Today’s texts from Isaiah and Matthew talk about what it takes to get on God’s good side. Both Isaiah and Matthew agree that God’s blessing cannot be forced and that external acts of piety and sacrifice, if they are divorced from acts of justice and mercy, will not “put us right” with God.
Isaiah challenges God’s people to set aside their sackcloth and ashes and instead stop oppressing workers, break the collars of the slaves, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and house the homeless. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his fellow Jews that as God’s chosen people they were to be a blessing to the world (i.e. “salt”) but that like salt that has lost its saltiness, they have ceased to be a blessing to anyone, including themselves. In our own day, perhaps we should stop worrying about whether we are called a Christian nation, and worry more about acting like one.
By his life and teaching (c.f. Matt 5:19) Jesus restores the blessing to God’s chosen people so that they (now we) can once again be a blessing to the world. We have been declared salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). We have been declared lights of the world (Matt. 5:14). This is so because God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has said it.
Preached by the Rev. Jake Dell on February 5, 2017 at Holy Trinity Church Inwood.