This Sunday's sermon was from Matthew 5:13-20. I shared it with my congregation, Bethel Lutheran Church in Portville, NY.
At times in our lives we may wonder who we are and what our lives are all about. Have you ever heard the slogan, “Be all that you can be!” You think the U. S. Army is original in that? They’re paraphrasing a thought that Jesus told his disciples 2000 years ago. This questioning may be more common with youth, but I suspect adults as well look at themselves and wonder about who they really are.
Jesus does not mince words in today’s gospel. Jesus is not giving a cooking lesson when he teaches about salt. Nor is Jesus giving a lesson on safety as he talks about light. The issue at hand is Jesus’ followers, who they are and how their lives can manifest God’s reign in this world.
Salt was common yet essential in life It was not only a spice used for flavoring, it was a preservative. Is it any wonder that salt became associated with God’s gracious activity? So, another way to think of this verse is, “You are the catalyst to get things cooking.”
Jesus says to us all, “You are salt in a flavorless world. Be who you already are! Be all that you can be!”
In today’s gospel, when Jesus talks about being a light to the world, he was using an example that was readily understood by the people of his day. Lighting was very simple. It was either done by a candle or by an oil lamp. In order to give light to the room, it had to be put high up on a stand. The kind of light Jesus is referring to could be found in a peasant’s one-room house.
At that time, those listening to Jesus lived in a world of Roman domination. Rome saw itself as a “light to the world.” Jesus was telling his disciples that they could be better than Rome. Jesus’ message was that through their relationship with him, they, not the Roman imperial dominion are the real light of the world.
Another way to understand this verse is, “Set an example—not to get fame and glory for yourself, but so others will see God’s goodness.”
Jesus is speaking to those who were socially the lowest and least, telling them THEY are the salt and light for transformation of the world to reflect God’s desires. At that time, the poor made up about 80% of the population. They were the labor that produced all the wealth. The world of the poor and oppressed would be turned upside down if they saw themselves as God’s beloved lights as opposed to simply being the pawns of the powerful.
Jesus’ call is to be salt and light for the whole world. Being the salt and light of the world connects us to Jesus’ great commission to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We are called to make a difference in the world, so that all who see our lives in Christ will feel new life and vitality, new possibility, hope and new beauty.
What keeps us from being effective lights in our world?
Sometimes there’s the bushel basket of inferiority blocking God’s light.
Or perhaps there is the bushel basket of preoccupation and self-absorption.
The bushel basket may be that of a fantasy church in our minds, which can be especially seductive because it seems so right. We want growth. We want to see more children in church. However, if we are simply wishing and indulging in mere fantasies, they can leave us unable to build a common life together with the real people around us. Magical thinking covers our light.
Especially in these days of economic hardship, the temptation looms large to bury our calling under the bushel basket of economic scarcity or the bushel basket of opportunity. God help us to not be sucked into the black hole of fearful apprehension of scarcity or greedy ambition. God gives us everything we need to do what he calls us to do.
We are not victims of these various types of bushel baskets. No one forces a bushel basket over our light.
Many believe they are not good enough, do not know enough about the Bible or God that God would claim them as his own children. Our job is to shine God’s light into their darkness so they can clearly see the good news of God’s gracious love and light their own lamp.
In this gospel passage and in our baptism, we were charged to let out lights shine so that others will see our good works and glorify God because of them. This is how we live out our free gift of salvation.
Remove the bushel basket from your light. Be who you already are!
This week I would like all of us to be on the lookout for the good things we are already doing. Then email me, call or tell me about it. Start a “salt and light journal.” This is not to pat ourselves on the back, but to increase our awareness of how God is using us. I know we are all involved in more seasoning and lighting than we are aware of. So let’s go out into the world and let’s start cooking. We’ll be amazed at what recipes we come up with. Amen.
Notes from the New English Translation, BibleWorks.
Kate Huey, ucc.org
David Lose, workingpreacher.org
Amy Oden, workingpreacher.org
Fred Wendt, Crossways