What does it mean to be salt and light in the world? As followers of Christ are we afraid to mix it up with the world? Do we fear allowing our light to shine?
As Jesus speaks to the disciples and the crowd on the hill he makes it clear that we are to be salt and light.
Scripture: Matthew 5: 13-20
The season of Christmas, the twelve days where we celebrate the birth of Christ and all that is wrapped up in the Nativity story is sandwiched by the seasons of Advent and Epiphany. In Advent a theme that often emerges is from a passage in Isaiah, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness alight has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
This theme of light and illumination gets caught up in the message of John the Baptist when he again quotes from Isaiah asking us to “make a straight path for the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3). The season of Advent prepares us for Christmas, reminds us of the light which is about to enter our midst.
The season of Epiphany shares similar imagery to that of Advent. The theme of light and illumination appears often. I believe in many of the sermons I have preached during this Epiphany season I have talked about the first instances of Jesus’ public minister. Where we make the connection between the season of Advent and the light that was seen, to Epiphany where we realize who the light is.
Advent and Epiphany shine a light on Jesus and ask us to participate in the light bearing ministry that he started. Our reading this morning continues the sermon on the mount. Today Jesus talks explicitly about salt and light. It is a metaphor for the questions of ‘who are we’ and ‘what are we to do?’
All the teaching that Jesus is doing is bound up in the work of the prophets. In our passage from Isaiah the people accuse God of not seeing their faithfulness. However, they are the ones dwelling in the dark unable to see what God is doing. Once they begin to work with God, then their own light will break forth. Eric Barreto writes, “righteousness before God is bound up in the call of the law and the prophets.” (Eric Barreto)
Like the people of Israel that Isaiah spoke to, we are similarly called to trust in God enough to allow our light to shine forth. However, Jesus takes it a step further when he makes the connection between salt and light. Salt has some usefulness; its job is to preserve and enhance flavour. If you are the salt of the earth, then you have some flavour. Salt always preserves and enhances. Light always illuminates and attracts.
But salt does have a shelf life, if it is left to sit it loses its effectiveness. A reminder to get to it. Light similarly goes out. In our modern day we are used to just flicking a switch and the lights come on. Gone are the days when we need candles and lamps, things that if they weren’t tended could go out. Matthew appears to be building a sense of urgency or timeliness into his message. That we shouldn’t just sit back, we have important work to do. The world could use some preserving, it needs the light to shine forth.
We mix salt into our food. To be effective we need to be mixed into the world by bringing the saltiness of the good news to people who need to taste it. Salt that doesn’t leave the saltshaker isn’t doing its job. It needs to be poured out, mixed up with the food. Just as we need to visible to the world outside of those doors.
Scott Hoezee from the Center for Excellence in Preaching shares the following story, “A while back someone asked the preacher and writer Eugene Peterson what he would say if he were writing what he knew would be his very last sermon (Peterson died last year, I wonder if he ever did this). He replied, “I think I would want to talk about things that are immediate and ordinary. In the kind of world we live in, the primary way that I can get people to be aware of God is to say, ‘Who are you going to have breakfast with tomorrow, and how are you going to treat that person?’
“Peterson suggests we need to stop thinking that being a Christian means always being part of only obvious religious contexts. We just need to pay attention to what the people around us are doing most every day and then help them do it in ways that glorify God. “In my last sermon, I guess I’d want to say, ‘Go home and be good to your spouse. Treat your children with respect. Do a good job at work.” We need to be salt in the real world, and that involves genuinely being with real people, listening to them well, and treating them as the little images of God they all are.” (Scott Hoezee – Center for Excellence in Preaching)
It is a remarkably simple image. To be good to those we love, to do a good job at work, to be involved with real people and to do good while we are in their company. To be salt while we are mixed up with the events of our lives. I also believe it is entirely doable to be good, to be respectful and to treat others as images of God. Just as we would hope to be treated by others.
Often, we look for the big things as signs that we are doing the work of the kingdom. Perhaps we see another church doing something wonderful in the community and we think “we need to be more like them, we need to do that too so we can make a difference.” But this isn’t always the case. Sure, it’s great to do big things that people see, maybe they make the news or get the community talking. That’s great, but I really believe it’s all the small things that we do that define us as a community of faith.
When we gather and share a meal. Sitting at the bedside of someone in hospital. Serving a meal to someone who is hungry. Gathering food each month to support the food bank. Speaking up for those who don’t have a voice or the resources to do so for themselves. Picking up the phone to call and check in on someone you haven’t seen for awhile. Laughing and crying together. That’s what being salt and light is all about in God’s good creation. Small, simple acts of goodness.
This is brought home when we remember that the good that we do, our good works aren’t ours. We are merely conduits of God’s goodness. We don’t do good for our own benefit. We don’t do it because we seek material gain or because we need to be in the limelight. We do what we do, we are the salt of the earth, we do good for God’s benefit.
Of course, it isn’t just you, and you, and you who go and do the work. When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” It isn’t the second person singular, it’s the second person plural. It’s all of you. All of you are the light of the world. Each of you brings your own individual light, but we need all of us to make a difference. While we are each tasked and called to this ministry of being salt and light, we are also called to do the work together as a community of faith.
I pray that as we walk through those doors we can answer God’s call, we can declare, ‘Here I am’ as we become salt and light in the world. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.