This was this morning’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church!
Today is a big day here at Community! We’re celebrating 15 young peoples’ First Communion, and we’ve got two baptisms happening. It’s a day full of joy! We’re welcoming people into the body of Christ in the waters of baptism and celebrating how we continue to grow and live out those baptisms through receiving God’s holy meal time and time again.
And we also have this wonderful passage about salt and light, cities on a hill and what it means to live out our faith. This passage always makes me think of the musical Godspell:
You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It’s lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to be the light of the world
You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor
It ain’t got much in its favor
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!
I love musicals and this song makes remembering Jesus’ words catchy and jazzy!
However, I think when we hear this passage, our tendency is to think, “what do I have to do to be salt?” or “what do I have to do to be light?” I think we hear Jesus’ words in the second part of the passage and they put us on edge: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Gulp. Well, I’m out! Good luck, right? To give you an idea, the rabbis, the descendants of the Pharisees, name 613 commandments or mitzvot to follow. If we’re honest, it’s hard to even follow the 10 commandments, right? So how can we possibly reach such an incredibly high bar?! We can’t. We all fall short. And thankfully, God knew this and took on humanity to do what we couldn’t do – to fulfill the law and the prophets. And so we’ve been made righteous through Christ, our savior. In God’s eyes, Christ has made us righteous – right before God – through his self-giving life and death on the cross.
We know this. We are reminded of it week after week. We remember it when we enter the church and see the font – the waters in which we were forgiven and welcomed as children of God. We remember it when we are graciously invited to the feast and we hear those words, “‘Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’” “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.’”
We know this incredibly good news and, yet, sometimes we lose sight of it. Sometimes it remains in our heads and doesn’t quite connect with us in our hearts. And so I hear in Jesus’ words in the Gospel today words of amazing promise: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You all know by this point that I love grammar. So here goes! “You all” – plural – meaning all ya’ll. “Are” – present tense meaning right now, at this very instant! Each and every one of you is salt and light! Great, you may be thinking, but what on earth does that mean?!
In the ancient world, both salt and light were precious. Salt was a valuable trade commodity, a symbol of purity and wisdom in Mesopotamian thought, and was used in sacrifice. It was, and is, a seasoning and a preservative, helping food last longer, and was also used as a cleansing agent. Light was precious because people were dependent on the sun or lamps to see – remember, they didn’t have fluorescent bulbs in every building to making working or shopping easy! It was also a common metaphor of God and God’s salvation.
So what is Jesus saying when he says that we are salt and light? I think he’s saying, “You are a precious commodity, seasoning the lives of others around you. You are a sign of God and you help others to see God’s salvation.” What amazing words. What empowerment. What abundant grace.
Jesus doesn’t say that we will be salt and light if only we do this, that or the other thing. Instead, he says you are already salt and light because you have been made bright and well seasoned! We have already been illuminated by the current of God’s love and grace running through our lives.
And Jesus doesn’t stop there. Rather, he says that it is important to remain salty and illuminated! We do so by staying plugged in to God, as well as by letting our lights shine forth into the world. Jesus says that we aren’t to hide or misuse the gifts and the calling we have as children of God, but rather to put them to good use. It’s even a part of the sacrament of baptism – the newly baptized receive a candle and hear, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Through the leading and strength of the Holy Spirit, we are to seek after and do our best to follow God, humbly serving and pointing to God. We will make mistakes and mess up, and we will never be perfect, as much as this recovering perfectionist would love that! But just because we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we can’t let our lights shine brightly or that we can’t make a difference. Remember, God has made us light and salt and we have something to share with the world. And no matter how often we fall short, God forgives us and frees us to go back out into the world – to make a difference by following Jesus, the Light of the world.
I’ve been thinking about being light and salt for a while now and trying to keep my eyes open to see where people are salty and bright. And I’ve experienced some wonderful things! I’ve witnessed people listening to one another and comforting each other at the Compassionate Friends grief group. I’ve seen people step up to shovel and salt the church sidewalks – more of a literal use of salt, I suppose! I’ve heard of the life-changing work that LINK is doing in our community. And I’ve been reminded by so many of you in conversations, e-mails and phone calls the things you do day in and day out not only for this church, but for your jobs, schools, other non-profit groups and the larger community.
Those things may seem small or to go unnoticed, but those are the little things that help to season others’ lives – to have an impact on them. As Catholic nun, Sister Jean, put it in a trailer for the upcoming documentary, Radical Grace, “In every encounter, something sacred is at stake.” Even a smile, a kind word, or a simple action can shed light on God and reflect God’s light into someone’s life.
Being salt and light for the world means working for the kingdom of God. It means calling for an end to injustice and standing with those who are oppressed and downtrodden. It means comforting those who mourn and having compassion on the suffering. It means speaking out against persecution and bullying, and caring for the hungry and the poor. It’s a big job!
But we have been called and welcomed into this kingdom work in our baptisms. We’ve been made part of a community – sisters and brothers all called to work together to make the world a bit brighter. And we continue to be strengthened to do this work every time we receive bread and wine – the promise of Christ for us and with us. We welcome others, grow in grace and share Christ’s love.
So as we celebrate with these young people being baptized and receiving communion for the first time today, may we hear the promises of God anew. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
And in the words of Godspell:
So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine.
© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.