Meditation on Matthew 5:13–20
Feb. 9, 2020
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
13 “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 underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 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.
You know how we make plans, and then nothing goes as planned? That’s how it has been for us these last few days.
Yesterday was the presbytery meeting in Zanesville. I was planning on going with Jim, and an elder was going to ride with us. The general presbyter, the Rev. Matt Skolnik, asked me to share about a struggle in my life. He is trying to encourage us to be vulnerable with one another and build trust in our community.
But I never got to that presbytery meeting to share my struggle. Instead, God allowed a new struggle in my life. It was another opportunity for me to see the power of God in my weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
On Friday night after supper, we discovered that our cat Melvyn suddenly could not walk or stand. His hind legs buckled underneath him. When I picked him up, he groaned in pain. And though he drank a little water, he didn’t want to eat any of his food.
This was around 8– after hours for vets. We left a message for Dr. Butcher on his cell phone. He quickly called us back and we told him what was happening. He listened patiently as I cried through my description of my cat’s behavior, and said, very gently, “I don’t know if I can help him. But I can go open up the clinic and take a look at him if you bring him in.” He said that he was on his way. “Just let me put on my shoes.”
He opened up the clinic for one, old kitty. He examined him and passed me a tissue to blow my nose. He told me that he didn’t think Mel was dying, but that he needed to keep him all night to find out what was wrong. Even then, he couldn’t promise that he could heal Melvyn—only that we would try to make him more comfortable, make the quality of his life better. I asked if I could spend the night with Melvyn, and he said no. And that other people had asked!
I could hardly sleep Friday night, wondering if my cat was ever going to come home again. Was he going to die? I kept waking up and feeling the place beside me where he usually sleeps, then remembering, all over again, what had happened. In the darkness, I tried but couldn’t remember what life was like before Melvyn joined our family about 7 years ago, a stray of middle age in rural Minnesota.
I thought about how it felt each night when he climbed up and lay on my belly and chest, purring when I stroked his face. And how he would put his paws on either side of my neck, as if he were hugging me. How he woke us up early every morning, meowing and licking and rubbing my face with his head and touching my nose and mouth with his paw.
I prayed for healing and thanked God for the gift of Melvyn’s life. As tears slipped down my cheeks, I gave my burden to the source of my faith. The One who, in the poem Footprints in the Sand, has carried me.
Through Melvyn, we have learned about God’s love and grace in this messy, imperfect, unpredictable world.
He has been for us salt and light.
Our passage in the gospel of Matthew today comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in chapter 5. Jesus sees the crowds following him, and he goes up the mountain and sits down to teach, as was the custom in those days. And his disciples come to him, too. This sermon is meant for the crowds in his day who were drawn to the man performing miracles of healing and teaching with authority, unlike the scribes. It’s for the original disciples, called to leave their old lives behind and follow Him. And it’s for us and everyone who will listen and obey.
The Sermon on the Mount is meant to challenge and change us and not entertain us and always make us feel good about our lives. For Jesus says hard things, such as “love your enemies,” and that having bad thoughts about someone or calling them a name is like committing murder in our hearts. The Sermon on the Mount is for those who want to live out this new covenant with God in Jesus Christ—for those who are doers and not hearers, only, a message that will be picked up by James.
Jesus will say in Matthew 7, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
While in Matthew 6:1, Jesus will urge us to do our good deeds in secret for a reward in heaven, here the Lord encourages us also to be public with our acts of kindness. Why? To witness to the Kingdom of God, where the greatest is the servant of all and fulfilling the law can be summed up in a word: love. Christ says in Matthew 5:16, “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.”
What prepares us for this mission and shapes our thoughts, words and deeds? The Word of God. To those who believe the Old Testament is no longer needed as the New Testament replaces it, hear the words of the Lord. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” he says, beginning at verse 17. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 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.”
With our encouragement to be salt and light, we are warned not to lose our saltiness and, in our diminishment, be rendered useless in the mission of God, or hide our light—hoarding the good news to ourselves, without taking a risk and going out into the darkness to share it.
Salt is a natural flavoring, obtained from the shores of the Dead Sea. It is a preservative so that foods don’t quickly spoil. It is a purifier, added to the ancient sacrifices in the Temple. It is a cleanser and promotes healing of wounds. Every living creature needs salt to live.
And light shines in the darkness, where there is pain and oppression, evil and brokenness, ignorance and injustice. The light of Christ, forever shining in and through us, brings understanding and forgiveness, hope and healing, justice, joy, and peace.
What is it, my friends, that could cause you to lose your saltiness? Discouragement? Doubts? Weariness? Grief?
What is it, my friends, that would lead you to hide your light from the world, when we are called to shine through acts of kindness that others can see and give God the glory?
Last night, as I was finishing preparing for my message, my cat, Melvyn, lay beside me, stretched out peacefully on an electric blanket on my bed. He had spent the night before at Dr. Butcher’s clinic and had IV fluids, blood tests, and X-rays. He was able to eat in the morning. The doctor joked that maybe he decided he had better eat so he could go home. Melvyn’s problems, Dr. Butcher said, are due to aging. High blood pressure may have led to blindness. Arthritis and neuropathy have caused pain in his hips and back and weakness in his hind legs. With anti-inflammatory medication, his quality of life should improve. But he’s still not walking.
Our prayers continue for his healing. And I continue to thank God for the gift of his life. And for all the kind people in our life, especially those in this small town, such as Gere Butcher, who opened his clinic for one, old, formerly stray kitty on a cold, snowy night. Dr. Butcher, with his soft words and gentle manner, is salt and light.
As are you, my friends! You who come to worship every Sunday, to hear the Word and draw nearer to Him. You who love His Church and are praying for growth! You who are brave enough to tell your stories of God’s blessings and your struggles and give of yourselves. You who want to share God’s love.
You who long for healing and to be made whole. You who want to be strengthened to minister in the world.
You who come because you have heard God’s voice and answered the call.
You are salt and light!
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing your love to us through the giving of Your Son, so that we may live abundantly and eternally with you. We are grateful for the many blessings in our lives—for our congregation, our family and friends, for our beloved pets. Please heal the sick in our families, including our sick pets, such as little Melvyn. Help us, Lord, to be more faithful to be what you have called us to be. Teach us your Word and stir us to pray. Lead us to be obedient to your will. Give us courage to share our stories of your blessings. May we live out our new identities in Christ. May we be salt and light. Amen.