5th Sunday after the Epiphany – Salt and Light February 5, 2017
Today’s gospel lesson continues the Sermon on the Mount –
Jesus’ on-the-job training for his disciples.
He has just finished telling them that God blesses those who are rarely seen as blessed,
– the meek, those who mourn, the merciful, the peacemakers,
Now he says to them – You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world.
He does not say, you will be the salt of the earth, once you get it.
Not, you could be if only you did this one thing.
You are, already, by virtue of being here as my followers, salt and light.
Now, salt and light meant something in Jesus’ time that’s not the same as they are today.
Both are necessary parts of life, but they are things we can easily take for granted.
For Jesus and his followers, they were not so easy to come by.
So Jesus telling disciples they are precious and important –
vital and valuable to the life of the world
Amy Oden, who teaches at St Paul School of Theology, wrote about this passage:
Notice the present tense as Jesus tells his followers they are salt and light now, not in some distant future. Jesus’ teaching is not only about what the Kingdom of God is, but centrally about who we are, what our new lives in this new realm look like -- tasty and lit up.
Those who follow Jesus don’t merely sit back and receive abundant life, or simply tell others about what a great abundant life we have. Jesus is talking here about a life that makes a difference for others in the world.
We are the tastiness that adds salt to lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice way of the kingdom of God. Jesus says we must be tasty and lit up in order to make a difference for God in the world. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out.
This weekend at St Michael’s we have laid to rest two saints of this congregation –
Ina Stewart and Pepper Marts.
Many people spoke of Pepper as the salt of the earth in his steady, constant faithfulness.
Ina radiated the light of Christ’s love in her care for those in need
as well as her own family and friends.
We will miss their presence and their witness among us.
But even though we looked to them as examples and champions of faith,
They are not the only salt and light among us.
Each one of you acts as salt and light in your lives,
to all those you care for and reach out to and serve and welcome
and to whom you offer simple kindness.
That is who you are as God’s child, claimed in your baptism.
We have started using a phrase from the ELCA baptismal liturgy, when we give the newly baptized a candle and say, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
It began there – with your baptism – when God claimed you and the church welcomed you,
and commissioned you to the life of a disciple.
Three years ago I stood here and asked each person to write on a notecard one way they had been salt and light in the past week.
For weeks, we printed a “salt and light log” in the weekly Noticias, sharing those responses so all of us could recognize how tasty and lit-up this place really is.
I want to share some of those responses with you now – just some of the things St Michael’s members are up to in the world:
- Working with my students with autism
- Making a casserole for St Martin’s
- I cuddled a preemie in the newborn ICU for a few hours
- I gave money and a smile and handshake to a man in need
- Calling a sick friend
- I shared my story with a young gay man who was having difficulty understanding his faith in light of his sexuality
- I took my whole class for a hot drink on a cold and snowy day
- Comforting and being present for a troubled patient
- Reaching out to a friend when her child was sick
- Went to grandchildren’s basketball game and gave encouragement when they were losing
- We watched our younger granddaughters so their parents could have date night, and they were our salt
- Shoveling the driveways of three elderly neighbors
You offer the love that shines light in the darkness of people’s pain and need.
Your kindness seasons people’s days – and you may not even know the difference you make.
Karoline Lewis, a preaching professor at Luther Seminary, wrote about her experience of being salt and light by participating in the women’s march last weekend in Washington.
She said she has never marched before, and she is not sure why.
But she does know what drew her to Washington. She writes,
I marched for the Gospel I believe in -- the Gospel that tells me I am enough and insists that others are as well. The Gospel that says God needs me to be the salt of the earth. The Gospel that encourages me to speak up for those who have been silenced or have yet to find their voice. The Gospel that won’t let me stand on the sidelines but pushes me out into the world God loves so that others might know they are loved and welcomed and worthy.
For the Gospel does not censor. It does not silence the already oppressed. It does not cast suspicion on those who are other. It does not act out of fear. It does not bar membership. It does not look aside and say that God’s earth isn’t hurting. It does not ban the perceived outsider. It does not build walls to keep others out.
Like Amy Oden, Lewis pushes us to realize this salt and light thing is a matter of identity.
Both women write about the bushels we use to cover our light when we question our own worth, or think “someone else will do it,” or when we fear meeting resistance.
Didn’t Jesus just tell his followers they will be persecuted for the sake of the gospel?
So Lewis says,
when you truly believe that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, you just do it. You don’t debate it. You don’t second-guess it. You don’t wonder about it. You just go and be it. That’s Jesus’ point. Jesus doesn’t say think about it. He doesn’t say you will be, you may be, or try to be. No, you just are. You are salt and light. Period.
Does this all start to sound like a great responsibility?
Maybe you’re thinking – I don’t remember signing on for this salt and light stuff.
I’m just looking for a place to say my prayers and be inspired by good music
and go about my own life.
But that’s not the deal for disciples of Jesus.
Our lives are no longer our own; we belong to him, and he says we are salt and light.
But there is one thing in this lesson which is clear in the original Greek,
but impossible to hear in English.
When Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
You are a city on a hill.
Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
he’s not talking to just you, yourself, on your own.
In all these cases, the You is plural.
It is us, all of us, following Jesus together,
providing one another encouragement and strength on the journey.
It’s not something any of us can do alone, but together, we can make this church –
and this neighborhood, and this city –tasty and lit up.
And even then, we do not do it without the Spirit of Christ empowering us.
So, when it seems too difficult,
when you feel you have lost your saltiness and your light is fading, remember this:
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Our light is simply the light of Christ, reflected in our lives.
That light is stronger than hate or fear or death.
It is stronger than doubt or suspicion or resistance.
That light can never go out.
Thanks be to God.