Salt and light

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

– Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the light of the world. . .”

That’s an incredible statement. In the Bible, light is here, right from the very beginning in the book of Genesis.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness, and called them Night and Day. . .and God made lights in the heavens, and set them in place to give light to the earth, and to mark the seasons, and to rule over the day and the night. . .” (Genesis 1:3-5, 14-19)

You can’t get away from light in the Bible. It’s the most powerful image we have for God. “The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. . .” (Psalm 119:105)

There are many, many more passages like these in the Bible. God and light are almost synonyms for each other. In one of the gospels, it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .In the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. . .” (John 1:1, 4-5)

Later on, Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. . .” (John 8:12).

But this morning, instead of saying, “I AM the light of the world,” Jesus says, “YOU ARE the light of the world.” Jesus is shifting that title from himself to us.

I don’t think that Jesus ever stops being the light of the world, but now Jesus says, “You’re the light, too. People don’t see me any more, but they do see you. And through you, they see me.”

That’s a very important message. Because what the world sees isn’t Jesus, but us. The world sees our problems, our bad habits, our quarrels, our failures. When the world sees us, people don’t always see Christ shining through us. They see people who are afraid to let the Light shine. They see people who have covered up their light with a basket.

But we are called by Christ – we are created by God – to be light-bringers. We’re meant to be like stars in the heavens. We’re supposed to be mirrors of the light and love of God. We’re called to be lighthouses of safety in a dangerous and violent world. We’re called to be lights of learning and understanding in a world that doesn’t care about these things.

We’re called to be lights of reconciliation, lights of God’s promises, lights of healing, lights of warmth and acceptance.

And what are we, instead? So often, the world sees Christians as judgmental, boring, exclusive, and hypocritical. The rest of the world sees Christians as keeping silent when people are suffering. Even worse, parts of the world see Christians as giving cover and providing the justification for all kinds of evil and violence.

What we need to do is to shine, and shine more brightly. We have a responsibility to bring true light to the world.

That’s a pretty important message, and I could just stop right there. But I think there are a few more things which might be helpful.

Jesus also says we’re supposed to be salt. The salt of the earth, he called us.

What does that mean? We hear people described as “the salt of the earth” sometimes, and we usually think it means that they’re down to earth. You know, a good person. Humble, without pretense. Someone you’d like to know.

But I think Jesus is saying something different. Something deeper.

When I was a boy, my father took our family to live in Italy for a year. We lived in the medieval walled fortress city of Siena. Things haven’t changed there much since the 1300’s. My dad taught history to a group of American exchange students, and I went to the Italian public school.

My mother didn’t feel very confident about her conversational Italian, and she wanted to get to know the city and the people. So we had a housekeeper, a woman named Giovanna. Giovanna took my mother every day to the market to buy food, and she introduced my mom to everyone and taught Mom all the local recipes.

I remember one evening, my mother was making some homemade spaghetti sauce. Giovanna tasted it, and she frowned. She shook her head and she said, “Sciocco! Sciocco!”

That was a word my mom hadn’t learned yet. So, Giovanna explained, with a lot of gestures, that she meant the sauce needed more salt.

Then Giovanna grinned, and she said, “Signora, we also say sciocco when we mean a person isn’t very smart. Un poco pazzo, a little crazy. A bisogno di sale in testa, they don’t have enough salt in their head.”

Jesus would have understood Giovanna. I think he meant what she said.

“You are the salt of the earth. If the salt has lost its taste, how can it be restored? It’s no good for anything anymore.”

In the Bible, salt is associated with wisdom. In the early church, when people were baptized, the minister would put a little salt on their tongue, and say, “Accepte sapiente salis,” which means, “receive the salt of wisdom.”

It was a symbol, a symbol that Christians aren’t supposed to be stupid. We’re supposed to be wise, with the wisdom of God.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. Don’t lose your flavor. Don’t lose your taste. Don’t be useless!”

The apostle Paul said, “Conduct yourselves wisely towards everyone, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be full of grace, but seasoned with salt, so that you know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

There isn’t any place in the world for a bland, tasteless Christianity. We ought to taste like something. Don’t be vanilla pudding! Put a little hot sauce on what we serve up. Let people know, when they meet you, that they’ve met somebody real, and that you believe something!

Be light! Be salt! Have some flavor! Be alive! Show that life and faith and hope that Christ gave you. Let people taste the life of God whenever they meet you!

But think about what flavor you are. How your religion, and your faith, and your spirituality, will taste to other people.

Don’t be bland, don’t be boring. Life isn’t sweet all the time. But don’t be a sour Christian, either. Don’t be bitter. Use a little salt now and then.

Jesus used to tell his friends, “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves.” That’s the way it feels sometimes when we leave this place. It isn’t easy for us to know what to do. There’s a lot of scary people out there.

But Jesus went on to say, “Be wise and crafty as serpents, and as innocent as doves. . .” (Matthew 10:16)

It’s that same contrast. Wise and crafty, but also innocent and without guile. Filled with light, but not stupid. We’re supposed to be salt and light, light and salt.

Years ago, one of my neighbors in Indiana was the great Quaker author and minister, Elton Trueblood. He was a very wise person. He said a lot of quotable things.

One of Elton Trueblood’s favorite sayings was, “It is both possible and necessary to have both warm hearts and clear minds. . .”

There you have it again. Salt and light. Light and salt. God wants us to be wise, but God also wants us to share His vision for the world to be turned around and healed. God wants us to be street smart, but not corrupted by the world around us.

Our job is to be light-bringers. Our job is to be lamp-bearers, to carry the light of Christ into every dark place there is in the world. Our job is to open the windows and throw back the shutters and let the light of Christ shine into our lives.

Earlier this year – the first sermon I preached at the beginning of January – I said that I think we ought to re-name our church. We ought to change our name to Springfield Power and Light. That’s the business we need to be in. The power of God, and the light of Christ. That’s what our message needs to be.

Let’s head into our quiet time with a prayer.

Lord, we pray for your Light to fill our hearts and our minds. Make us bearers of your Light, with your Word in our minds and your love in our hearts. Help us not to be afraid to go anywhere, because you’re already there before us.

Shine your light into the innermost places of our lives. Help us to let go of anything that’s contrary to you.

And Lord, please help us to be wise. It’s not easy in today’s world. Help us to be wise, not with our own wisdom, but with your wisdom, your own Holy Spirit guiding us every day. Help us to know when to speak up and when to keep silent, when to reach out and when to wait, when to listen and when to pray together.

Your wisdom often seems pretty foolish, Lord. But it’s always the best thing for us. Keep us salty, Lord. Keep us lively and exciting. But let it be your wisdom, and not just our own thoughts and feelings.

Make us to be people of salt and light. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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