**Photo: Cantor Zachary Kutner, January 27, 2023. See this photo and more in the Facebook post here: Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kavod Senior Life.
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, February 5, 2023
[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the 1 Corinthians reading may be found at the end of the sermon]
Isaiah 58:1-9a Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9aThen you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Matthew 5:13-20 [Jesus said:] 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 under foot.
14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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. 18For 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. 19Therefore, 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. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Salt makes the world a better place. Those of us who have ever been put on a salt restriction know that salt becomes obvious when it’s missing. I was talking with an Augustana friend recently who relocated to a Senior Living near her son. When I asked how the food was, she said it was okay but that in meeting the various residents’ health needs there was a lack of salt and seasoning in the food. Saltshakers are not on the table and so she brings her own salt shaker to the meal. (I have filed this smart tip away for use at a later date.) Salt is one of those things for which a little goes a long way. I’ve ruined a perfectly good egg salad sandwich or two being heavy handed with the shaker. Salt, though, when applied properly, works with food to make it better. Light is similar. Light brightens what already exists to help us perceive the world around us.
When Jesus calls his followers “salt” and “light,” he is calling them “salt” and “light” as a group. We’ve talked before about how our Southern friends do better translating the plural “you,” as in “y’all,” or “all y’all” for emphasis. Here’s a quick example. Continuous with the Bible reading from last Sunday on the Beatitudes to today’s reading, we hear Jesus say to his disciples:
All y’all are the salt of the earth…all y’all are the light of the world…let all y’all’s light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:13-14, 16]
When we sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” we don’t ordinarily sing it by ourselves. Does anyone do that? I can think of one person who probably does. Most of us have maybe hummed it a time or two in our heads as it echoes there after worship. Feel free to let me know if I got this one wrong. I have to admit that I don’t sing it by myself. I sing it in children’s time in worship or with Augustana’s Early Learning Center kids during their chapel time. Every so often we’ll sing it after the sermon as a Hymn of the Day in response to the sermon. Mostly we sing it together. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” I like that it’s a together thing because it gets at what Jesus announces to his disciples.
Notice that Jesus isn’t telling them what to do. He’s describing something, not prescribing it. Jesus is telling them what they already are – salt and light. Be salty (a note to the gamers among us, not the kind of salty that means bitter). Don’t hide your light. Let your light shine and, in doing so, the good works that come from the light will point to God. It’s a subtle point but it’s an important one. We talk a lot in Lutheran Christian circles about God’s movement to us. God showing up in Jesus. We don’t build a ladder to God. God brings God’s self to us. When we hear this, more than a few of us might be thinking, “Ruh roh, I don’t think I’m salt and light, God must have missed me with the saltshaker because I can be a real jerk.” This may be your good news day because of course we can be jerks. But God calls us back by our baptisms, over and over again, to remind us that we are salt and light and that we are free to be salt and light. We, the church, all y’all, are salt and light together. Being salt and light is a group experience that leads to group projects. The church word for group project is ministry.
That’s why Jesus’ speech about the law and commandments follow the salt and light comments. Not as a way to lord righteousness over our neighbors or as a performance to get their attention.  Rather, commandments are given to us as a way to live well with our neighbors, to be who God says we are in relationship with our neighbors. The Gospel of Matthew can be tricky because it appears that there was stress within the 1st century Matthean community between Jews and Jewish Christians. Some readings like ours today are an example of that 1st century stress and can be misconstrued to be anti-Jew or anti-law, as if somehow Jesus found the Jewish tradition obsolete and in need of an overhaul. The verses about following the law connect Jesus’ teaching with Moses – not as a split, as an extension of the covenant. Our reading from the book of Isaiah says that feeding the hungry, covering the naked, and loosening the bonds of injustice by freeing the oppressed shall break forth your light like the dawn.
In the last few weeks, one of my Rabbi friends and I were in a conversation about a public comment that I had made about Christians and Jews being “cousins in the faith.” It’s something I’ve said before in different places, but I suddenly questioned my thinking out loud and added that I’d need to double check that statement. In our follow-up conversation, Rabbi Brian aligned with the expression, “cousins in the faith” because it acknowledges that both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism grew like branches from the trunk of the Hebrew Bible that Christians call the Old Testament. Rabbinic Judaism grew like one branch while Christianity grew like another branch at about the same time during the 1st century.
A few weeks after this conversation with Rabbi Brian, I brought your congregational greetings from Augustana to the residents of Kavod Senior Life, a Jewish hosted residence for older adults just a few blocks west from our building. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz, a concentration camp during World War II, and honoring the lives of over 6 million Jews who were murdered along with millions of non-Jews – Poles, Russians, Roma, disabled people, political opponents, and LGBTQ folks – and the many who survived to live and remember, including honoring a few survivors who were there that day. The event at Kavod was reverent and hopeful. Rabbi Steve, Kavod’s chaplain, organized the event and invited me as both a Christian pastor of a neighboring congregation and as a resource for their Christian residents. One of the leaders during the event was Cantor Zachary Kutner, a 97-year-old holocaust survivor who sang the signature prayer of remembrance (El Malei Rachamim). His voice was as boldly life-filled as it was mind-blowing, chanting from quiet meditation to loud exuberance and back again. As we continue this year’s journey through the Gospel of Matthew, it matters how we talk and think about our Jewish cousins in the faith. Let’s keep talking and thinking.
“All ya’ll are salt and light,” Jesus said. Together as the church, we dip back into this baptismal promise on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute, basis – resting not on human wisdom but on the power of God made vulnerable in Christ Jesus and him crucified. The light of Christ shining through the cross is not permission to do whatever the heck we want when we want to. Christ’s light gives us freedom to experience the transforming power of faith through our congregation, through all y’all.
Freedom that free us to admit when we’ve been jerks.
Freedom to experience forgiveness and try again to love God, love neighbor, and love ourselves.
Freedom to be salt and light for the sake of this world God so loves.
Thanks be to God and amen.
 “Salty” is a word used as urban slang to mean bitter or upset. https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/salty#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Online%20Etymology%20Dictionary%2C%20the%20U.S.,as%20%22looking%20stupid%E2%80%A6%20because%20of%20something%20you%20did%22.
 Melanie A. Howard, Associate Professor and Program Director of Biblical and Theological Studies, Fresno Pacific University, CA. Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20 for Workingpreacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-after-epiphany/commentary-on-matthew-513-20-5
 Hymn of the Day is the song sung after the sermon, usually connected to one of the Bible readings or the preacher’s sermon.
 Howard, Ibid.
 Rabbi Brian Field, Denver, CO. Founding and Former Rabbi of Judaism Your Way.
 Rabbi Steve Booth-Nadav, Chaplain, Kavod Senior Life, and Director of Multifaith Leadership Forum in Denver.
 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
 Leviticus 19:18 and Luke 10:27 – Once again Jesus teaches within the Jewish tradition, “love your neighbor as yourself.
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.