Glimpses of the Kin-Dom: Week 5
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.*
*Note: Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves.
“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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 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. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 5:13-20 (NRSVue)
One of my favorite movies as a kid, and one of the ones I have had the joy of sharing with my kids has been Disney’s The Lion King. Many of you who have seen it may remember the penultimate scene where a lost Simba has been “reacquainted” (we will say) with Nala, his long childhood friend. She urges him to come back to the pride and lead in place of his nefarious uncle Scar, who has ruled and allowed the Circle of Life to become tarnished by the hyenas. It is at this moment that Simba is wrestling with who he is, and he encounters Rafiki, a wisened mandrill monkey, who tried to name who Samba is by nature of his father. Simba unbelieving of this revelation follows Rafiki to a lake and encounters the spiritual presence of his father who says,
Mufasa: You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba? You are more than what you have become.
Simba: How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.
Mufasa: Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are.1
I love this section of the movie, because it connects Simba, as well as viewers, to the nature of claimed authority that Samba has in this story. It overcomes Samba’s past and his dark thoughts and frees him to recognize the role he is called to play in the circle of life (a theme the movie tracks through its entirety).
This reclaiming of Samba’s nature comes in this reminder of who he is. Mufasa is reminding Simba that he is his son and he is the king. This sort of “You are…” statement is monumental in the nature of claiming our humanity as well. Claiming who we are, and understanding the nature we exist in creation. However, much like Simba, our nature is sometimes lost when we allow the image of who we truly are to become distorted. We can come so far to even think we know who we are and cause hurt and pain to those in our community by our inability to live into that true image.
As Christians, we recognize this image as that of the perfect image of God in creation. When we talk about being created in God’s image, we do so in addressing the perfect image connected to the “Law of Love” that we were created in.
This skin, this body, the physical that makes up who we are is merely the covering creation has given us to protect the image of God within us.
However, the nature of creation has worked against that image and thereby has distorted it. Therefore, it is up to us to look at how we reclaim that image within ourselves, and what it means for others to witness it within us.
As we discussed last week (The Beatitudes):
We are in this section of the Gospel of Matthew, looking at Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. It is in this lengthy oration that we get the greatest insight into the nature of the kin-dom of God. While throughout the rest of the Gospel Jesus will offer several parables, this sermon offers a cohesive glimpse at this nature as Christ teaches.
Jesus moves on from these blessings and this understanding of blessings he is offering to the gathering, and he moves towards teachings. If you were to open to most translations of the Bible, many of these sections that follow the Beatitudes are often titled, “Concerning…” and Jesus addresses moral understandings, but before he gets there he makes a very bold claim for those in the crowd who are listening. Especially those in the crowd who would have identified as Jewish (which is probably most all of them).
Remember Jesus’ blessing in the Beatitude are ways we understand the work God has already done for us in a way, and Jesus is calling hearers to place their minds in a mentality of connection and relationship with God. Therefore, identity plays a huge mindset in how we perceive ourselves in this relationship.
So if we are loved by God, and it is by grace that we are endowed with our manner of blessings as humans what does that mean for us?
What are we? Who are we?
Well, according to Jesus, we are salt and light. Both of these “descriptors” of sorts offer a lens through which the world experiences the blessings of God through us. Here is a reminder that when we talk about “glimpses” of the kin-dom, we must name and recognize that as much as we see it through Jesus in the reading of these Gospels, it is through us in our contemporary age that these glimpses are witnessed.
Therefore, much like Simba needing to claim who he truly is to live into the promise of who his father taught him he could be at the beginning of the movie, we too are invited to understand our true identity as we live into the promise of what God desires for creation to be through humanity. These calls, work on a communal and kin-dom level as we examine the nature of righteousness and relationship in our lives.
So we are salt and light…
What does this mean?
How do we interpret these ideals?
