Preacher: Jenn Hosler
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16
Date: February 5, 2023
The Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew 5 and Jesus has just started his ministry. In the chapter before, we see Jesus preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus calls Simon (Peter) and Andrew and James and John, away from their lives as fishermen, to come and follow him as a teacher. Jesus then goes throughout Galilee with them, teaching in synagogues and proclaiming good news of the kingdom, curing people of illnesses and diseases. Great crowds start following him everywhere. When we enter the scene in Matthew 5: Jesus is surrounded by crowds and heads up to the top of the mountain to teach. His disciples join him and, presumably, some of the crowd does as well.
The teachings from Jesus that we are focusing on today will be covered in two parts, separated by a song. First, we see the Constitution of the Margins in the Beatitudes. Second, we hold two images in hand that depict the body of Jesus followers as salty, shiny people.
Constitution of the Margins
Theologian Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, often speaks about how “We the People” in the U.S. Constitution never meant to include “all the people.” When written in 1776, it was designed to protect the interests of white, land-owning men (since those were the people who could vote at that time). Charles (2019) notes that women never are mentioned. In defining who the document applies to, the founders went out of their way to make sure it specifically excluded Indigenous persons, while also counting Black men as 3/5ths of a person in terms of taxation. There have been amendments, sure, but Mark Charles argues that the United States has never really worked to transform this document, to ensure that “We the People” really means “All the people.” He posits that the Constitution is thus a flawed document—racist and sexist from the start—that shapes our common life in the United States, our laws and legal interpretation, how our leaders govern, etc. Is it really surprising that we still have so much to reckon with, as a country?
Our passage today is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ big sermon in Matthew. This sermon by Jesus is something like a founding document: a charter, something that orients, sets the tone and the purpose for Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas sees the Sermon on the Mount as a “Constitution” of God’s people. He writes that the Sermon is “not addressed to individuals but to the community… of the disciples. The sermon is not a heroic ethic. It is the constitution of a people” (2006, p. 61). The values defined in the Sermon on the Mount are the ones to guide the life of the church. The Sermon on the Mount “is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus” (Hauerwas, 2006, p. 61).
As I meditated on the Beatitudes this weekend, especially as I took part in some online conversations about inclusion, equality, and power in the church, it struck me that the Sermon on the Mount, this alternative constitution, actually makes a framework for including the marginalized, rather than excluding them. The ethic of Jesus is not of the rich and powerful, the famous, the landowners and the elite, coming into God’s Kingdom and being lauded. As Donald Kraybill has put it, Jesus speaks of an “upside-down Kingdom” where the values of the world are turned on their heads.
To me, the Beatitudes seem to be carving out a storyline for those the world would rather look past. They are carving out a storyline for the marginalized, the despised, those doing the right thing, those who work to be kind, those standing up for integrity, those working hard to make peace. God’s Kingdom is where the lowly, the broken, the humble, the quiet people of integrity, are given the blessings from God.
I’d like to reread the Beatitude scriptures from a Bible translation that is new to me, the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. This translation, centered in Indigenous cultural idiom, sheds new insight on the upside-down way of Jesus.
When Creator Sets Free (Jesus) saw this great crowd, he went back up into the mountainside and sat down to teach the people. His followers came to him there, so he took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and began to share his wisdom with them and teach them how to see the Creator’s good road.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the poor, the ones with broken spirits. The good road from above is theirs to walk.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk a trail of tears, for he will wipe tears from their eyes and comfort them.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk softly and in a humble manner. The earth, land, and sky will welcome them and always be their home.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right again. They will eat and drink until they are full.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are merciful and kind to others. Their kindness will find its way back to them—full circle.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the pure of heart. They are the ones who will see the Great Spirit.
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who make peace. It will be said of them, they are the children of the Great Spirit!
“Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are hunted down and mistreated for doing what is right, for they are walking the good road from above.”
The ones with broken spirits, the poor. The ones who walk a trail of tears, forced from their homes. The ones who walk softly and in a humble manner. The ones who hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right again. The ones who are merciful and kind to others. The pure of heart. The ones who make peace. The ones who are hunted down and mistreated for doing what is right.
These are all the people that cultures and societies tend to disregard and to not see, from Jesus time to ours. These are the people who do not feel seen, who endure hardship or labor doing the right thing. It can be seemingly thankless and without reward. God says to these folks on the margins, I see you. God does see your sorrow at injustice, your tireless kindness, your mercy, your peacemaking. God’s blessings rest on you and goodness will come, even if the signs of our present rulers and principalities and cultures don’t show it. To me, the Beatitudes seem to be carving out a storyline for those the world would rather look past. They are carving out a storyline for the marginalized, the despised, those doing the right thing, those who work to be kind, those standing up for integrity, those working hard to make peace. God’s Kingdom is where the lowly, the broken, the humble, the quiet people of integrity, are given the blessings from God.
