Salt & Light

A Reading from Scripture    Matthew 5:13-16                 Common English Bible

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It is good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

Last week we were looking at a post-resurrection story about Jesus with the disciples on the beach. The disciples had been fishing all night and had not caught any fish. Jesus appeared and told them to cast the nets to the other side of the boat. They did and caught many fish. As they came ashore, they saw that Jesus had a fire going and was broiling fish. It was a barbecue breakfast. But the key part of last week’s message was focused on the challenge that Jesus asked Peter. Peter had denied that he knew Jesus after Jesus had been taken into custody. In fact, Peter had denied that he was one of Jesus’ followers three times. Now three times Jesus was asking Peter “Do you love me.” Peter answered in the affirmative, and Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” The back and forth of questions and answers went on for three times and Peter was frustrated. The key to the end of the Scripture was “Follow me!” – Follow me!

The Scripture reading for this morning continues the theme of Follow Me. Jesus mentions two things that do not really seem to go together: salt and light.  On first glance, these two things do not seem to have much in common, but they do.  Can you imagine living in a world that does not have salt or light?  I cannot imagine French fries without salt, and I would never live in Barrow, Alaska where the sun does not shine for six months in the winter.  Salt and light are natural in life; they are needed and welcomed.  But just like popcorn is not good without salt, and just like a parking lot is dangerous without lights, our society is in trouble without salt or light.  As we know, our society seems to be very self-centered, and it really needs the salt and light that is in the Risen Christ. 

Today’s Scripture follows the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount that appears in Matthew 5-7. The first 12 verses are the Beatitudes (the blessings) that Jesus bestows upon us because we are his followers. We are blessed with the righteousness of Christ because through faith we hunger and thirst for it.  We are blessed because Christ enables us to forgive those who have hurt us. We are blessed because we are followers of the Risen Lord, and as those who have been blessed by God, we cannot help but be salt and light.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.”  Notice Jesus does not say that you will be the salt or that you were the light, Jesus says that you are the salt, and you are the light.  As those blessed by Jesus, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world because we are His followers.  Just as salt is salty and just as a light bulb gives off light, we naturally exhibit these characteristics of being a Christian.  It is not because we are holier or better than everyone else, it is just because we have been changed through faith in Christ. Our faith transports us from the darkness of this world into the light that is Jesus Christ.

We realize that the world we live in needs to be salted and have the light of Christ shined on it.  And that is where we come in.  As the salt and light of Christ our task is to witness to people just what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus.  We want them to know the joy that comes from being the salt of Christ, we want them to experience the power of forgiveness that makes them shine.  Jesus says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”  Like a city set on a hill, we want the people of this world to see us as members of a place of refuge.  We want to be the beacon of hope to a lost and fallen world.

We want them to see the Church as a place where their deepest needs are met and satisfied by God Himself.  The Church stands alone from everything else in the world offering hope and peace to a world that desperately needs to know hope and peace. We live in a time when hatred and racism threaten to tear apart our society. Despite all its benefits, social media has made us cranky, inconsiderate, demanding, suspicious, and accusatory. If you want to get your blood pressure rising, spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook. In an increasingly secular world, we should not be surprised that the church has lost its influence in the community. There are many reasons why this is so, but one reason stands out above the rest. The church has lost its influence because Christians have neglected their responsibility to be salt and light in the world. As we have neglected to be what God has called us to be, the world has decided to ignore us. And the flip side is also true. When Christians decide to be salt and light, the world pays close attention to what we say and do. Let me say it simply: When we are salt and light, the world listens to us. When we are not, they don’t.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”  We are the salt and light the world because we are His followers, so what does it mean if we do not salt the earth or shine our light? It means we’ve neglecting our God given duties as Christians.  Instead, we are to do what God has sent us to do.    It makes absolutely no sense to light a lamp and then hide it under a bucket because the lamp is supposed to bring light to the whole house.  In the same way, we do not hide the light that is in us.  We let it shine so that it brings others to God.

And therefore, we do what we do, that Christ would be the focus of those on whom we shine our light and sprinkle our salt.  Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  We salt the earth not that we would be praised, but that God would be praised.  We do good works, we help those around us, we share the love of Christ so that they would say how good God is.  Nor do we salt the earth and shine our light that we somehow obtain God’s favor and forgiveness.  We do not need to earn those because Christ has done all that is necessary that we would be forgiven.  We shine our light as followers of Jesus.

In other words, God wants others to see God in and through our work, through us being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. My wife, Ann — worked with special needs children for many years – she gave her heart and soul to them – saw in them as valued people – not people assigned to a school for special needs. Ann worked to help change the attitude of the school systems so that children with special-needs would be included in the class – She would work with parents and families as they sought to understand and to cope with the issues that surrounded special-needs children. Her work was and is a ministry.

When we see work as a gift, then we can see our labor and our jobs as part of God’s ministry in the world. We can see ourselves as one of the laborers in God’s Vineyard. We can see ourselves as partners with God in Christ. We can see ourselves as missionary servants. With that attitude, then others will be able to see God through our work.

Common table salt is in abundance in this world and is readily available for us to use to our heart’s content.  Light shines for hours every day and when the sun goes down, we simply flip a switch to light our homes.  But the salt that we season the world with and the light that we shine in the darkness is important and powerful.  The salt and light of we who are followers of Christ bring hope to the hopeless, love to the disenfranchised and life to the forsaken. We shine the light of Christ in a darkened world so that others will know the salvation that we know that they will also know that love of God.  So, salt the earth and let your light shine because you are God’s instruments to bring Christ to this world, and that is an awesome and wonderful calling for you and me.

Picture a towel. A simple a white cotton shop towel or shop cloth, whatever you want to call it. You can use it to wipe your forehead in the heat. You can use it to dry dishes or wash the car or even dust off the Bible you have not picked up in a while. You can hang the towel across your arm like a waiter in a fancy restaurant or stick it in your belt as a makeshift apron like a short order cook. Or you can look at it as a reminder of the Last Supper and the foot washing which preceded it. The towel and the basin are symbols of servanthood. And isn’t that what being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” is all about, serving so others can see God and experience God’s love through Christ?

God IS all around us. God can be witnessed in the ordinary aspects of everyday life. Sometimes in the work of others. And sometimes others see God at work in us and through us. The point is our focus. You are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” That work is a gift which helps us see God through the work of others AND helps others see God in our work.