Affirmation & Invitation

Today I had the joyful opportunity to preach at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Spring Valley, MN. They are celebrating their annual Thankoffering Sunday in which a special offering is collected for the ministries of the Women of the ELCA. The Gospel text that the Women of the ELCA of Spring Valley chose for the day is Matthew 5:13-20.

Between services I had the chance to speak with many church members about their lives, hopes, dreams, and the ministries of the church. And SUPER BONUS - I got to see my colleague from Zion, Wendy, and her husband and son! It has been a terrific day. I feel thankful that I am able to travel throughout synod and connect with congregations.


Here's the text and the sermon:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
And here's the sermon:

 Emily Carson
Matthew 5:13-20
“Affirmation and Invitation”

Salt and light. That's what Jesus is speaking about in our Gospel text for today. The wisdom and guidance of Jesus is timeless. It is amazing that his words have as much application to life today as they did 2000 years ago. Jesus uses the everyday aspects of our lives to invite us into deeper relationship with him and more intentional service in the world.

When Jesus speaks, it’s always an invitation – and it’s always spoken out of his deep love for us – and his deep belief in our ability to serve as his hands and feet.

Context for today’s Gospel text: it’s early on in Matthew’s Gospel. Chapter 5. We’ve made it through Jesus’ childhood stories. And then his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. He’s called a few disciples and performed some healings. And then today’s reading. It’s part of what is commonly known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It starts with Jesus and his disciples – but by the end (chapter 7), there’s a crowd. These chapters are full of the core teachings of Jesus’ ministry. At the beginning of 5, Jesus has just said: “Blessed are the meek – and those who mourn – and the merciful – and the pure in heart – and the peacemakers.” And then comes today’s reading. Salt and light.

Neither salt nor light exist exclusively for their own sake. There purposes are heightened in conjunction with other aspects of life.

I’ve never eaten a tablespoon of plain salt, and the thought of it makes me shiver. But I enjoy a little salt for flavor every day! On eggs. On veggies. (Invite congregation to share foods to which they like to add salt or foods that have salt in them). Salt heightens the flavor. Salt has many purposes today – as it did in Jesus’ day. I’m sure we could think of a few right now….

  • Preservative 
  • Flavor/seasoning
  • Purifying/cleansing – Epsom salts
  • Disinfectant

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “You are salt.” There are a variety of ways to interpret what Jesus meant by that. One of the awesome aspects of the Bible – we can read it and read it and always learn something new. It’s likely Jesus meant that because they were followers of God, there was a special seasoning they had in their lives. Salt of the earth. A preservative. A disinfectant. A flavoring. Jesus is saying, “Hey – you have an important role in this life.”

Then he says, “You are the light of the world.” Like salt, light also does not exist for its own sake. Lights – in all their forms – candles, flashlights, light bulbs, the sun, the moon, our cell phones – lights exist to illuminate the environment around us. Without them, we’re in the dark. When Jesus said these words originally, there was no electricity. Light played an even more critical role! Light was and is a big deal. When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world” – he’s saying, “You – INDIVIDUAL YOU – illuminate the environment around you. Your presence allows people to see in new ways.”

Jesus goes on to say, “Let your light shine so that people witness that shining and see God at work within you.” We don’t shine for our own sake. We shine so that people are more able to experience the love of God.

Jesus says, we don’t put our lights under a basket. We put them on a lampstand. Sometimes I think we hear this text and feel overwhelmed or insecure. We wonder, “What makes me such a light? What do I have to offer?” And we wonder if being on a lampstand somehow means we need to be louder or bolder or on a stage. Letting your light shine IS NOT about being the smartest, most successful, loudest, most organized, most handsome, best behaved, or most knowledgeable. Instead, letting YOUR light shine is about being YOU. Unique, one-of-a-kind YOU! It’s about being YOU – your real, loved self – in such a way that people are able to see God. And Jesus isn’t asking if you’d like to consider being a light. Jesus says, YOU ARE A LIGHT. You are a light for the whole world. It’s not optional. You already are one. Just because you are a named and claimed child of God.

Being a light happens in small ways and large ways. Sharing a cup of coffee. Delivering a casserole to someone after they get home from the hospital. Collecting coats for people who need them.

  • Share example of Virgil’s and the brakes on my car – how Bob helped and listened and all the staff members let their light shine
  • As part of my call as the Director of Communications for our synod, I have opportunities to visit congregations and hear their stories. Share example of Harriet Anderson, 101 – from Shiloh Lutheran Church – “making the most of the time she’s been allotted”. 
  • Share example of Linda from Grace Lutheran in Peterson – learning to make a website. 

This is a congregation – Our Savior’s of Spring Valley – that understands being a light. Ecumenical worship services. Restarting the handbell choir. Christmas bazaar. Bible studies. Renee’s giftedness and patience as your office admin. All of your patience in the midst of the transition – and the trust you have the Holy Spirit will continue to guide this congregation as it always has and always will.

Being a light and being salt – it’s about humility, listening, peacemaking, justice, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. And when we live in this way, we are a light. We don’t do it on our own. We don’t do any of this on our own – left to our own devices, we mess up – we fail – we turn in our selves – we throw pity parties. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we shine. YOU SHINE. Each of you, individually, shines. And collectively – as a congregation – you shine in incredible ways.

May you continue to feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit with you in the weeks and months ahead. May it give you a sense of peace during times of uncertainty. May the Spirit give you boldness to serve others in Jesus’ name. And may the Spirit give you each a strong sense of confidence, trusting that you have been created to shine! So shine, shine, shine – dear friends in Christ – and know that God is with you. Amen.

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