Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany + February 6, 2011
Word on the Street, [Rob Lacey’s] Scripture paraphrase frames today’s Gospel in plain language that I think is helpful…
You guys are the world’s natural preservatives. Like salt, you bring out the flavor. But if you go bland on me, what use is that? You might as well be chucked out and go join the wasters at the landfill site.
You guys make the world visible. You bring light. You can’t camouflage a fireworks display. You don’t put floodlights behind a brick wall, so don’t pull curtains across the good things that brighten up people’s lives. Let them see it. And get God some great reviews for what he’s done in your dark corners.
‘It’s rumble the rumors time: I’m not here to diss Moses’ Big Ten Rules. I’m not here to do a character assassination job on the couriers. I’m not here to finish them off—I’m here to complete them.’
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Jesus is here today, in this place to remind us who and whose we are. Jesus is here through the words of Matthew to tell us we are salt, we are light and we are God’s. Now I’m tempted to sit down, I’ve told you that you are salt… you are light… and you are God’s… great images salt and light, so simple and yet so complex… and we know God loves us, Jesus says so, directly and yet we doubt and wonder… We want to be salt and light so God will love us, but the truth of the matter is, that God loves us even when we are bland and flavorless, as dark as a burned out bulb, or standing in the corners of our lives.
So you salt of the earth people, you bright and shiny people who are as majestic and mysterious as fireworks… what are we to make of being told we are salt and light?
Let’s look at salt for a moment…
- Traditionally if one served as a sailor and told tales of their naval service or merchant marine experience we would say you are… an old salt.
- When one wanted to describes a person as hardworking, humble and honest we would say that you are… the salt of the earth.
- When one was off for long and intense day at work, we would say that you are… off to the salt mines.
One of my favorite food books is Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky because it describes the role of salt, the only rock we eat. How it has shaped civilization throughout time. How it has a glittering, often surprising story that flavors the history of humankind. Salt has been so valuable it served as currency, so influential it shaped trade routes and cities, so powerful is secured empires and empire builders.
In the ancient world, salt was so highly valued the Greeks called it divine, the Romans paid the warriors of the empire with it, and Jesus tells his followers… you are salt. You are called to do what salt does: preserve things from going bad, and to be an ingredient to the communities in your life, enhancing their flavor and intensity.
In our world, salt is commonplace. It sits on most kitchen tables. It is a component of almost everything we eat. The frozen abundance of snow and ice this winter have placed salt on many people’s minds as it is on our roads, sidewalks, carpets, and insides and outsides of our cars. But preaching the importance of salt is difficult in a time when we as North Americans were blasted this week with ominous new warnings about the dangers of salt on our plates by new federal dietary guidelines!
Did you know there are an estimated 14,000 uses for salt? But we tend to use it in the same way we have always done, most often as a preservative. Now preservatives serve a helpful purpose with food, but they do this by inhibiting any chance of growth. Have you ever put too much salt on your food, or too much fertilizer on your lawn? Too much of this good thing kills. Perhaps over salting is a reminder that Christians can be too salty and turn away or stop the growth of those we seek to share God’s love with.
Salt enhances flavor and melts ice on our roads. It would be easy to say that you are salt, so go out add flavor and spice up the world. But Jesus tells us we are salt and to be salt for the world, mixing our lives with others, praying for peace, bringing comfort, preserving creation, reconciling brokenness, adding meaning, and sharing hope.
You are salt… and Jesus calls us to ‘salt’ the world with grace.
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One of my favorite light songs is by Cathy Pino based on this passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
You are the light of the world. You are the light of the world, so shine, shine, shine where you are. You are the light of the world.
It continues with verses:
You are a city on a hill…”; “You are a candle in the dark…”; And “You are a star in the night…”
It is a simple yet powerful and beautiful reminder of Jesus’ call to pull back the curtain on our timidity, on keeping the good news of God’s love to ourselves, and on illuminating the world around us.
But light, like salt can be overpowering. Light pollution is a major problem in the developed world, particularly in Europe and here in much of North America. According to the National Park Service, two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way and ninety-nine percent of our population lives in areas that scientists consider light-polluted. Too much light and light in close proximity to our eyes can literally be blinding, for a moment, or cause lasting damage.
The International Dark-Sky Association has been trying to get manufacturers to make, and people to buy, lights that shine exclusively down, or at least don’t leak any unnecessary light up into the sky adding to our light pollution problem. But Jesus tells his followers they are light and to be light. Perhaps light pollution is a reminder that Christians can be too bright and overpower or blind those we seek to share God’s light and love with.
It would be easy to say that you are light, so go out pull back the curtains and light up the world. Jesus tells us we are light and to be light for the world, connecting our lives with others, praying for healing, brightening dark corners, energizing the environment, illuminating injustice, showering others with joy, and shining hope.
You are light… and Jesus calls us to ‘light’ the world with grace.
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Salt and the faint flicker of a lamp were everyday objects and experiences for Jesus and the world until the industrial revolution. So was the Law of Moses that is summarized in the Ten Commandments, memorized by most Jewish and Christian children around the globe. Jesus used these known things to connect his followers to him and one another, and so his teaching of God’s unconditional love and faith would be grounded with people’s everyday lives.
In these post-modern days, these images still exist, but are not as widely used or brightly remembered in our shared experience (how many of you remember all 10 commandments?). So to be the salt and light in the world today means being an integral part of the communities we live, study, work, or play in and being concerned about them. How then are you as an individual, and we as a faith community gathered by God, salt and light in this place and to the world around us?
We are called to seek out those who live in the shadows, those oppressed by unjust systems and people, those who have been tossed out with the flavorless salt and burned-out light bulbs, those who struggle to taste and see that the Lord is good and loves them. So salt, salt, salt and shine, shine, shine where you are, because Jesus calls you to melt icy hearts and illumine darkened lives with the love of God.
You are salt… you are light… you are loved! Amen.