Christ the Liberator

Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Date: Epiphany V + 2/9/14

As we continue to encourage each other on our journey of faith and life, saying, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” suddenly today Jesus stops, turns to us and counters, saying, “You are the light!” Today God’s Word wants to turn you into a “Lib.” No not a political or social “liberal” but a disciple of Christ the Liberator. On the one hand, by our baptism into Christ and by faith in Him alone we have been liberated from sin and death and have the sure promise of resurrection and eternal life. On the other hand we are called to live as if we have been liberated, no longer enslaved to sin. St. Paul urges us on as he wrote to the Ephesians, saying, “this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:17-24).

He calls this new life “learning Christ” and “the life of God.” We heard God’s own Word today describing this new life through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Is 58:6ff.). This is what our Lord is talking about in today’s gospel, saying, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” You are because Christ has made you anew, because Christ lives in you.

We are talking about the doctrine of sanctification or holy living. But you cannot live this new, holy life if you have not first received holiness, that is the gift of justification, conversion and salvation by means of the gift of faith. We missed the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount last Sunday as the feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord took precedence. But you cannot really, accurately hear today’s gospel unless you have first heard the Beatitudes describing the new person God has made and is making of you by Christ now living in you.

Baptized into Christ what has He made of you? Well He has liberated you from fear, that is freed you to admit the truth that you have nothing to offer God in return because your salvation and life is totally gift of God and in no way a result of your works. You are poor in spirit. Therefore you are blessed. What has Christ made of you? He has given you eyes to see the way things really are in the world. It is not only “rotten in Denmark,”[1] but everywhere. But you can honestly mourn over all that because one day (we have His promise) God will take all the mourning away. You have been liberated from pride, for the meek shall inherit the earth. You have been made merciful to others because you know God’s mercy to you. He makes you pure in heart and to be a maker of peace.

Now when He says you are salt and light He means that you bring the flavor and vision of God to others, so that others might, as the psalm says, “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). When He says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works,” He in no way means to shine the spotlight on you, as He will warn in the next chapter, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” that is to somehow say something about yourself. No. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” In other words that others may see in you not something great and admirable about you, but that they may see something that is great and admirable about God through you.

John Kleinig in his book “Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today” beautifully describes how discipleship and the Christian life are not as much about us as about God. He talks about the journey of the Christian life as having two sides like a coin. “On the one hand, it is a journey in which we live by the grace of God. As we travel with Christ, God the Father reaches out to each of us in the same way through His Word. Through His Word He generates and maintains our faith; through His Word, which is enacted in proclamation, absolution, Baptism, and Holy Communion, He gives us the Holy Spirit and all His gifts….

“On the other hand, in our journey we live by faith in the multicolored grace of God, just as plants live by the light of the sun…. By faith we, each in our own way and in keeping with our character, appropriate for ourselves what is given to us at each stage in our life cycle. This means that Christ accommodates Himself to us as we are and deals with us subjectively according to our personality, bringing out our true color.” All of this, he says, is so that we “mirror some of the fullness of Christ.” I like his comment that “we are not called to live as practical atheists, people who, theoretically, believe in God, and yet act as if God has nothing to do with their daily lives.”[2] Let your light so shine.

This life where, by grace, we become salt and light for others happens through the constant interplay between the Word of God we hear and our experiences in life. When we turn off, ignore or “despise” God’s Word we become like salt that has lost its saltiness or like a lamp put under a basket.

Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin and death. By the sacrifice of His very body, His holy body and blood on the cross, He bore our sin and satisfied, brought to an end, God’s wrath against sin. Now by faith in that same blood we are cleansed of our sin and called the children of God. Jesus Christ is our Savior.

But, of course, we’re not there yet. Where? In the fullness of eternal life in the day of resurrection. So until then Jesus Christ is also our Liberator, that is He has set us free by the grace of God to worship God humbly and without fear and serve our neighbor in love. Through that worship and service the grace and love of God flavors and enlightens our lives and, through us, the lives of others.

So says St. John of us who have become salt and light in the world, and of our effect on others: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). Then may we and all with us give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

[1] Shakespear, Hamlet (1. 4).

[2] Kleinig, Grace upon Grace, pp. 43-44.