An Unpleasant Sermon

Epiphany 5 Monday

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth. If the salt has lost its flavor, how can you salt anything? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and be crushed by the people’s feet.”

It is easy to understand how the salting is to work: The preachers are to appear publicly and say: Everything that is born and lives on earth is useless, decaying, and corrupted before God. For because Christ says plainly and simply that they are to be the salt of the earth, that is, over everything that is the world, it must follow that everything that is in the world and that is called flesh or man, must be rebuked and salted thoroughly, so that all the world’s holiness, wisdom, worship–devised by itself without God’s Word–is condemned as that which belongs to the devil and into the abyss of hell if it does not cling to Christ alone. This is an unfriendly sermon. It makes us unpleasant to the world. It makes us deserving of being hated and punched in the mouth. For the world could still tolerate if we properly preached about Christ and all the articles of the faith, but when we want to attack it and salt it by declaring that its wisdom and holiness is to be worth nothing, that it is blind and condemned–this the world cannot and will not tolerate, which is why it turns around and accuses the preachers that they cannot do anything but scolding and biting. Their sermon must be called out as stirring up the world and creating discord, as violating the spiritual offices and good works. But what can we do? If we are to salt, it must bite. And even if they call us “bity,” we know that this is how it is supposed to be and that Christ has commanded this. He wants the salt to sting and to bite confidently. This is what St. Paul, too, does everywhere: He rebukes the entire world and scolds it for everything it lives and does apart from faith in Christ. And Christ, in John 16:8, says, “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will rebuke the world,” etc. This means that the Holy Spirit is to attack everything he finds in the world, making no exception and difference, not scolding some while rebuking others, or rebuking only thieves and rogues. Rather, he is to throw everything, everything on a single pile, one as well as the other, no matter how great, small, pious, wise, holy, or whatever he may be–everything that is not Christ. For the Holy Spirit does not need to come or send preachers into the world to point out and rebuke outward coarse sins such as adultery and murder. The world itself knows that these are sins and is able to punish them. Rather, the Spirit and his preachers is needed to rebuke
the world where it is at its best, where it wants to be good and holy and serve God thereby…This is why Christ here so diligently exhorts and warns the disciples that they see to it and let such salting always be practiced, saying: “If the salt loses its flavor, how can you salt anything?” Flavorless salt is salt that has lost its teeth and sting, so that it no longer seasons or bites. This refers to a time when the office disappears from Christendom when the people cease to be rebuked, are no longer shown their misery and inability, and are no longer kept in repentance and self-knowledge–when they, instead, are left to themselves, as if they were in good shape, thereby giving way to their own thing, that is, their own holiness and self-chosen worship, until the pure doctrine concerning faith disappears again and Christ is lost and things get so bad that they are beyond any help or advice.

St. Louis ed., 7:407-409.

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