This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church last Sunday, 2/9/20. The gospel text was Matthew 5:13-20.
Some people can put together all kinds of things and make wonderful, flavorful soup. I cannot. Now, I can make a great cream of broccoli or cauliflower soup because I have a good recipe. But to just throw it all together…something is always missing—is it this or that spice or do I need more salt?
Today’s gospel continues the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes. Today, Jesus expands on the call to discipleship. The metaphors of salt and light set the terms of their calling.
Jesus told his disciples, “You ARE the salt of the earth.” What does that make you think of? Don’t we know people whom we describe in such terms? They are reliable, good people who would do anything for anyone.
Jesus did not tell his disciples they would BECOME salt or that they are SUPPOSED to be salt but said they ARE salt. This is a descriptive statement of the disciples’ identity.
What good is salt? What is it used for? Any ideas? Especially with the snow we’ve just gotten, we can see how salt melts snow, making it safer for us to get around. Of course, we use it in cooking as well.
Before refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative. Until around one hundred years ago, it was one of the most sought after commodities in human history (Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History). Salt was used for medicinal purposes: to disinfect wounds, check bleeding, stimulate thirst and treat skin diseases.
Throughout time, salt has been a precious commodity. In the early twentieth century, the British placed an embargo on salt, requiring the Indian people to purchase salt from them. Gandhi’s Salt March became a symbol of the right of Indians to manage their own survival (sundaysandseasons.com).
Today we use salt for many things. It accentuates flavors, melts ice, softens water and hastens a boil. It soothes sore throats, rinses sinuses, eases swelling and cleanses wounds, to name a few of its uses.
Salt does its best work when it’s poured out when it’s scattered when it dissolves into what is around it. It’s meant to share its unique flavor to bring out the best in all that surrounds it. If we want to enliven, enhance, deepen and preserve the world we live in, we must not hide within the walls of our churches. Salt doesn’t exist to preserve itself; it exists to preserve what is not itself.
Have you ever heard of salt losing its saltiness? It just isn’t possible, is it? Another way to understand this is that the word for “lost flavor” is elsewhere in the New Testament translated “made fools.” Paul uses this saying that people, thinking they are wise, have become fools (Romans 1:22; 1 Corinthians1:20). Just as salt that has lost it saltiness (become foolish) is good for nothing and thrown out and trampled underfoot, when disciples love their abilities and are unfit for their mission, they are treated with disdain by people (v. 13) (Jin Young Choi, Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew).
Our vocation in these times and places is to not lose our saltiness. That’s the temptation—to retreat, to hide, to choose blandness over boldness, to keep our love for Jesus a hushed and embarrassed secret (Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus.net). With the craziness in our public life in this country, don’t we sometimes want to cover our ears and say, “La la la la?”
In our part of the world, in this time of year, we are well aware of the darkness. An,d yet, our amount of daylight each day is slowly increasing. Light is a precious asset, enabling us to work and play long after sunset, making it possible to safely make our way around our homes when it’s dark. Even a little bit of light, such as that provided by a nightlight, makes a huge difference when it’s dark.
Light helps us to distinguish the difference and celebrate diversity. Light can deepen understanding. Light works on cellular structures to promote growth. Light heals. Light helps us find our way. Today, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” And that’s “you” plural—all of us together, collectively, are called “the light of the world” today (Janet H. Hunt, dancingwiththeword.com).
People of light are likened to a city on a hill. Light from such a place may guide travelers along the way or usher someone into a safe harbor, which of course, makes me think of lighthouses, which Ray and I love. When we lived in Rhode Island, we visited a number of them. Even though RI is the smallest state, it has a lot of coastline with 21 lighthouses, 13 of which are active.
When someone lit an oil lamp for the house, of course, they would not want to put a basket over it, which would extinguish the flame. Like the song says, “Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine.” Jesus said his disciples were not made to be hidden but to shine and illuminate, giving light to all in the house. If we take this mission seriously, it would shift how we plan our days, in terms of what we do and how we do it.
In Matthew’s gospel, the only person who shines is Jesus, at his transfiguration. We can only shine when we allow the light of Christ to shine through us (Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com). Jesus is making it clear to his followers that the work of the kingdom, of being light, is not about them. They and we, are to let our “light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven” (v. 16). Being salt and light is so others may glorify God and enter into the reign of God.
Just as Jesus called his disciples to the mission of being salt and light in their age, God has called us today to that mission. In baptism, Jesus made us God’s own, enabling us to season our world and to bring light to the darkness. Our baptismal liturgy has these words, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” *(ELW, p. 231). This paraphrases one of our gospel verses. In other words, don’t keep the good news to yourself! Share it! The gospel means to transform not only the self or the members of the church, but the entire world—through us! It’s an enormous task that we are unable to take on ourselves. This makes us rely on the mercy of God and the power of the Spirit.
The prophets pleaded for the fullness of life: freedom from oppression, bread for the hungry, homes for the homeless, clothing for the naked. Isn’t this what it means to be salt of the earth, to keep this prophetic challenge alive in our world? If we lose this vision, giving in to other values, forgetting about God’s longing for justice, our salt has lost its flavor (Barbara Lundblad, Homilies for the Christian People).
Salt cannot lose its saltiness nor light its shine without devolving into something else. As disciples, we will either season the world with love and illuminate it with grace or we cease to be disciples of Christ. Jesus calls us what we are: salt and light.
When my son, Christian, was born, the hospital sent a poem home with us. It’s “Children Learn What They Live.” Children believe what parents, relatives, and teachers call them, what they live. Do we believe and become what God, the Father, calls us? Some of us may struggle with depression. God not only calls you salt and light but beloved child too! God is stronger than the voices of depression that try to destroy you.
Depression’s effects can be lessened by being of service to others. It’s hard to focus on yourself when you are doing something for someone else (Michael J. Scholtes, biblialuna.com).
Jesus’ first followers were an odd lot: fishermen, tax collectors and eventually former Pharisees and assorted Greco-Romans. They were small in number, not an organized church. They had no written goals or mission statements as we would know them. According to every standard by which we currently measure the health of congregations, the early church would be deemed anemic, at best.
These measures of strength are not conditions Christ sets for usefulness in the kingdom. Just look at what he did with this motley crew! Imagine what he can do with us!
We tend to measure a church’s worth by its numbers, its strength, its so-called growth. But there are likely faithful disciples to be found among the unemployed who volunteer to help the homeless or battered women or underprivileged children, serving those who are in at least as much difficulty as they are.
Our effectiveness as disciples does not depend upon our success according to the world’s standards. The glory of God is our goal. Doing that requires nothing more than the humility of being who we really are: salt and light.
Be who God has called you to be!
Would you please pass the salt?