TEXT: Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12
TITLE: To your marks, Get set, Go!
Hearers will come to know themselves, as believers, in terms of light of the world and salt of the earth.
Hearers will come to understand what “light” and “salt” mean for themselves as believers.
Hearers will apply their calling (vocation) to be light and salt to the lives they lead day to day.
Hearers will analyze their worlds, seeking out the dark and insipid places where their identity matters.
Hearers will evaluate the wider social and political contexts of their lives to see what is wanting.
Hearers will individualized and corporate create light and salt responses to the world outside the church door.
Knowing isn’t enough. Being and doing are essential parts of our identity as salt and light.
What do you know yourself to be? There are lots of answers to that question: religious answers, ethnic answers, national answers, social-status answers, political answers, gender answers, family-position answers and more.
Lots of people, including ourselves, discover who we are when someone else tells us. Newly enlisted soldiers aren’t well respected, neither when they begin NOR while they’re in their initial weeks and months of training. But when that training ends, and the drill sergeants and officers who have treated these young men and women so badly for the couple of months that seemed last forever, there comes an announcement: “you’re no longer recruits, now you’re soldiers (or airmen, or marines, or sailors, or whatever). There’s a pride that has been earned, and an identity, and people stand up straighter. When my kids were little we watched and re-watched a movie about a large family on vacation in a little town. The movie was both entertaining and educating. In one scene the family had a baseball game that included an older family friend who had played professional baseball in his youth. On the other team was a young boy who was extremely disappointed when his side lost the game. The older guy took the boy aside and said, effectively, “the others were just kidding around. YOU are a Ball player”. Secure in his identity, the boy dropped his sadness, and stood up a little taller.
In the bit of Matthew’s gospel we read from today, Jesus told some people, “You are like salt for all mankind,” and “You are like light for the whole world”. Today we have the option to choose whether or not he was talking to us, now. We hear these statements at the beginning of these paragraphs, and we’re like those who stand at the starting line of a foot race, hearing the “starter” say to us, “To your marks. Get set, Go!”
So, what do you know yourself to be? If what you want to be has anything to do with pleasing God, then what we read from Isaiah today applies. Pleasing God is NOT about “fasting and praying, making ourselves suffer or spreading out sackcloth and ashes to lie on.” What it IS about is removing the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice and letting the oppressed go free. It is about sharing our food with the hungry and opening our homes to the homeless poor. Isaiah 58 details for us how to be “…like salt for all mankind,” and “…like light for the whole world”.
- Understanding the Salt and Light metaphor as used by Jesus
Various sayings of Jesus, were gathered into a single collection which was used by the writers of Matthew and Luke, and which has come to be known as “The Sermon on the Mount”. In Luke’s telling, these words were delivered to Jesus’ Apostles, a large number of disciples and a crowd. But we read from Matthew today, where they were addressed to disciples who were gathered around him. (How many disciples? It doesn’t say. Were there crowds listening? Maybe, but Matthew isn’t clear on that either).
When Jesus said to WHOEVER it was who was listening that they were “like salt for all mankind and like light for the whole world, ” he wasn’t speaking literally. Since people aren’t salt (we’re flesh and blood) and since we don’t emit light, we can be pretty confident that he was speaking in metaphors. WE can’t take these words of the Bible “literally”, we need to be linguistic, artistic and even poetic, in our attempts to understand them and apply what we learn to our lives.
Sometimes when we taste soup or stew we feel that it needs “a little salt” to bring out the flavor. And that’s about the only time we, modern people with refrigerators to keep our food from spoiling, think about salt at all. But for the people who originally heard these words from Jesus, and those who lived before refrigeration, salt was about more than taste. It was, and even today IS, a thing used to preserve meat or fish from spoiling and to healing or cleansing certain ailments. So when Jesus said, “You are like salt for all humankind”,” he and his audience had much more in mind than a convenient flavor source. Salt was a necessary element of life. It was a symbolic bond of the necessary relationship between God and People (in what was sometimes called a covenant of salt). In saying to people then, and to us now, that we are like salt for all humankind, Jesus names us as an essential element in preserving, healing, cleansing and binding.
He went on to tell his hearers (maybe even US) that they were like light for the whole world. This was not the light that shines from the sky, and not even the light that comes from the lamps in our rooms to help us read. It wasn’t even like the light from the projector on the ceiling that makes it possible for us to use power-point during church and class. .This is the light that comes from within —- the kind that shines through individual people and whole communities of people. As “light for the whole world,” we are given the tasks of: 1) bringing clarity and understanding to social, political and personal relationships; 2)making the way of life easier to navigate like the streetlights along the road; 3) warning others of dangerous places like lighthouses along the seashore, and 4) attracting people to the right place, like those rows of lights that guide landing aircraft to the end of the runway.
