Salt and Light

Isaiah 58:1-12

Matthew 5:13-20

It has not been an easy week for many of you.  People you love are suffering from life-altering and life-threatening health issues, some in the middle of relationship, job, and/or financial difficulties.  Others finding their friendships strained over the pervasive political rhetoric and assignment of labels.  Some of you faced with concerns over the spiritual and physical safety of others.

The scripture read this morning recognizes these circumstances and emotions as they materialized in the middle to late eighth century BC and as they occur in the time of Jesus.   In addition, these passages transcend those two times in history, surfacing realities most of us have experienced at some time in our lives.

Like the Israelites described by Isaiah, you may have reminded God that you are eager to know the way faith in God requires you to go, that you are following the rules, that you make personal sacrifices for the church, that you are faithful to the commandments, and that you regularly attend worship and learning opportunities, yet you aren’t seeing the results you hoped for, either personally or for the church.

Like the Pharisees you may be frustrated with those who don’t seem to be upholding your understanding of the Law and its application in day to day living.  You may be wondering why others just don’t get it, why they aren’t in church on Sunday morning and don’t see the world in the same way you do, why God isn’t pushing them harder to change.  These passages suggest others have wrestled with those feelings.

The people of Israel were facing a period of enormous theological and social change during the time of Jesus.  The temple in Jerusalem was gone.  Parties and factions within the faith community had different ideas about the future of Judaism, and they were often in conflict with one another.  The present was unstable, and the future seemed uncertain.[1]

As Jesus brought what we have come to title the “Sermon on the Mount” there were differing opinions within the Jewish religion creating a “us” “them” situation, which was compounded by the political climate and Roman occupation of the day.  It was also a time of uncertainty and conflict among the people.

I think it is safe to say the circumstances into which these passages are introduced are not significantly different than the ones we face, even if the specific details do not match.  We are living in a time in which many congregations are shrinking, where people are forming faith communities and worshiping in different places and spaces and redefining what it means to be Christian and Methodist in an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing culture.

Into this reality come these words from Jesus:

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. (NIV)

You are the salt and the light.  As followers of Christ you are what bring flavor and illumination to the world.  What you say and do is what reveals the God we serve to those around you.

Here is a very nice salt grinder.  The salt crystals clear and beautifully faceted.  Full of potential to make many of our favorite foods delight our tastebuds with flavor.  The salt is beautiful in many ways.  Protected and plentiful if we leave it in the container on the shelf.

Here is a flashlight, ready to help us through any darkness we encounter allowing us to see obstacles ready to trip us.  The batteries are fully charged and the light available at the flick of a switch.

Jesus tells us we are salt and light.  We can be salt and light in our close and comfortable surroundings, with traditions we are used to and people who agree with us.  We can stay protected and secure.  We can selectively share our flavor and our light afraid that to extend either too much will limit our supply.  We can fast, follow all of the “rules,” and wonder why God seems distant or why others arem’t drawn to join us in this journey of faith.

I don’t think that is what God is calling us to do.  Not in the words we hear in Isaiah nor as Jesus teaches us from the Mountain.

From Isaiah we hear God calling us to actively work to remove the chains of injustice and to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry and to provide shelter to those who need it and clothes to those without.  To stop pointing fingers and engaging in malicious talk, to bring healing to a broken world.

Jesus calls us to the commandments he shares in his teaching, with an emphasis on loving God with all that we are and all that we do, as well as loving others as ourselves.  Righteousness is knowing the Law and living the Law.  We are saved by Grace through Jesus the Christ, not by the Law.  The Law as modeled by Christ, provides us with the framework through which we bring flavor and light to a world that is watching how we treat one another and how we welcome strangers into our midst.

We are collecting shoes and food for those experiencing need.  We are helping provide safe water supplies and education through our denomination and through many of the civic organizations of which we are a part.  We are reaching out to train people to preach, teach, and share the gospel through our Shared Ministry dollars.  We are fasting in a variety of ways.

We are being salt and light in all of these endeavors when they reflect God’s love and aren’t part of a “to do” list to get God’s attention.

If those we hope to invite join us as disciples of Jesus Christ are watching and listening to us in the grocery store, walking down the street, in a restaurant, at school, the barber or beauty shop, at one of our events, or anywhere they come in contact with us, they need to see us being good to our spouses, treating our children with respect, giving our best at work, speaking with gentleness about everyone, listening to everyone, treating all as those loved by God.

We can’t please God if we act one way on Sunday and differently during the rest of the week.  Our interactions with others need to reflect God’s grace to us, not just when it works for us, but all the time.  Not just when we like them or see things the same way, but all the time, even when extra grace is required to help us interact with those whom we find difficult.

These passages from God’s Word push us into the world God loves so that others may know they are loved and welcomed and worthy.  Salt and light are necessary to life, in this context they are metaphors for our living as those touched by God’s grace in every facet of our day to day existence, adding flavor and illumination everywhere we go through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

To bring flavor this salt (salt grinder) cannot stay safely in the container.  To bring light, this flashlight needs to be turned on and focused into the darkness.  As you take home the salt packet you were given today, I encourage you to consider it a reminder that you are Salt and Light, and your purpose is to flavor and reflect God’s light within you in a way your Father in heaven is glorified all day, every day, with all people.  Amen

[1] Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding – Preaching Notes Year A The Great Invitation, week 5 by Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser. Discipleship Ministries UMC.

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