In the Sermon on the Mount we get a window into what Jesus feels are the basic attitudes and actions we need to engage in to follow his call on us. Jesus sat down to teach his disciples and began the process of turning their understanding of God’s priority structures and signs of heavenly favor upside down. He said that the people who really are blessed, who really have God’s favor are the ones that recognize their own brokenness, humbly approach God, hunger for God’s way of being and doing what is right, and extend mercy and peace to others. Jesus told the disciples that the results of this changed priority system will lead to opposition and even persecution, but they can rejoice in the fact that they are in God’s will regardless of the external circumstances. Jesus then goes on to explain that living out these good attitudes has profound effects with a warning about the consequences of abandoning these attitudes.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
In today’s text Jesus begins by speaking my language: food and seasoning. Now salt has some very interesting effects that have been useful and highly valued over the years. Salt was used in curing processes to prevent meat from decaying and while that is an important role Jesus is talking primarily about the effects of salt as a seasoning. When he calls us “the salt of the earth” he is saying that when we operate according to his priorities we bring out the good flavors around us.
When I was 10 and first trying out baking I decided to make a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies. I got the flour out, measured it and sifted it with the baking powder. I carefully measured out the sugar and took a little taste to make sure it was still sweet. I carefully melted the unsalted butter, measured it and mixed it with eggs and after mixing those together I mixed in the chocolate chips. This was going to be great. I preheated the oven and put my first batch of cookies in. I was so excited that I was going to have made chocolate chip cookies by myself for the first time. After 9 minutes they looked done so I pulled them out, let them sit for one excruciating minute then carefully removed them from the pan. I picked one up, blowing on it to cool it off then brought that cookie to mouth and took a bite. Ugh! I ran crying to Dad and after he got me calmed down enough to be coherent he came back to the kitchen, looked at all the ingredients I had out, took a very small bite of a cookie and said “You forgot the salt.” He measured some salt into the rest of the cookie dough and mixed it in well. When the next batch of cookies came out I carefully took a small bite and wow! That is what a chocolate chip cookie is supposed to taste like. When a neighborhood, workplace, school or other community experiences Christians who are dedicated to searching out and bringing to the forefront the hidden goodness in a bland world, that community begins to get a glimpse of just how good and fulfilling life really can be. Hope blossoms because people are reminded that the source of hope is present. There is of course another side to this. The salt does nobody any good sitting in the salt shaker. If it sits too long the water in the air slowly breaks it down until there is a solid clump of useless matter that you can’t even get out of the shaker anymore without a chisel. The salt needs to be poured out of the saltshaker onto the food in order to fulfill its function just as we need to step outside of our building and comfortable routines that can keep us walled off from the people who are trapped in the homogenizing blah of our consumer culture. We are called to season the world and bring out the good flavors God created.
We also are the light of the world! Jesus has called us to shine his light all around us. When we obey the teachings of Jesus we shine so brightly that everything around us brightens and becomes clearer. The darkness is pushed back and the path out of the mire is made clear. Our lives must be lived in the light, and if our actions cannot be brought out into the light and performed where all can see, there is a problem. We look silly if we proclaim that we have the light and never let it shine beyond us. When we try to hide our light the darkness creeps in and promotes fear and division. The problem is that we are afraid of the light. We all know that as long as we are on this earth, we are imperfect and have work to do to shine brighter. The lens our light shines through is pretty smudged, and as we allow the light carried by others to shine on us and don’t hide the light coming from within we can actually see the smudges and begin scrubbing and asking God to help us and to clean us. As we do this work we are called to our light shines in the world and people can say “Hey is it just me or are things looking brighter?” and we can reply “Yes! God has cleaned me up a bit more and now his light shines much more clearly through me, clearly enough that I can even see it beginning to shine through you. Let me tell you how.” Just by being God’s lights here on earth we triumph over the darkness. We carry hope, true peace, mercy, meekness, comfort, and courage to face the darkness to everyone around us when we acknowledge our dependence on God as the source of our light. We can fan that light to flame in others as well, just by uncovering ourselves, stepping out, and pointing out all the ways we see God active in others around us.
All of the distractions that abound seek to make us forget about the beauty of God’s work; try to get us to forget about shining for a while. The distractions tell us that people are more comfortable in their darkness, that if we allow the light to shine our flaws will be just as visible as everyone else’s. That is true. If we don’t want to face our own flaws and brokenness we will do our best to hide the light and to snuff it out in others. We will talk against the people who seek to shine God’s light because of our own fears. When I was part of a church in which the pastor was challenging my desire to remain hidden and either keep the light to myself or at least have it pointed so it didn’t shine on me I talked against him. Not directly, of course, since that would force me to look at myself, but in smaller gatherings I would hint and insinuate to see who I might get to agree with me. I built little coalitions of people who were afraid of the light, and the first thing we did was declare the path of light to really be leading us into the uncertain darkness. We reasoned that the light was in here, and if we moved out of the light we would diminish it or tarnish it. It sounds so logical, so simple, so easy to believe, but we were listening to lies. The lies would have been true if the light came from us, and we really wanted to believe that we were the light source. The light didn’t come from us though. The early Friends called the light within “That of God”. What an important reminder it is: the light we carry is “that of God” which resides in us. When I allowed my fear to put me in a place in which I was trying to keep the light to myself or control what it illuminated I was in opposition to God. The truth is that the way I operated back then spoke more about my brokenness and fear than the problem or problems I was theoretically addressing. When writing this sermon God put it on my heart that I had never apologized to that pastor for my actions, so I stopped writing this sermon to send him an apology because I want my light to shine. I was thinking about that song I used to sing growing up called This Little Light of Mine and I got to reflecting on the line “Won’t let Satan blow it out.” And I realized that Satan isn’t the only one that I also have tried to blow out that little precious light.
When we carry that light of God and let it shine out without trying to control it we then begin to see “that of God” in others and can give others the certainty that if someone as broken and smudged as me can shine from the inward light of God then maybe they can too. That beautiful truth is the greatest truth we carry. In the evangelical tradition we call this the good news: The gospel message that Jesus has made the way for us to shine and to live in the light regardless of the condition in which we find ourselves. We carry that great hope, and the light of that hope is so bright that it will shine through us regardless of our flaws and imperfections so brightly that we will be favorably compared to the light from a city on a hill that cannot be missed. I think at some level, even though we fear it, each one of us yearns for that light to shine fully through us. As we enter into our time of open worship it is important to remember this as a holy time in which we experience communion with God and the church, so I would like us as we begin to invite the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the ways we might be hiding our light or keeping the salt in the shaker. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you repent and know that I am asking the Holy Spirit for the same thing. On this side of eternity we all have a long way to go and with God’s help our light can shine because we are willing to take the next steps towards his holy and perfect light.
Let us pray.