Matthew 5:13-20

February 9, 2014 by Ken Dale

??????????? This past week I began putting together the program for our upcoming all day spiritual life retreat at Camp Kieve on March 1st.? The sign-up sheet is out so if you?re planning on taking advantage of a wonderful day together as church family please do sign up.? The theme is discernment ? how we hear the voice of God in our lives and it is based on the book Discernment by Henri Nouwen.? One of the ways we experience God?s presence is through the gift of nature.? In that section Henri Nouwen speaks of how close to the earth Jesus was ? that he walked the dusty roads and knew all about the rocky soil, thorny bushes, flowers of the fields, barren trees, – all of which he used to teach about God?s ways in the world.? This morning we are likened to salt and light.? And I love the fact that Jesus says ?you are? ? not you ?should be.?? I?m sure I?ve shared with you the conference I once attended years ago and there was a Catholic sister who had a? button on that said ?Don?t should on me? ? s-h-o-u-l-d ?I just wanted to be sure you heard me correctly.? You should have done this ? you should have done that ?? how often do we do that to one another and to ourselves.? Someone saying that wasn?t around earlier to say ?why don?t you do? this or that.? Jesus says you are the salt of the earth ? you are the light of the world.

Salt!? ?It is interesting to note that in Judaism salt was a symbol of the covenant and in fact when Jesus says ?you? are the salt of the earth ? ?you? is not singular, but plural.? He refers to the community.? Salt is a pretty powerful metaphor because it has so many uses ? you may have noticed it on the ground around the church, there to keep us safe from falling.? Before refrigeration and canning salt was used to preserve food.? It was a crucial thing to have if you wanted a variety of foods.? It has been fought for in wars and has even served as currency.? It is also used as a disinfectant on wounds.? But what probably comes to mind for most of us when it comes to salt is seasoning ? something that enhances the flavor of something else.? Salt has an edge as well as a satisfying flavor.? With a little salt what would be bland or tasteless comes alive.? And of course too much salt is not good.? One commentator I read said if we are to get the point Jesus is making we would understand salt more in terms of red hot pepper, another said tabasco sauce.? It is a noticeable difference.? Personally I think both are extremes. Being the “salt of the earth” implies that we have some function to perform, some responsibility in this kingdom of which Jesus speaks.? Being the salt of the earth isn’t about being something great and wonderful on our own; rather it’s about being the ones who bring out the great and wonderful things of God’s kingdom to others.

In a similar way Jesus calls us the light of the world.? In December we had quite a few power outages ? while some have generators, there are many of us who don?t.? How fragile and yet how powerful light can be.? Lighting one candle can change the whole situation.? It banishes the darkness and makes the shadows less threatening and enables one to move about.? In Jesus? day a small one room home in Palestine would literally be totally lit by one light. Fred Buechner speaking of light writes We can?t see light itself.? We can only see what light lights up, like the little circle of night where the candle flickers ? a sheen of mahogany, a wine glass, a face leaning toward us out of the shadows. I can?t help but think of the power of one candle at the close of the office of Tenebrae during Maundy Thursday worship ? one single candle that sheds light on the cross on the wall above it ? and how it lights the entire sanctuary. Jesus says we are to let our light shine before others, not ourselves, but that those others may see our good works and give glory–not to us–but to God.

And remember ? the word ?you? in these verses is plural.? We don?t have to be salt and light all by ourselves ? we do it together. ?It is the witness of our individual lives and it is the witness of our community of faith.

Henri Nouwen writes:? To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God?s presence in the world.? What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking.? When we forgive our neighbors from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words.? When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.? But then he makes another point.? Nouwen writes, When our words come too soon and we are not yet living what we are saying, we easily give double messages.? Giving double messages ? one with our words and another with our actions ? makes us hypocrites.? His hope:? May our lives give us the right words and may our words lead us to the right life.

??????????? I think that is why Jesus doesn?t say you should be salt and light ? he says you are!? It comes as a natural expression of one?s experience of faith.? When I spoke with Phyllis about the way of worship for the Iona community I loved the thought that the entire day was an act of worship ? what you did during the day was part of your act of worship and part of the community?s act of worship ? working in the kitchen, doing maintenance ? whatever the day found you doing was part of worship.? The benediction didn?t come until the end of the day.? And so it will be for us today ? there is no benediction in our worship this morning ? there is closing prayer and a time of silence and closing responses ? after those closing responses we will leave the sanctuary but the worship will continue with what we do with the day ahead.? Tonight after the supper and the program on the Iona community ? there will be a benediction and it will come from the Iona Worship Book.

Salt and light are only useful when they enhance something else. ?You are the salt of the earth ? you are the light of the world ? and you are that in your very being as a person of faith ? enhancing things up with those gifts of the Spirit – gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.? Gifts that are to be shared whatever one is busy with and at whatever scale it may be.? As individuals we are salt and light in the simple acts of kindness we do – being there for another as a friend or companion ? a phone call, a visit, a prayer, some expression of concern for another in their time of need.? And we are salt and light as a church ? through our various forms of outreach within and beyond this church.? May our salty luminescence flow naturally out of us because we are a people of faith.