Year A, Epiphany 5 Matthew 5:13-20
“You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say: you can be the salt and you can be light of the earth, if you are super pious, kind and faithful. He doesn’t say you should aspire to be the light and salt of the world. No, you already are this. And who is the you he is talking about? I believe the proper translation is y’all. Y’all are the salt and light of the world. This is something that we are as individuals as well as the collective you—y’all. Now that we have established that, what does it mean? We should know that since we already are these things.
Salt had slightly different purposes in the time when Jesus was telling people, “You are the salt of the earth.” It was used to preserve food. It was even used for heat. They did not have gas or electric ovens like we have today. They didn’t even use wood because it was hard to come by. The stuff that was very abundant was camel or donkey dung. This could be used as fuel, but only if you were able to mix salt with it. Salt was essentially the catalyst that caused the dung to burn. While this is not the most appetizing image, it makes it clear that salt is more than just something that is supposed to give some zest to food. It’s a catalyst for change. It enables something totally ordinary (and a little gross) to become fuel.
Light is a more obvious metaphor. Most of what we do in this world requires light. It enables us to see. It warms our climate. Light is required for plants and trees to grow, which provides us with food and oxygen. And sunlight, it makes most people feel better. It increases the serotonin in our bodies which makes us happier. Without any light, the world would end. When Jesus was telling his disciples and followers that they were light, the importance of that can’t be overstated.
One might even think it’s a little much. Are we really the light, or are we vessels of God’s light? Maybe it’s a little of both. God is the source of all light and love. We carry that light. That is why Jesus was so confident in telling us that we are already light. We have light because that light has been given to us. It’s the same with the salt. We have been given this ability to be a catalyst in our world. How? Because we worship a God who was and is one of the greatest catalysts. Jesus changed death, into life. You don’t get a bigger change or transformation than that.
However just because we have these things doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. We have to do more than just hold on to these things–we must share them and display them. When it comes to light, we are the window that it shines through. Yet when we are reluctant to talk about our faith, our church, or Jesus, then we are essentially covering up that window. The light just gets stuck. It might warm our hearts, but if it doesn’t touch anyone else, then we are not doing what Jesus asked of us. Jesus told us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
This can make a lot of people uncomfortable. We like to have our faith private. We figure it’s no one’s business what we believe. We are a good people and that is all they need to know. And I get it. We don’t want people to think we are trying to convert them. We don’t want non-Christians to think that we are judging them. But since when does talking about what you believe imply judgement? If someone feels judged because you say that you believe in a God of love and compassion, then that’s on them. That probably means they have heard a warped version of the Gospel and maybe, just maybe, hearing something non-threatening from you might change their life.
Because that is what we as Christians are meant to do, change lives. That’s where the salt comes in. The animal dung needs the salt. Otherwise, it’s just poop. Salt allows that dung to turn into fire.
A couple of years ago I was taking a writing class at a community writing center. And while I wasn’t writing sermons, pretty much everything I wrote had something to do with God. I guess I am a bit of a one trick monkey. Anyhow, we had to share what we wrote with this group of 10 people and I became convinced that one individual hated me. He spent most of his time looking down, but when he did look up, it was to glare at me. He responded to any comments I made with thinly veiled contempt. I was ready to quit the class and then I got a long e-mail from him where he actually said that he hated me, mostly because I was a pastor and I represented everything that was wrong with Christianity. He wasn’t saying this so we could resolve this, he just wanted me to know that he hated me.
As you can imagine, I felt like this required a nuanced response. I realized it really wasn’t about me and he had clearly had a negative experience with other Christians. I can’t remember what I wrote, but it started a dialogue and we eventually became friends, not like making dinner together friends, but occasionally exchanging a facebook message kind of friends.
While it was an awkward experience, I like to think that his view Christians changed a little. I would never tell him this, but I think he saw the light of God…just a little. And it wasn’t because I am some amazing Christian, but that I was willing to be open about what I believed and also what I wasn’t quite sure about. And if I can do that with someone who hated me, anyone can do it with a friend or acquaintance who has no opinion of Christians.
You might assume, well everyone knows something about church, especially the people I spend time with. Let’s just assume that’s correct. Let’s assume everyone in your circle knows about church. What do they know about church? Do they know about church from their experience of being a child or a teenager in church? Do they know about church because of the church that refused to officiate their second marriage? Is their last memory of church a place that hurt them and made them feel “less than?” Because if that is the case, then they have an incomplete view of church. You can provide a fuller picture.
Most of the children who are born today, are being raised by parents who have never been part of a church, which means, they won’t even be going on Christmas or Easter. Their experience will be limited to what they see on the screens and what they hear from friends and family, which will be limited.
|Photo by Ihor Malytskyi|
Don’t underestimate the impact that your light—or God’s light that shines through you—can have another person. This person doesn’t know that the church you go to is a place of love an acceptance, a place that doesn’t care what you do, how much money you make, or even who you voted for. They just care that you are there. Don’t deny someone else the light that you have experienced. Because God’s light, is just as important as sunlight for every living and growing thing. It enables life, breath, joy and yes, even change. If you aren’t sharing that light, then you are hiding that light. And let me tell you all, I have seen your light, I have seen your fire and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Don’t hide it because there are people out there, who need it—they need it desperately and you…you can provide it.