As we understand Jesus’ words more, we learn that to be salt is about purpose, and to be light is about visibility. We both have a purpose and are seen by the world. The purpose of salt is its flavor, its properties, and its value. Jesus notes that without what makes “salt” salt, it loses all of its purpose. So too if we lose what makes us kin-dom people then we too have lost our purpose. We hold onto our purpose as a way to hold on to our connection with God and our role in the community which is the kin-dom.
When we dive deeper into “light” we see that Jesus acknowledges the visibility we have in the world. Not power, but visibility. This is where that line comes from, “they will know we are christians by our love.” Basically, they will know we are Christians by the light of God that is shone through us. If we distort this light or otherwise try to cover the light it distorts or masks the image of God that is embedded within each of us. We let that true image shine forth in our good works and others will see and experience God through that light.
This is our nature, and who we truly are. These are embedded parts of our being. These are descriptions, not commands. They are meant to unveil within us the true nature of who we are, and not try to tell us who we should be. This is the manner of righteousness that Jesus leads into as he continues to the next teaching where he unpacks the law. I have often thought that this second piece of the passage we read today goes better with the latter parts where Jesus talks about concerns in the law. Yet, compilers of the lectionary decided to attach it to this set of verses on salt and light.
While this is all believed to be one cohesive sermon (that is Matthew 5-7), lining the connections from one theme to the next becomes important. Yes, Jesus is moving himself to a discussion on the law, but first, he connects who we are, that is salt and light, to this manner of righteousness in God’s kin-dom. So it is no wonder there seems to be a disruption in the “normal order” of law as the Jewish elite think.
Jesus and “The Law”
There would have already been talk of Jesus’ teachings at this point and rumblings of a seemingly counter-law ideology. However, Jesus, before diving into what morality looks like for followers of God distinguishes himself with this argument. Jesus boldly claims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”2 However, the question is what “law” is Jesus talking about.
Again Jesus has offered this blessing, and he has named and identified the nature of who we are in the kin-dom, so why devolve into a discussion of law? Because in the Judaic and Pharisaic times, the law was the nature by which your righteousness was judged, and the law was often taken as a literal interpretation of a set of codified rules. Many of these rules are found in some of the books of the Torah. How then do we read this nature of law Jesus offers?
Here we must gain some context of Jesus’ interpretation of the law. We know the commandments Jesus talks about, we know the context through which Jesus interprets the law, and Jesus’ interpretation definitely relies on this embodiment of love that flows through much of God’s relationship with the Israelite people through the ages. Love God, Love one Another, and breaking these commandments places oneself in jeopardy of fracturing this nature of righteousness and the relationship we have with God.
We badly want to attach this nature of law that Christ brings up as those laws that exist in the Old Testament, but Jesus fulfills the nature of the law. Jesus fulfills the intention of the law and thereby helps us understand the law in a new light.
These are connected as we continue to understand and gain a glimpse into God’s kin-dom. It is in our own claiming of who we are in Christ that we understand deeper this nature of righteousness we are called toward. Remember how I talked about righteousness in relation to baptism in the first week?
“Righteousness refers to being faithful to relationships. You cannot be righteous all by yourself. You are righteous with God and righteous with one another. Righteousness implies a relationship.”3
Righteousness is the embodiment of a relationship with God and to exceed the righteousness of the scribes is to name how we deserve to belong in a relationship with God, because we are a part of God’s created order, not because of how pious we think ourselves in God’s eyes (something many of the Pharisees often failed to grasp).
As we reflect on this section of Jesus’ message we are left to inquire and unpack our own role. However, one thing is abundantly clear as we live into this message of righteousness, and embody being salt and light, and that is that we cannot do it from our own comfortable places. We must get out and be the kin-dom for others.
Be salt of the earth. Be the light of the world. In your journeys live into the righteousness in which you were created. Find your purpose, know you are seen, and in doing so connect and live into the holy relationship you have with your creator, sustainer, and redeemer.
And if you need help I am always here for you. May we find what makes us salt and may we let our perpetual light shine upon others.
Matt. 5:17 NRSVue