Sunday, February 06, 2011

Salt and Light

Matthew 5: 13-20

Preached on Feb 6, 2011 in the Center Moreland Charge.

“You are the Salt of the Earth, but if that salt has lost its flavor, then it’s not got much in it’s favor. . . “

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the musical “Godspell”. I think that it was the high water mark of the “Jesus Freak” movement of the 60’s and early 70’s, a creative presentation of the Gospel of Matthew told through upbeat music, magic tricks, and actors dressed as hippies, in makeup that suggested clowns. Jesus was in full whiteface, but with a Superman shirt. The original show made it to Broadway, and a movie was made of it, as well. I read now that there is a Broadway revival of it in the works, and it may open this spring or summer.

My dad directed the show when he taught high school, and I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. So I remember a lot of the songs. I can’t hear this chunk of Scripture without hearing the song that goes with it!

So, I’ve heard this phrase for years, but until this week, I didn’t have a very exact sense of what it meant. I knew it was complimentary, but I didn’t know what it was complimentary of. It means good folk. It means “people of great kindness, reliability, or honesty”. It means people of value. Roman soldiers were paid often in a portion of salt called a salarium, so to be “worth your salt” is to have earned your pay. We even get the word salary from salarium.

To be the salt of the earth is to be of value to your community. This week, we’ve learned yet again the value of salt for a community, with salt being dumped on the roads and sidewalks, haven’t we? To be the salt of the earth doesn’t mean rich, it doesn’t mean poor, though now we sort of hear it in conjunction with lower middle class, hard working types. Jesus, I think, means to ask his disciples if they are of value to the Kingdom of God, here. If the salt has lost its taste, it has lost its value. If salt has lost its taste, it is useless.

Akin to this is Jesus’ second image, the light of the world. Who would put a lit candle or oil lamp under a bushel? Aside from the obvious fire hazard, why light a lamp if the light is blocked, and the darkness is not overcome?

The light of God comes from the spark of God that is within us all. As I said a couple of weeks ago, when we become aware of all that has been done for us by God, in the actions and choices of Jesus Christ while he was on earth, and also in the presence and actions of the Holy Spirit who is with us at every moment; when we realize just all that God has done, our natural humble response is gratitude, and we act in ways that show our gratitude, and when we are seen this way, the light of the world has shined. The salt of the earth has been tasted.

Our witness to the love of God for this world is not in the radio stations we listen to, it isn’t in the bumper stickers we put on our cars. It is in the actions we take, the choices we make, the love we show for our fellow human beings. People who are salt of the earth do not judge others and purse their lips; Neither do salt of the earth people do whatever the culture is doing at that moment. Salt of the earth people show love and hospitality to their fellow human beings-people who are light of the world people care, but are humble enough not to ostracize others for their choices.

Salt of the earth people understand other peoples’ choices—they may have concerns about gas drilling, but they understand why people sign leases and take living wage jobs in a new and bustling industry during a tough economy. Salt of the earth people don’t take drugs or drink to drunkenness themselves, but they are aware enough of the hardness of life that they understand how someone else went down that road. Light of the world people may have political opinions of their own, but understand that there are reasonable people who may disagree. That doesn’t make them socialists or somehow less American.

Our saltiness is based in our resemblance to Jesus. The wattage of our light is based in how we seek to emulate Christ. When Jesus came to a well in a public place and saw the woman who seems to have had relationships with every man available, counting 5 husbands, and not married to the current man she’s with, number 6, he doesn’t shy away, or whisper to his friends behind his hands. He also doesn’t go stand in line to be number 7. He acknowledges the light in that woman’s soul, he acknowledges the presence of God in her being, and therefore acknowledges her humanity. He looks her in the eye.

Who was the guy with salt in the story of the man beaten by robbers and left for dead by the side of the road? The Samaritan.

Who was the person with salt when the sick man is lowered through the roof into Jesus’ presence? The guys who loved their friend so much they carried him to the house, and thought creatively when the crowd was too large.

Who is salt of the earth today? They’re easy to find—they are the people who shovel out their neighbors’ sidewalks when they’re ill or frail. They’re the people who volunteer for the fire department. They are the people who bring food to church to feed the hungry. They’re the people who visit shut-ins and the infirm, they’re the people who coach, lead Scouting programs. They teach, they heal, they speak out on behalf of others.

Having fun while doing these things is just a bonus, by the way, like that guy in the Maxwell House commercial, who drinks his cup of coffee and then goes out and snowblows the whole town.

So, it’s apparently true that salt can lose it’s saltiness. Chemically, I don’t think that’s true, because the Sodium atom would have to de-bond from the Chlorine atom, but Jesus isn’t teaching chemistry here. He’s teaching discipleship. If you can lose your saltiness, I think you can probably also gain it.

Everyone’s a little salty. Everybody is a little shiny with God’s light within them.

In your life, how can you become saltier? How can you become shinier? How can you become someone of great kindness, reliability, or honesty? How can you be of value to your community; not just your church community but to the community as a whole?

How can you be the salt of the earth for the world this week?

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