Scott Mims–Virginia Beach, VA


Warm-up Question

  • On a scale from 1 to 10 – with 1 being totally pessimistic and 10 being totally optimistic – how do you see the world today?
  • Using the same scale, how do you view the possibilities for your future?
  • Do you think that our present vision of reality – how we “see” things today – impacts the future we will experience? Why or why not?

Vision for the Future

On Friday, January 20, Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.  In his inaugural address, President Trump laid out an assessment of our nation’s current situation, as well as a vision of the challenges that his administration will overcome as part of a “great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.”  With stirring images that evoke solidarity, unity of purpose, and a focus on America first, President Trump presented, in broad, bold strokes, a plan to “make America great again.”

Naturally, reactions to the President’s speech have been mixed.  His words have met with great approval among many Americans. They have found this address “revolutionary,” “memorable,” and “inspiring.”[1]  Others have characterized the speech as “dark and defiant,” both in terms of the current picture it paints of our nation, and the path that it lays before us.[2]  We will all have to wait and see how President Trump’s vision for America actually unfolds in the coming years, but, for the moment, his first address to the nation as President has provided much for people to think about and discuss.

A full transcript of President Trump’s speech can be found online:

Discussion Questions

  • Did you watch the inauguration or a replay of the President’s speech? If so, what do you think about his address? How do you feel about the vision it presents?(Note: if your group is particularly divided in opinion, of if there are strong feelings present, practice the discipline of listening to one another in love by giving each person an opportunity to simply share their feelings or opinions without rebuttal, debate, or any need to convince others.)
  • Using a piece of paper, a dry erase board, or some way of making a list, record your group’s answers to the following two questions:
    1. When you think about your community, our nation, and the world today, what is the “darkness” that you see? That is, what are some of the issues, situations, or problems that make you most worried, fearful or anxious about the future?
    2. What “light” is there for you? What makes you hopeful, encouraged, or inspired?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

This week’s gospel lesson is from a collection of Jesus’ teaching that we call The Sermon on the Mount.  Though the crowds are listening in on this “sermon”, Jesus’ is speaking primarily to his disciples.  And so, his teachings today are especially for all who would seek to follow him.

Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth….” Jesus often took ordinary things and turned them into lessons that explained deeper realities, and that is exactly what he is doing in verses 13-16. To begin with, salt was a very precious commodity in the Ancient world.  It was used to preserve food as well as to season it.  There is a distinctive “flavor” that Jesus’ followers are to bring to the world as we seek to impact things for good. Even so, salt back then often wasn’t pure.  It could lose its saltiness, leaving behind the impurities in the form of a useless white residue.  In a similar fashion, those who claim to follow Jesus, but whose lives are not characterized by service, care for others, self-discipline and mutual love, are like this “non-salt” – empty of any real flavor.

“You are the light of the world….”  Like salt, even a little light in a darkened room can make a big difference. It lights up the way, exposes the shadows for what they really are; it brings direction, help, clarity, comfort. According to the Prophet Isaiah, part of Israel’s calling from God was to be a “light to the nations.” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6)  They were to be light-bearers to shine God’s light and love into all of the dark corners of the world.  Like a lamp giving light to all in the house, their lives were not just to show evil up for what it really is, but to allow people to find their way out by coming to know God. In the same way, our good works are not to be hidden.  We, too, are called by God in baptism to be light-bearers as we reflect the light of Christ into our world.  As we say when we hand a candle to those who have just been baptized, we are to let the light within us shine, that people may see our good works and give God praise and glory.

Another point to make about these verses is that the “you” in them is plural, not singular. Or, as we would say where I grew up, “All y’all are the salt of the earth….” The point being that it is the community of Jesus’ followers as whole that is being challenged to live as salt and light together.  We cannot accomplish these things all on our own, we need one another and a community of faith.

And finally, being salt and light is based on who we already are in Christ.  Jesus says, “You are salt…you are light,” not that doing certain things will make us salt and light.  As Lutherans, we understand that it is God’s love and grace in our lives that saves us and makes us God’s own. Our good works, our living out our “saltiness” and sharing the light of Christ with the world, come as our response to what God, in Christ, has first done for us.

The Law and the Prophets

There has been much scholarly debate over the second part of our gospel lesson, and what exactly it means for Jesus to fulfill the law and the prophets.  That is, what does it mean that the whole story of Israel – all of the commands and promises of the scriptures – are to come true in him?  Is it Jesus’ own personal keeping of Torah?  Is it, as Matthew often points out, the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus’ life?  Is it Jesus’ own authority, and his teaching as expressed in the love-commandment (22:40) from which the other commandments take their meaning? Is it all of these and more? Many possibilities are discussed.

Yet, whatever Jesus’ fulfillment of the law and prophets ultimately means, it is clear that he does not throw out the Hebrew Scriptures – what we call our Old Testament.  Even though Jesus does reinterpret key passages at later points in Matthew’s gospel, the law and the prophets are still important for followers of Jesus.

It is also clear, from the final verse of this passage, that the sort of righteousness – that is, right behavior and actions – that Jesus is looking for is the righteousness which comes from hearts and minds that are guided by his teachings and example.  In short, we are to “practice what we preach.”  This will become even more apparent as we continue through the Sermon on the Mount over the next several Sundays.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think it means to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world?” Can you think of specific attitudes, actions, values or beliefs that go along with being salt and light?
  • What are some of your favorite verses from the Bible? How do you experience God speaking to you through these scriptures?
  • How might you be “light” to one another? What are some ways you can support one another in your daily walk of faith?
  • Revisit your list of “darkness” and “light” from the current events discussion. How might you bring the light of Christ into some of the areas of darkness you have listed? Can you choose an issue or two and brainstorm some individual or group actions that you could possibly take?  Don’t underestimate the power of small acts.  Remember, it only takes a little salt to season a dish; it only takes one candle to pierce the darkness.
  • Vision is a powerful thing. The pictures we hold in our minds have great impact, not only on how things turn out, but on who we are.  Talk together about Jesus’ vision for his followers – his vision for the church. As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, where do you think we need to be re-formed today?  What might that mean for you personally?

Activity Suggestions

  • How could you be “salt” together in your own community? Are there needs or issues that you could address in even small ways?  How might your group serve together?
  • For a more active take on the above question, split into groups of 3-4 participants. Give each group a large, blank sheet of paper some markers.  Have them draw a picture of a “salty Christian,” depicting / labeling specific attitudes, actions, or values. For instance, they might draw a “heart of faith,” “hands for serving,” etc.

For further ideas on being “salt” and “light” in regards to some of the larger issues faced by our nation and world, check out the article “Advocacy as witness: A voice for common good” in the October 2016 edition of Living Lutheran.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, you name us your own and call us to reflect your love into the world.   Help us to do so.  Give us eyes to see the many opportunities for sharing and experiencing grace that you give to us day by day.  Give us feet to walk in your way, and catch us when we stumble.  And give us hands to reach out in love and action that we may bring your light to dark places. This we pray in your holy name.  Amen