Pastoral Prayer: Lord God Almighty, the world is full of morons, and we may be counted among them. Remind us today that it is foolish to think that anyone but you cares enough about us to take up with us. Call us to trust in the One whose faithfulness is for us morons. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
You can’t make some things up. Dr. Dan Kent, my Old Testament professor in Seminary began each class by pointing to illustrations where stories or sayings from the Old Testament would show up in newspapers covering subjects ranging from sports to natural disasters, from human tragedies to political analysis and more. That habit forms in a young student a tendency to look for occasions where something from God’s Word shows up in the most unsuspecting places.
Take for instance the way a parable of Jesus gets acted out in, of all places, the National Prayer Breakfast. The theme for this year’s event centered on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: 44,
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Harvard Professor, Arthur Brooks, provided the keynote address to members of Congress from both Houses and all parties, as well as invited guests. He stated the obvious. The key issue creating division in our Country is contempt. Brooks could have used another passage from the Sermon on the Mount to illustrate,
But I say to you that if you are angry with your brother or sister you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
Dallas Willard described the progression Jesus gives here ending with a contemptible posture toward another human being. This is the root of murder.
Brooks’ roughly 14-minute talk, the length of a sermon that would likely remove any contempt you have ever had for this pastor, included a reminder that we all battle contempt, all of us. It crosses party lines, classes, races, and geography. He finished with a hope-filled charge that while we may disagree, Jesus’ words chart a new way of thinking that may change not just the situation in our country but the world.
President Trump followed Brooks and included these words as he began,
And Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I have to say.
The President then proceeded to illustrate what it might look like to disagree with Brooks whose message was rooted in Jesus’ words.
Jesus concluded what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount with a parable contrasting two builders. One builds on rock and another on sand. The key to understanding the import of his parable is what constitutes the difference.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock . . . And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who builds his house on sand.
Do you remember when the disciples responded to Jesus’ question, that time where the crowds dwindled because of Jesus’ words? He asked them,
Are you going to leave too?
Where would we go, you have the words of life?
There it is. Do you see it? Brooks might have been the Jesus that showed up at the National Prayer Breakfast. He might have finished his appeal to let go of contempt by pointing to the parable of the wise and foolish builders.
Dr. Kent knew what he was doing all those years ago.
By now you may have drawn the conclusion that the sermon is a refutation of the President’s words. Yes and no. That is, Yes, I do think it foolish to ignore the words of Jesus. But, No, I do not think the President is the only one that ignores Jesus’ words. The parable of Jesus finds illustration every single day. Those illustrating the wise and foolish of that parable, living it out, cross all divides – race, gender, class, party, and economics.
Don’t turn to that game on your phone just yet. What we find here in our Text today is a faithfulness for we morons. Any moment I wonder if someone is going to say, like Inigo Montoya,
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Look at the Scriptures. Jesus moves from announcing the blessing on the socially, culturally not-blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, some look at Jesus Beatitudes and think Jesus is describing himself. He will experience all of those things. His life will reflect a lack of blessing from his faithfulness but the impact of his life will be a blessing to all.
Once Jesus points out the way the world looks at the people in the crowd, even his own disciples and yet declares them blessed, he turns to describe what living in Jesus’ way looks like. Right off the bat, he provides a new identity to those now declared blessed,
You, you all, are the salt of the earth!
That new identity comes with a caution.
But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored.
The root word for what we translate “lost its taste?” It is the Greek word, moraino, to become foolish. That’s right the noun form of that word is the word moron. Yes, moron.
In Jesus’ parable, the one in chapter 7 of Matthew, the way he ends what we call the Sermon on the Mount, includes the moronic builder. What a moron, the one who hears the words of Jesus and does not do them.
What are we to make of Jesus’ words?
But if the salt has become foolish.
But if the salt has become moraino. Immediately we like, “lost its taste.” It is less harsh. We don’t mind being told we are tasteless. Just don’t tell us we are morons.
Now, do you see? The sermon is really not about the President, though the parable of Jesus was performed in the details of the event. No, the words of Jesus snare all of us. Every one of us. How so, you ask?
How is it salt becomes foolish?
The Bible often takes what we consider lifeless images and gives them the character of living things.
Jesus is living water, the bread of life, the door of the sheepfold, way of life, light of the world. It should be no surprise that Jesus takes up salt and applies to his own followers.
Warren Carter points out that salt is identified as one of the basic necessities of human life by ancient writers. The Bible tells us it seasons food in Job 6:6. In Leviticus and Ezekiel salt and sacrifice are linked. Elisha uses salt to purify water to drink. In Ezra, he notes sharing salt seems to suggest loyalty – the salt of the covenant.
Here in Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus, hearers would have heard they, their community. was the salt of the earth. The idea that human beings could become tasteless is not about our wardrobe preferences or our own choice of words. But, it is not beyond our understanding that people may become foolish, moraino.
Tie these two together. How is it salt becomes foolish? Salt becomes foolish, we become moraino, when we cease to live in the world under the reign of God. When we give ourselves over to living by the pattern of power over others rather than serving others. When we shun the poor in spirit, fail to comfort the mourners, tell the weak to get tough, stop walking with those who only want the world to be set right, choose vindication over mercy, harm the innocent, prefer conflict to peace and consider the persecuted guilty.
The judgment that comes to salt that has become foolish, has become moraino, is not described by what God does but what others do. When those whose identity has become salt by God’s grace, take up living by other words, others, those in need, view that salt as useless, trampled underfoot.
Do you see? The community of Jesus people described as salt preserve life, add flavor to the flavorless as we take up with those who have been pushed to the margins, live sacrificially in service to others, offer a purifying word of forgiveness, and prove faithful when all others have abandoned.
The imagery is that salt makes everything better. When it does not those who need it consider it worthless. Our living under the reign of Jesus is not for us. That is, in Christ, we have been declared blessed not because we deserve it based on how well we act as salt, are not moraino. We are declared Blessed because in Jesus God came to us in love. Our response to that love is what is described here. It would be foolish, moraino, to trample the love of God.
Good News! Jesus is faithful for us. Where we fail, Jesus does not. When we take up following words other than Jesus’ words, Jesus keeps the faith for us. We may not be able on our own to become salty again, but in Jesus, we may be restored to not moraino. How? Jesus has been faithful for us. In him, the law has been fulfilled. In Jesus, our righteousness exceeds our own.
What drew people to Jesus was not talk about a God who’s lofty requirements left them without hope. What drew people to Jesus was that in him was the God who had come to be with the foolish, the moraino, who had and have looked to others for words of life when Jesus is for us God’s Word of Life.
That is what makes the Table the place we gather. For there, here, at the Table, there is a place for all who are foolish, moraino. For the Apostle Paul reminds us,
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness, moron, of our proclamation, to save those who believe . . . For God’s foolishness, is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength . . . but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.