Matthew 5:13-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I love, love, love these passages of salt and light. These are two elements that I can relate to and two things I experience daily – light and salt. These are not great spiritual elements to try to understand or explain. These are not deep spiritual thoughts to try to unpack. These are not great theological discussions about transfiguration or resurrection to muddle through. These are, however, just plain everyday experiences of common, everyday needs for life for all people in all walks of life: light and salt. Rather simple in the scheme of things. Jesus knows his audience that has gathered and speaks deliberately to the people of his time. Commentator, Edwin Van Driel notes: “The sermon is for Israel, in a time of oppression by outsiders (a chronic problem since the Exile six hundred years earlier): with their ‘land, city, and temple ruled by goyim; soldiers’ boots marching through the country; and the prophetic promises of divine kingship never fully fulfilled,’ there was a lively – or rather, a heated and even anguished debate about the meaning of their suffering (‘How could God let this happen to us?)’ and the best way to respond. And so, like every preacher, Jesus is delivering a message in a specific context, in his own generation, years before Matthew wrote his Gospel for an early Christian community.” (uccsermonseeds.org; Kathryn Matthews; Edwin Van Driel, Feasting on the Word Year A,Vol. 1) That’s the contect and these words speak to us today as well.
That first line of today’s scripture reading is one I can relate to: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot,” Jesus said.
This is a line I’ve known personally as a bread baker. I’ve made hundreds of organic loaves of bread over the past two decades. You’d think by now I would be able to remember the recipe by heart – me too – but I’ve had to throw out at least a few loaves over the years because I forgot to add the essential ingredient of salt. Too much salt isn’t great – but a loaf with no salt is a disgusting disaster and should be thrown out and definitely trampled underfoot. Disgusting!
So, salt adds a wonderful dimension to our lives and had many different associations for Jesus’ audience. Ronald Allen writes, “[salt] not only strengthens flavor and preserves food but in ancient times was rubbed on newborn children, used to seal covenants, sprinkled on sacrifices, and understood as a metaphor for wisdom and associated with God’s gracious activity.” (Ronald Allen, The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels; uccsermonseeds.com) Not only does salt add zest to our food, it is also used as a binder in varied dishes, and at one time salt was a costly commodity.
The setting of this sermon also takes place prior to the discovery of electricity. Jesus knew the community gathered around him. “This first-century audience would have understood his words. The typical home in Palestine was very dark with only one circular window perhaps not more than eighteen inches across. Lamps were essential. The typical lamp was nothing more than a bowl of oil with a wick floating in it. It was not easy to light lamps; remember, this was before the age of matches. So lamps were kept burning continuously. And, when the family was sleeping or was out, an earthen bushel container was placed over the lamp so that nothing would catch on fire. But when the family was at home and awake, the lamp was placed high on a stand so that all corners of the room would have some light.” (sermons.com)
Two humble, common images: salt and light. Both important. Both needed for good living and life. Both understood by all who were gathered to hear what Jesus had to say. Jesus called his listeners both salt and light. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. As he used common elements, he tells common, everyday folk that their zest and their illumination are needed in a dark and difficult world. He is telling us the very same thing today.
Jesus’ message gives us hope and encouragement in dark and difficult times. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. YOU. And you are the ‘we’ who follow Jesus two thousand years later. Each age comes to understand for itself what it means to be faithful disciples, and about how to respond to the challenges we face in a world that may also feel dark and difficult. Marcia Riggs claims; “Jesus’ followers are both commanded and enabled by Jesus to surpass conventional and institutional practices and righteousness.” (uccsermonseeds.org; Marcia Riggs, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 1)
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Kathryn Matthews makes some tough statements for us to consider: “Salt and light for the world means loving the neighbor we have to deal with every day but also caring about the ‘stranger’ – refugees in war-torn countries, children who go to school hungry, teens who are bullied and bullies as well, those who disagree with us politically – for how else will we find common ground?, victims of violence and disasters, those caught in poverty and addiction . . . and the world that surrounds us all, including the good earth that holds us and all of God’s beautiful creatures, all of these so vulnerable to our decision, to our arrogance and our lack of consideration.” (sermonseeds.org; Kathryn Matthews)
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the light to others as others have been the light for you. Will you ever forget the person who came to you with a light when you were in darkness? (M Rose, Clergy Coaching Network)
L.R. Knost wrote: Do not be dismayed by the brokenness in the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” (L.R. Knost, InspiredtoGive.org; Clergy Coaching Network; facebook.)
These words remind me of a Leonard Cohen song called “Forget Your Perfect Offerings.” The chorus has these words:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in.
You are the light of the world. You give light and you receive light as well. Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle’s approach to evangelism draws on Jesus’ own presence to those drawn to hear him preaching that day. L’Engle wrote: “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” God’s light is reflected through us. God is the power source. And a good play on words in this age of garnering power from the sun is the fact that God is our SOULar source. Our job is to reflect that love and mercy and kindness and grace with all we meet. You are the light of the world.
On a hillside, on a day perhaps like this one, Jesus preached words of challenge when he lifted the Beatitudes we heard last week. In today’s segment of his sermon, we hear words of encouragement and hope to a community struggling with darkness and oppression.
Yet, in the last paragraph we heard this morning is a sense of warning – a tension – when Jesus notes that he has not come to abolish the law or the prophets – that is not his intent – it was not his intent that another religion would develop, but that he came to bring a new mindset and a new commitment to the religion of his birth to the God of all life. Some of his more difficult passages will be shared next week.
May God bless us, Salty Ones, to enhance the flavors of this world. And as YOU are the light needed in this time – it’s time to brightly shine – brightly shine. Amen.
Let’s join together to sing a familiar tune: This Little Light of Mine.
Copyright DMC 2020