I’m going to re-read these again (they will be on the screen), followed by a brief silence. We’ll have an opportunity to share what stood out to you from this translation.
[re-read, silence, brief sharing]
Salty, Shiny People
Salt is something that seems negligible today, but in Jesus’ day and even in the Middle Ages, salt was extremely valuable. When we were in Austria and Germany this past fall, we visited several castles that were set along salt trade routes. “In Roman times, and throughout the Middle Ages, salt was a valuable commodity, also referred to as ‘white gold.’ This high demand for salt was due to its important use in preserving food, especially meat and fish. Being so valuable, soldiers in the Roman army were sometimes paid with salt instead of money” (Hordijk, 2014). Salt is something we take for granted today, it is even too much in packaged food that it leads to disease.
Light is also something that was once valuable and we now take for granted. Jesus’ audience could not flip a switch; they needed to buy oil for lamps, needed to start fires with flint. It was interesting to me that the word “light” is sometimes used as a synonym for electricity in some cultures. In northern Nigeria, the “light” was hardly on. In an equatorial climate, without short winters but also without long summer days, when the power was gone, you worked in the dark and had to use a lantern, a candle, a flashlight, or solar-powered-LEDs, depending on your access to resources. The lack of light was challenging, but the stars were incredibly beautiful. Here, we have so much easy access to light that our light pollution harms the bugs and birds, while also disrupting our own circadian rhythms.
Jesus tells his audience that their lives on the “good road” should be notable in their flavor and brightness.
“As you walk the good road with me, you are the salt of the earth, bringing cleansing and healing to all. Salt is a good thing, but if it loses its saltiness, how will it get its flavor back? That kind of salt has no worth and is thrown out.
As you walk the road with me, you are a light shining in this dark world. A village built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one hides a torch under a basket. Instead, it is lifted high on a pole, so all who are in the house can see it. In the same way, let your light shine by doing what is good and right. When others see, they will give honor to your Father—the One Above us All.”
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. One commentator noted that the “you” here is actually plural, so we should understand Jesus’ exhortations about salt and light to be to y’all. How are we bringing cleansing and healing? How are we shining through good deeds—and bringing honor to the Creator through it? The work of God is not something that we do by ourselves; “it is one we must work at together” (Hare, 44).
Another observation is that, while Jesus does not say why or how we are salt or light, he does indicate what the purpose is for. You are salt—of the earth. You are a light—for the world. The work of God in our lives is not by ourselves and it is also not solely for ourselves. What God is doing in our lives is for us as individuals, it happens in and through and alongside other Jesus followers and is oriented towards others.
What does it mean to be salt of the earth? Commentator Douglas Hare writes that perhaps more meaning would be found in a different image: “you are the red-hot pepper for the whole earth!” This past fall, when I harvested super-hot Trinidad scorpion peppers, Zander and Jacob preserved them in miso to give them extra flavor before turning them into hot sauce. I’ve recently tried this hot sauce – and just a single drop can heat up an entire dish.
Are we adding flavor to the world around us? Is our presence as an ingredient noticeable? Are we covering up our common light somehow? How do we get it on a pole for all to see?
I’m going to close by reading the scripture again, with a moment of silence. You are welcome to share reflections on both texts. What stands out to you, calls to you?
Sisters and brothers, Siblings in Christ, we are called onto the good road of Jesus, Creator Makes Free. Our guiding document in the Sermon on the Mount carves out space for those the world would rather look past. God’s Kingdom is where the lowly, the broken, the humble, the quiet people of integrity, are given the blessings from God. We claim the blessings of God’s Upside-Down Kingdom. Together, we can be the salty, shiny people of God, bringing forth God’s Kingdom of justice and mercy. AMEN.
Charles, M. (2019). We the People – The three most misunderstood words in US history. Retrieved from https://wirelesshogan.com/2019/01/30/we-the-people-the-three-most-misunderstood-words-in-us-history/
Hare, D.R.A. (1993). Matthew. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press.
Hauerwas, S. (2006) Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.
Hordijk, W. (2014). From Salt To Salary: Linguists Take A Page From Science. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/11/08/362478685/from-salt-to-salary-linguists-take-a-page-from-science
Wildman, T.M. (Ed.). (2021). First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP.