The Great Conundrum of the Christian Faith

Matthew 5:13-20

Reverend Stephen Caine


5:13 “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. 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. 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. 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, NRSV)


Let us pray: O God of light, your searching Spirit reveals and illumines your presence in creation. Shine your radiant holiness into our lives, that we may offer our hands and hearts to your work: to heal and shelter, to feed and clothe, to break every yoke and silence evil tongues. Amen.


There is a great conundrum in the Christian faith.  It is the tension between doing and being.  I am being overly simplistic, but basically there are Christians who talk a great deal about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  That relationship is the core of their faith.  There are other Christians who are much more interested in making a difference in the world.  The core of their faith is in expressing their beliefs in actions of service to others. This conundrum is further complicated and especially acute here in North America where there are Christians who have a hard time being dependent on God, letting go and letting God.  We want to do something to help ourselves.  It is very hard for doers to experience faith as being.  We like to “do” something with our faith.  We like a more active and tangible faith.  Other Christians have no problem with being still and knowing God.  We like the calm, reflective and thoughtful side of faith.  So which is better?


My reformed faith is based on the belief that we are justified by grace through faith in God.  It is what God has done for you, me and all humanity and it is not about what we do to earn God’s grace by our good works.  So, our teaching and our sermons bear witness to the work of God, God’s action and God’s activity.  This theology allows people freedom so we are not oppressed by the law, from having to dot every i and cross every t in order to be right with God.   This theology is great and wonderful and I believe it, but it is awfully hard to live.


The conundrum comes out in the day-to-day reality of the church. I have learned that people are much more interested in belonging to something they can invest in. You may know from your own life experience when you are invested in something you are far more likely to enjoy it, and your commitment to that venture or cause increases dramatically.  When you are invited to contribute to a cause or a venture and you are invested deeply in it; it means more to you, Right?    When you contribute more than just your money, when you give of yourself, your time, your talents and your energy than it becomes a part of you.


Have you ever been asked, “To do some meaningless task because someone needs to do it?”  You probably didn’t stay committed very long and the cause or the venture wasn’t that important to you for very long – but when you’re invited to use your gifts to make a difference, you feel so much more a part of the venture or the cause, don’t you?


And there is the conundrum: I have learned that people actually want to contribute, to make a difference, to share what they’ve been given as a meaningful gift, and yet I’ve spent a lot of my ministry telling people that it is not our good works that save us, that it is the work of God that saves us.  The crux of our faith is that we don’t do those good works in order to earn favor with God, to earn our salvation, to build ourselves up.  We do our “good works” in response to God  — for God has already saved us, to God already claiming us, to God becoming one of us.


Which brings us back to this week’s passage from Matthew.  Jesus and the disciples are on the mountain and he is preaching his famous “sermon on the mount.”  And he just plain tells them that that’s what they are. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Notice, that Jesus doesn’t give the disciples instructions on how to become salt and light.


Jesus does not command them to do anything but he tells them who they already are — they are salt and light.  He commissions them to be the persons they’ve been called to be.   To let their light shine so that others will see their good works and glorify God.   Jesus isn’t asking them to earn their salvation, of course, but to live out the salvation and discipleship that has been given them as a gift.


Maybe I am wrong about this conundrum but it seems that these two different views of Christianity don’t realize that both can actually be true within one person’s faith.  Our scripture readings for today seem to point to the reality that as Christians we cannot make any real impact on the world without that personal relationship with Jesus, without a vibrant, strong connection with God.  And, that no strong relationship with God is possible without an engagement with the outside world and the needs and the struggles of that world.  It is “Both/And” not “Either/Or”.


This conundrum is evident throughout the Bible.  On the one hand are those people in the Bible who define religion as adhering to the religious law.  The core of their faith is practicing the rituals, praying, fasting, and sacrificing, following the letter of the religious laws.  This religion is the way of the Temple and the priest.  But then there are others throughout the Bible who see their faith as the difference it make in the way they live their life.  Their faith leads them to care for the poor, the weak, the hurting.  The conundrum continues today but in some ways it is a tension that really doesn’t need to be a problem.  Because our faith is about both.   Both being and doing.   Both following the law and caring for others and the world.


So, I need your help with this conundrum.  I would like you to take the piece of paper that was passed out to you and follow the directions this week and notice how you are Salt and Light…


Jesus called us Salt and Light. And that’s what we are. I want to give you the chance to be Salt and Light this week so I encourage you to look for the good things that you are already doing in our church, our schools, our community and the world.


Spend a little time “being,” thinking, reflecting, praying and then express the ways you live out your faith, use your gifts.


The question we have to ask ourselves is in what ways do we know and do others experience that we have a real, vibrant, close relationship with God?  How do our actions and the way we live illustrate our relationship to God?


The promise of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ, is that when we live like this, when we are salt and light for the world, the world actually becomes just a little bit better, a little gentler, kinder, more compassionate, and more Christ-like.  So go and be salt and let your light shine.

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