Matthew 5:13-16 (NRSV)
Salt and Light
13 “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 underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 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. 16 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.
If you ever go to a Mexican restaurant with Evy be ready because she’s going to put salt on all over the chips. She learned that bad habit from me. I love salty foods and I’m one of those people who puts salt on everything without tasting it, much to my embarrassment on my first dinner with Mike’s granny and grandad. It was how I grew up. My mom never salted food enough and I learned it from my dad. She said she learned that from Sa Sa, my dad’s mom, who she quoted, “You can always add more, but you can never take it away.” Wise words. My brother lived with us one semester while we were living in Atlanta. He was a civil engineering major at Clemson and he did an internship with Brasfield and Gory and he decided to fix us sloppy joe’s one night for dinner. I don’t know what he put in it, but it was a sodium fiesta. None of us could eat it, and we tried. He had a bite and had to drink a whole glass of water afterwards. Thus, proving Mom’s point. Salt is a powerful substance.
Salt was very important in the first-century. Salt was not only used as currency, but actual wars were fought over it because it had so many uses. Salt could be used to cure and store meats, to disinfect wounds and make food and pottery. It was useful in a thousand different ways. It’s like us, God uses us in many different forms and ways to bring salt to the world to bring in the kingdom of God. In Florida they had “Salty Service” hours in the bulletin and you would tear that part out if you had volunteered at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or sorted at a food bank that week. It was a way to track their church’s service in the community, their saltiness.
If y’all walked through the fellowship hall this morning, you will notice some of the ways that we are seeking to salt our community, our nation, and our world. We have the opportunity to share our saltiness with the whole world through one can of food, one bag of candy, one hug, one prophetic word. Like I was preaching about last week, we have the ability to tell people about God’s world through living lives of authenticity: the good, the bad, and the ugly, the way we admit our faults, the way we cling to Christ, love our enemies, feed the needy, strive to keep our promises and so much more. We, who have been chosen, to share the Good News, to share the salt of Christ, have an often surprising, at least to ourselves, usefulness in this broken world when we are led by the Spirit to live life out loud, in who God created us to be, and resting in the grace, hope, love of our Savior. They will know we are Christians by our love.
Bob Goff writes, “Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about – full of abandon, whimsy, and in love.”
I have always been a star gazer. I remember dragging our mattresses to the big field at Camp Pee Dee as a camper and later on a college retreat to look at the stars. I remember laying down in beds of pickup trucks in high school looking at the stars. But the stars at my grandparents in Greeleyville were the brightest I had ever seen. In my younger years, I thought it was only there that I actually had a chance to look up and savor and enjoy and take a pause from the busy-ness of life, but when I learned that it was merely a lack of ambient light because Greeleyville was in the middle of nowhere, it didn’t make it any less special. In Tromso, Norway, there is a period of darkness called morketida. From mid-November to mid-January, the sun does not rise above the horizon. In fact, from August until mid-November, residents can count on losing 10 to 15 minutes of light each day until the depths of the winter solstice. At best, those high above the Arctic Circle may look forward to only two or three hours of indirect or half-light around midday for nearly two months.
Yet while the stars that light the sky during this morketida period may shine for long periods, they are not enough to dispel the gloom that pervades the streets and can easily poison the soul. During our own periods of morketida, we don’t really need more stars – we need more common lights or lamps to light our everyday paths on this earth.
I’ve always loved the story about Robert Louis Stevenson growing up in Scotland. In those days, streetlamps didn’t come on automatically; people were hired to light each one individually. One evening, as the lamplighters did their work, climbing their ladders, lifting the glass lid, lighting the torch, shutting the lid, climbing down, and moving on to the next lamp, young Stevenson was enthralled. As dusk settled into night, one light would be kindled, then another, and another. He said, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
Look at the man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
As a child, didn’t you love to sing “This little light of mine … I’m going to let it shine ….”? and all of the verses? I love it when on Christmas Eve we light the candles. As a child, I liked that even I got a candle, and I always noticed that the more candles that were lit the more the room grew brighter and brighter. Jesus gives us all the power and authority we need to shine our light in the world. The Holy Spirit fans the flame and if one of our community’s light goes out, just like on Christmas Eve, you come alongside them, and light it with your light, the light of Christ in you. Jesus wants us to think corporately about the illuminating power he generates in each of us. The “city built on a hill” is not noticed because one lone light flickers in a window. It is the combined wattage of an array of lights, each burning in its own place, but for a common purpose, that sets the city ablaze in the midst of a dark and dreary night.
Pope Francis writes, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”
God sends us sustenance for our journey as we need it. Scriptures, devotions, songs, books, movies, poems, any way that pierces the layers of life that we hold so dear.
Remember who you are. I was in the 8th grade when I saw it and it was the first time I remember God speaking to me through a movie. God speaks to me often in movies, but it was the first time that the Great God of the Universe revealed Godself in this way to me. Remember who you are. Remember who I have created you to be.
Andrew Kramer shared this poem he wrote with me. It’s called “I Am Man.” Cold is the day /and dark is the night / when brown bears hibernate / and birds find respite from flight / also man with heart and soul / begin life’s long journey to / find himself whole / he searches the earth / for riches and fame / only to discover the unfair / rules of life’s game / he has met with obstacles on land and sea / but with steadfast perseverance / he culminates in me / I am man. God wants us to be who God created us to be – healthy, fulfilled and whole and then God takes it a step farther calling us to live our lives as salt and light. Illuminating my and the world’s darkness. Re-salinating my and the world’s saltiness. If it’s the past your worried about, don’t.
God doesn’t want you living in the past. Sometimes you may be like Simba in the first clip, you have to make your way through the jungle, either of your own making or what the world has thrown at you or both. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and bought for price. The Savior of the world lives inside of you spurring you on to right action. It’s not about your own effort. None of us naturally salty and naturally effervescent, it’s all through Jesus. It’s all about abiding in the true vine that gives us the ability to bear the fruit of the kingdom.
You punch another hole in the darkness every time you show up with joy instead of gloom on your face, with good things to say instead of griping, every time you stop for someone who’s struggling, when you consciously put someone else ahead of you, when you insist on taking the high road when it’s tempting to cut corners, every time you weep with someone who’s weeping, rejoice with someone who’s rejoicing, and reach out to someone who’s been acting pretty unloveable.
Don’t worry if you don’t do it “right” 24:7. Bob Goff writes, “Failure is just part of the process, and it’s not just okay; it’s better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.” Claim these verses from 1 Peter 2:9-10,
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Aren’t those powerful words? When we bear witness to those mighty acts in Jesus Christ even the gates of Hell will not prevail. We are chosen to punch holes in the darkness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.”
16 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.
We live in a pretty dark world. Some of us have never seen a darker time. But it’s not a world without salt and light, unless Christians fail to stand up by living like Jesus, treating people like Jesus, handling situations and temptations like Jesus, being like Jesus. Who did God put in your life for you to show them Jesus? What ways can you be salt in the world? In what ways is God calling you to remember who you are, who you are created to be, and what is God calling you to do? You don’t have to have all the answers now. Just merely begin asking yourselves the questions. Begin plotting the ways you will be salt and light in the world. In your professional life. In your personal life. You can light one of the candles over there. They are for before the service, after the service, during communion, or any time you want to pray intentionally. We all learn in different ways and we all need different sparks, ways to interact with God. I know sometimes you are too worn to be salty and your light seems to be on the verge of snuffing out, but God will give you the strength, Jesus will give you the sustenance, and the Holy Spirit will give you the boldness and courage. Amen.