13 “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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Our gospel lesson today is a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For two thousand years, Christians have pointed to this sermon as the penultimate in Jesus’ teaching. It is not a sermon that gives us five points to a better lifestyle. It does not offer us three ways to be better husbands or fathers or mothers or wives. It is not designed to show us four Godly principles on building a business. This sermon does more. This sermon tells us how we are to live as followers of Jesus Christ. This sermon tells us how to live and act in the Kingdom of God. And as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are to be salt and light.
Last Saturday I took our cars to the car wash. Frankly we were tired of getting our clothes dirty brushing up against the salt. With this brutal winter, we have all had enough salt – on our streets, on our cars, in our garages and then tracked through the house, no matter how hard we try to keep things clean. Add to that the dietary sodium restrictions some people have for health purposes and we don’t get such a good view of salt do we? But let’s look at salt. In the times of Jesus, salt was a very rare and valuable commodity. Since salt was highly desirable, it was used as currency and for trade. It was used to pay Roman soldiers – the “salarium argentums” where we get the word “salary.” Salt was even used as a price for slaves and servants. A servant who was not worth their salt meant they were not worth the cost. Nearly every ancient religion has used salt in some ritual including Judaism. As today, salt was used to preserve and flavor food – and when used appropriately, does a great job. And so salt was a great metaphor for Jesus to use – something useful that increases the value of what it is added to. Salt – we are the salt of the world. We add value to the world – we add flavor as in we change the world for the better. At least we do when we accept the call to be salt and light.
Which brings us to light. Think about the importance of light. The sun gives us just the right amount of light and heat. Any hotter and life would not be possible. Any colder and light would not be possible. Plants and animals need light to grow. Light is as essential to life as oxygen, which would not exist without light. Light, as salt, changes things for the better. I love that line “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” Just think how ridiculous that is! Go to all the trouble of setting up a lamp, whether it is an oil lamp or a fancy electric chandelier, light it and then cover it up. What purpose does that serve? Not only does it cover up the light, rendering it useless, but it wastes the source of energy – whether a candle, oil or electricity. Covering up the light is completely at odds with light itself. And yet, that is what we do. Christians are gifted by the Holy Spirit and many just cover those gifts up, by choosing not to use them or to NOT participate in the Missio Dei – the Mission of God.
Last week I laid out my dream for this congregation. That was not just a sermon filler point. I truly believe that is the congregation we are called to be. And one way to become a community of faith that practices hospitality, healing, hope, love, repentance and forgiveness is by being salt and light. We then went on to pray for our community, after a series of tragic happenings in the weekend. The communities where we live need salt and light. They need the good news of Jesus Christ. They need hope. And we are called to deliver that hope for we are supposed to be connected to that hope. Isaiah said “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These were not idle words we get to read on December 24th and move on. These are the prophetic words that the Light of the World was coming. And we, as followers of Jesus, know that He has come and He is that light. And if Jesus resides within us, then His light is within us. And so we are to carry His light around – and to show that light everywhere we go. And when we do, great changes can happen.
Disney’s latest hit movie, in the theaters now, is Frozen. In that movie a princess is born with a power to create ice and snow. She loses control of the power and she freezes her kingdom. But her sister is able to break the curse through her love. That is our role – we are to use love to break those things that freeze our world – to break the bonds of pain people feel, to break the cycle of violence in our communities, to shed light – warming light – onto the frozen hearts we encounter. It is not enough to claim membership in a church. It is not enough to say “I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ” and then sit down and allow our communities to be in pain. We must do what Jesus calls us to do. His sermon on the mount was not a message to fulfill his preaching time. Jesus gave these words for us to follow. Matthew’s gospel ends the Sermon on the Mount in chapter seven where Jesus says these words: 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Jesus doesn’t just want us to hear His words, say “Thanks be to God” and move on to something else. It is not enough for us to hear these words of Jesus; to study them; to be inspired by them; to have hopes, aspirations and dreams based on them. We must ACT on them; practice them; live them in our everyday lives. That is the essence of discipleship – to become more like Jesus Christ. And that is why we are here. Jesus is calling us to be salt and light. He is calling each one of us to let our light shine before others. He is calling us to be His disciples. And so I ask; is your light shining?