. But that wasn’t nearly as yummy as the deer jerky. Dad would hang the deer jerky above the wood-burner in the basement. And I asked him how it wouldn’t rot. And would say that the smoke and the salt kept it from rotting. That’s what we are. We are salt. The words we share and the works we show preserve the world around us. And it’s not wise to hide that there is good in us to share and show.
But the picture gets even more complicated. We shouldn’t hide the good in us. But we also can’t hide the good in us: “14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16 NIV11-GKE)
The whole point of lighting a lamp is to have it give light. If you put it under a basket, it won’t shine out very far at all. If there is light, it cannot be hidden. And the same is true with each of us. I grew up going to pubic school. And, sadly, for the sake of social survival, when I was growing up, I tried to hide my faith. And, for years, I thought I was doing a decent job of that until one day, in the middle of class, one of my classmates said, “Steve, you’re a church-goer, what do you think about that?'” I thought I had so-successively hidden the good that there was in me. But, my dear friends, that’s impossible. Through this gift of faith, there is good in each of us. And, my friends in Christ, it does no good to hide it. You shouldn’t. And you cannot, even if you wanted to. But the next verse speaks amazing, beautiful comfort to people who have tried to hide the good in us. Jesus says: ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17 NIV11-GKE)
In the Old Testament there were hundreds of commandments about doing what was right and good. And there were so many promises that there would be a Savior and Messiah who would come along and fulfill them—both the commands and the promises. What great news that is for us who have spent our lives not knowing what to do with this good gift of good inside of us. For all the times we have hidden the good inside of us, Jesus was the light of the world, shining for the world to see. And he did this in our place to pay for the times we hid the goodness in us. But Jesus continues: “18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18–19 NIV11-GKE)
In the first part of these words we see that hiding does no good. Now, in these words, we see that haggling does no good. As people in this world, like that lady with the silver war, it’s hard to know what to do with the good that is there in us that Jesus commands us to do. And another trap we can fall into is that, instead of hiding it, we do just the opposite. We haggle with it. We assume and pretend that we can use the good we do in this world as currency. There are problems to this though. If we want to get into heaven by doing good works, Jesus’ standard is far higher than we do and pay. He demands righteousness and perfection. That’s what Jesus is emphasizing here. Not one dot above the “I” or one little hook that you can easily forget when you make a “T” is going to be left out. Here Jesus is not talking about letters. Instead, he is talking about teaching. He will make sure that all the commands that are binding on us stay. And in the next verse he tells us why. The temptation is always to push down the bar that Jesus sets. If Jesus sets perfection as the bar, well then, we’ll just lower it. That’s why, when Jesus is explaining the 5th commandment, he reminds them that they have heard that it says, “do not murder.” But he raises that bar up again by telling them that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.
So, my friends, you cannot hide the good in you. And you cannot haggle with it to get into heaven. How thankful we are then, that Jesus gives us a better, different righteousness. Jesus tells us: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 NIV11-GKE)
Unless you have a different and better righteousness than the Pharisees, you will never, ever get into heaven. What is this righteousness? Instead of relying on our own goodness that Jesus gives to us through faith, we rely on Jesus’ goodness and righteousness. His righteousness is what saves us and redeems us. His righteousness is what pays for all of our sins and leads us to heaven itself. But my dear friends, we’ve gone this far into these words, and we still haven’t answered the question: What good is this good in us? It’s no good to hide the good in us. It’s no good to haggle with God, using the good in us as payment for sin. What use is this good, then, in us? We passed by the answer to that question earlier on. So, let’s go back and pick up those words: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NIV11-GKE)
What do we do with this good in us? We let it shine out to others. But we let is shine from God. There is this new person inside of each of us. It naturally, spontaneously does what is good. And our role is to let it shine out. And as that happens, people will begin to wonder. How it that that person, who has gone through such a hardship can have hope when I don’t? How is it that that person who did something that is truly wrong can have such humility and admit what is wrong when no one else would do that? And eventually they will begin to see that whatever help, hope, and humility we have does not come from us. It comes from Jesus. So let us let our light shine. For it does no good to hide it or to haggle with it. Instead, out of thankfulness, we let it shine that others may see it and glorify God for it. Amen.