Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20
1st Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Good morning salt! Good to see you, light! I’m so glad you are here your saltiness! Hear the words of Jesus, this morning: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Jesus is talking to some guys a couple of thousand years ago, but he is also talking to us, his current day followers, Disciples. I think most of us would ask in response, “I am?” This is a wonderful affirmation of who we are in God’s view. This is how God sees us. Will we be able to see ourselves and our potential the way God sees us?
In what ways are we like salt and light? In some ways salt and light are very common. We need them and use them every day. In Jesus’ time, they were also precious. You mostly relied on daylight in those days. You woke up and went to sleep based on the sun. There were fires and lamps and candles, but the fuel was limited, so they weren’t used very much. I remember when we visited Nicaragua, where electricity is scarce and we relied on candles when we visited a small village where fair trade coffee is grown. One candle lit a whole room. It is set on a mirror to double its light. The evening conversation lasted as long as the candle did, and they were pretty skinny candles. Yet, the stars shone so bright.
We all need salt to live. We probably all know people who have suffered from a sodium deficiency and some of you have even suffered from that yourselves. They get dizzy and fall and get confused. They get all out of whack. Salt is important for everyone. In our time, salt is very cheap and available everywhere you go. In fact, they have all these fancy salts now, pink ones and smoked ones that you can buy for $15 a pound or more. That’s how cheap salt is, that they have to fancy it up in order to charge us more for it. And isn’t that part of the lure? “There must be something special about it if it costs so much. I must try it!” Salt was more rare in Jesus’ time. It wasn’t so easy to make. It was used sparingly, but it only takes a little to make a big difference, so it was effective.
“You are light. You are salt.” What do you think Jesus meant by that? I know we can make some pretty amazing soups. I know of several of you can light up a room. Maybe he meant that we are in some ways common, ordinary. Certainly he meant that we affect others around us, like salt does a soup or like a candle does a room. We are useful. A little bit goes a long way. I also think he meant that we are powerful. We have something to offer that is helpful, tasty and bright. Salt is powerful. Taste it by itself and you will agree. Toss it in a bland soup and you will agree. Try to live without it and you will agree. Light is powerful. It draws the eye. It illumines what is otherwise impossible to see. Apparently the human eye can see a single flame from as far away as 10 miles. Our eye is drawn to it. Light gives the power of sight. It shows us things we couldn’t see before. It gives us the ability to get around. It gives us warmth. It is powerful.
We might argue with Jesus and ask whether we are really powerful or not. I think a lot of us would like to deny our power. I hear people say, “I’m not a leader.” Maybe we think Jesus is saying that about the future, “You will be salt and light.” Maybe he will make us into these powerful things a very long time from now.
Jesus is using the present tense, though. He says we already are right now salt and light. We already have the power to affect other people, no matter how common we are, no matter if there is only a little bit of us. We have the potential to make a difference. The question is what are we going to do with our power?
We can hide it under a bushel basket. We can pretend that we aren’t powerful. That is certainly one option and we’ve tried that one. It usually ends up burning down the basket but hopefully not the whole house with it. We can hide away our power, not challenge ourselves to use it, not develop it. And what’s the point in being a light if you’re just going to cover it up? What’s the point of being salt, if you’re just going to sit in the shaker?
We can use our power to make our own lives more salty and full of light. We can say to ourselves, “God made me this way so that I can please myself.” We make our lives more salty with more adventures, with more gadgets, with everything our hearts desire. We fill ourselves with so much light, that we leave lights on in rooms that no one is using. We fill ourselves with so much salt that we are suffering from increased blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. And we all know our bodies and taste buds can only take so much salt and it doesn’t do us any good anymore. We can use our power just to improve our own lives and serve ourselves.
We can use our salt and light, our powers to put band-aids on problems. We can throw money at the problems of this world. We can bring an extra can of food that we will never miss to donate. We can help people pay their power bills rather than asking how things got this bad and how we can keep the same people from needing to make a hundred tearful phone calls again next month hoping there will be someone with some discretionary money left to help people like this. All of these responses have their time and place. They are each valuable in their own way.
Let us remember where our power, our saltiness and brightness comes from. It is a gift from God, for the life of the world. You are not just salt, but you are the salt of the earth. Your salt is not for you, but for the earth, all people and all creation. You are not just light, but you are the light of the world. Your light does not belong to you, but it is for the good of the world. God gives it to us for us to pour out for others, use up for others. That’s what Jesus came to show us, how to pour out our salt and light for others. One man, albeit God in human flesh, came with enough salt and light to season and warm and illumine and entire world. This salt and light he shares with us, not to hide, hoard, or squander, but to give away freely, to pour out, to share, like Jesus did for us.
Yes, we are going to use it to salt our own food and light our own rooms. Yes, we are going to hide it sometimes. Yes, we are going to use it to put band-aids on problems. But God also has more in mind, and that is to transform our lives and the lives of those around us. He’s saying maybe a little less salt needs to be kept for ourselves, much less of it stored and hidden away, and maybe not as much will be needed to put band-aids on problems, if we would use it to transform our world. Our power and energy is the power and energy of God to put a world all out of balance back into balance.
We have done this before. We’ve gone and testified before the Clackamas County Commissioners about addictions and the need for housing and we got the housing we were asking for and then some. We’ve helped to start 5 homes for Domestic Violence Survivors to break the cycle of violence.
We have the chance to transform our world even more. We can go with a group like Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon to lobby at the state capitol. We can call or write our legislator. We can get to know someone who is hungry or homeless so that is no longer “those people” but someone just like me. We can limit ourselves to try to live on the average amount of foodstamps for a day or a week so we know how it feels. We can become a church that is open to officiating at the blessing or marriage of any loving couple. We can become part of an effort to balance the power of the energy companies who charge poor people fees for being unable to pay their heating bill. We can make choices for our congregation that respect the earth and pour ourselves out to see that future generations know the blessings that we know of having enough, of enjoying this earth, and they in turn have abundant life to pour out for the sake of others.
Jesus wants more for us than just to follow the rules. He wants more for us than the scribes and Pharisees were interested in at his time. He wants more than for the light to be hidden. He wants our light to shine and to transform this world. He wants our salt to season this world. He’s realistic that we’re small. But he knows that a few can make a difference for so many. He’s asking us to go beyond ourselves and our wants and needs to be a part of something bigger in bringing new life to a dark and hopeless world. In sharing our salt and light, we will find ourselves fulfilled and we’ll find the Kingdom of God taking shape all around us. We’ll find ourselves transformed by the love of God and the use of our power on behalf of others.