Just like those to whom Isaiah 58 was originally addressed, we are people seeking to understand how to worship God truly and rightly. We often fail to integrate our spiritual and social lives. We need to remember that “spiritual” and “holy” stuff, when unaccompanied by social action, is self-serving and empty. The promise from the prophet today was that when we act out of concern about oppression and injustice. God’s favour will shine on us like the morning sun, and our wounds will be quickly healed”
- ANALYZING OUR WORLD
But knowing isn’t enough. We need to BE and ACT if we are to fulfill our commission as salt and light.
Salt serves to enhance flavor, to preserve what is good, heal what is sick and cleanse what is unclean. We must be involved with the world in which we are living, learning where injustice and oppression lurk, so that we may act for healing. We must sample life to learn where it is flavorless and participate in ways that make it tasty, even interesting. One of the most flavorless places in human endeavor is often religious life. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! Especially not in this church. All ideas are welcome. We’ll try anything, (at least once)! If we don’t like it, we won’t do it again.
As the salt of the earth, we have both “cleansing” and “preserving” jobs to do. St. Francis of Assisi named some of these things in that famous prayer, where he asked God to help him analyze life, see certain things, and act in mission.
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
As light for the whole world, we look for the dark places: We need to learn where there’s a need to disperse darkness, light the road, warn of danger and attract people in. Darkness engulfs areas like governance, economics, politics, education and much of religious life. BE THE LIGHT!
Darkness isn’t hard to find. We just have to begin asking questions, and we’ll be met with all kinds of “you don’t need to know” OR “that can’t be known”, OR “It’s none of your business”, OR, “Nothing can be done about it” kinds of answers. These are key indicators of darkness. All we have to do is start to ask, because silence leaves us in darkness. Asking opens the way for the light to get in.
Not in Isaiah 58, but pretty near to it (In Isaiah 60:2) we can read, “…nations will be covered by darkness, but on you the light of the Lord will shine,the brightness of his presence will be with you.”
III. APPLYING OURSELVES, AS SALT AND LIGHT, TO OUR WORLD
If we accept Jesus’ words to some people long ago about being salt and light as describing us now, then we have some responsibility in the world. The prophet put it like this, “remove the chains of oppression and hte yoke of injustice, and let the opressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to thosewho have nothing to weazr, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.” Salt by itself in a box or a bag (or in a hill like out in Chigu) doesn’t do any of these things unless it is placed in the situations where it is to act. If we are to be like salt for all humankind, we cannot merely sit in our boxes, bags and churches.
Light that stays inside the lamp, either because the cover is not opened, the switch is not turned on, or the lens is dirty, does little good for anyone. It’s the same with us if we consider ourselves to be light for the whole world. We can demand transparency from those whom we have elected to represent us in government, those who move money around effecting, and impoverishing, millions of people, those who control the levers of power in society and the university, and those who claim to represent God and preach Christ’s gospel. Though I may not initially welcome challenges from you, I’m supposed to. So pull me aside, phone me or send me an e-mail when I’ve created an offense. I promise to listen, to pray, and to enter a discussion with you. I further promise that, if the discussion leads us to the necessity, I’ll both repent and apologise.
Doing things is all ewell and good, but often the things we do come to nothing, in part because we don’t have standards by which to measure their effectiveness. Once again, Isaiah comes to our aid. In 58:8&9. God says, “Then my favor will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. When you pray, I will answer you, When you call to me, I will respond.
So, there are the 7 standards by which we measure if our action has been fitting to our identity as salt and light. God’s favor, God’s healing, God’s presence, God’s salvation, God’s protection, God’s answers, God’s responses.
CONCLUSION Creating a New World
Jesus’ words, and Isaiah’s, call us to do a lot today. 1) To come to know ourselves in terms of being salt to all humanity and light to the whole world; 2) To come to understand what being “salt” and “light” mean for the lives we will lead; 3) To analyze the world around us, looking for where things need “salt” and “light”. 4) to apply ourselves to filling that need; 5) to evaluate how well or poorly that’s working and 6) to create “salty” and “bright” responses to the death, darkness and destruction that we see around us wherever we go.
That’s a lot, SO: “Runners to your marks, Get set, Go!”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN
Let Us Pray
O Holy Spirit dwelling in us, guide us out of our inaction and darkness, that we may be like salt to all humankind and like light to the whole world, for these are the identities pronounced to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. AMEN