Philip Casmer

What’s Your Function?

by Philip Casmer on February 5th, 2023
Matthew 5:13–20

If I sang it, you would immediately know it… I won’t, but even if I say it… “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” And you remember it now, yes? It’s that Schoolhouse Rock diddy from 1973. It talked about those important little words called conjunctions. So that, even if you weren’t good at English, it helped you to know: “And”: That’s an additive, like “this and that”. “But”: That’s sort of the opposite, “Not this but that”. And then there’s “or”: O-R, when you have a choice like “This or that”. The song asked the question and helped you to know the answer – about conjunctions – “What’s your function?” 

What if we asked it of you? What’s your function? Would you know? Maybe you wouldn’t… You’re in the midst of an existential crisis, perhaps… Or you’d be hard pressed to pick only one function… Perhaps I should ask instead, as our Sunday theme does: Well, who are you? I suppose that’s important… In the song it certainly was – we were at Conjunction Junction – it wasn’t Kitty-Cat Crossing – so we knew we’d be talking not about felines but words. And, in the same way here, who you are often dictates what you do, doesn’t it? 

Well, who are you? Since we’re gathered in church, perhaps we could let God answer it? And we find this morning that he did talk about who we are. The first one doesn’t seem like us. It’s God’s words to Israel. They were his people – standing at Mt. Sinai and hearing God rehearse what he had done for them because they were his people. God said, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5-6) You might be tempted to feel like OT Israel is pretty far off and abnormal in human experience – it’s true… But, you do share something with them. Look at how St. Peter spoke the very same words to people who knew Jesus as their Savior, trusted in his work, and gathered in churches for the very same things we do when we gather… About them (and you) he said, “[Y]ou are a chosen people…God’s special possession…you are the people of God.” (1 Pe 2:9-10)

That’s what God calls you: the “people of God.” Or, as Jesus called you just before our section: you are blessed – like, no matter – in trouble, in trial, when rich, when poor, in joy, in heartache – in all the changing other stuff – this is who you are: believers in Jesus, blessed, God’s people.

And now, since that’s who you are, the very next thing the Savior’s sermon says is that this is your function: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” 

Those were ready/familiar illustrations in Jesus’ day, apparently. At just about Jesus’ time, the Roman philosopher, Pliny also said, “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.” And that’s really Jesus’ basic point – salt and light are useful. Still today… Especially in a Midwest winter we know about light – when that sun breaks through the gray clouds, you can feel light’s warmth. Light shows the way. Light reveals reality – you can see what’s going on – what’s real and true – where it’s safe or where it’s dangerous. And salt – in its winter usage – when that ice coats the drive or the sidewalk or the road – you rejoice that salt melts it. That, aside from that old preservative use we don’t do most often anymore, or the joy of a judiciously salted ribeye (sorry, low-sodium people).

Salt and light are useful, helpful, essential even. The world needs them. And Jesus’ sermon says, the same goes for God’s people. The world needs you. You are useful, helpful, even essential. Or, at least you should be. The temptations to miss that or lose it or misjudge it or forget it are many, of course. You might not feel particularly useful at all, let alone in some spiritual way – so you doubt whether it’s true. Our sinful natures find God’s will restrictive sometimes – in that third paragraph (which we’ll deal with in this passing way) – there are lots of little strokes of the pen here and there in God’s Word we’d like to discharge at times; and there are plenty of things we’d love to call good but God clearly doesn’t… Being the salt – the holy flavor that God savors – where your friends hang out maybe seems fruitless, sometimes like it disconnects you from them. You might say, “I don’t always want to shine; when I shine the light of God’s truth that brightness makes people mad.” You may not like being on display – the city on a hill – that people see; you’d rather go unnoticed. Regardless that God calls it your function, it’s pretty tempting to just blend in, to bland out, to not be seen, to taste and appear just like the world. 

You caught the problem in Matthew 5, right? Salt & light are differentiators – change factors… If salt is unsalty – however that happens – well, then it’s just white dust. Get rid of it. If mom lights an LED lantern when the power goes out but then puts it under a bowl… well, that’s just dumb. Light is for illuminating the dark so that you can see… Salt and light have a function to perform. You do too. The followers of Jesus have a function to perform. When we don’t perform it, the world suffers – it sits in sin, it wallows in its own desires, its people don’t see what’s right or what God has said. And for when we have not done the job assigned to us – in our own families, at our workplaces, when the time was right – we must repent – turn away from that darkness and back into God’s light.

And, in a way, it’s not that difficult – perhaps like being a parent. Recently, I was sitting at a business dinner across from a young couple – new parents. They were recounting that cute, new parent thing where you leave the hospital with that first baby and you go, “Are we ready for this? We don’t know what we’re doing… We don’t have nursing staff at home!” And they’re right. You don’t know – but you figure it out – food goes in here, stuff comes out there, diapers wrap so, relationships work like this, and so on… You mess it up. You’re not perfect. But you do… You’re a dad… You’re a mom… 

  1. It’s that way here, you know? Jesus didn’t say, “You might be the salt of the earth… Maybe you’re the light of the world.” No, he just said what is; what Peter said today. You are people holy in God’s sight because he mercied you – forgave your sins through the work of Jesus, his Son; he perfected – you wear Jesus’ perfect deeds and they look good on you!; more, you’re chosen (not nobody) – God’s very own possession (the one he keeps safe and holds dear). For which you sing his praises – you – called out of darkness to stand in God’s marvelous light… Jesus said, “You’re the light of the world. [No doubt about it].”
  2. That function is arguably simple. Okay, yes – there’ll be hard conversations and difficult topics and poor choices. But it’s also simple like parenting – you are; so you be. You shine, Jesus says, when people “see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
    1. Good deeds like… living the catechism faith you’re learning: “Oh God likes when we speak well of others… I have people I can do that about…” When you do, they may glorify God. Good deeds like knowing your 5th commandment as Luther explained it: helping and being a friend to your neighbor in need – like snowblowing their driveway or helping to unload their groceries or listening. When you do, they may glorify God… It’s marking out and keeping away from the sinful desires that tempt you…the hate that lets you blow up at work or be impatient with others. It’s being trustworthy or honest or faithful or simply kind. When you do, they may glorify God…

That’s what God’s designed, at least. Whether you always see it or not, your good deeds and love for God (which he planted in you) may just preserve your friends from sin, or add the flavor of holiness to lives that wouldn’t have it, or show the way to real life, or let somebody else see that there’s something beside this sick world’s darkness.

We’re blessed to be God’s people so, whatever we do otherwise, we know our function each day. Jesus calls us his own and to simply be his own – to shine the light of his truth and saving love, to season the world with the flavor of his holiness. However you do it, and there are so many natural ways, your words and actions are the Savior’s sermon too.

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