a sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Three quarters of the earth is covered in salt water. Salt is one of the most common minerals on the planet. So what does it mean to be “the salt of the earth?” How can we live salty lives?
Sometimes when I read the bible, I find it hard to understand exactly what a passage means. The problem is that it was written so long ago that we’ve lost our frame of reference. Not too many of us have any experience with sheep, so we might have to work really hard to figure out what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” And I bet most of us haven’t ever seen pure gold, frankincense or myrrh, much less understand how to use them. So when I come across a passage where Jesus uses images that I do understand, it grabs my attention.
Salt and light. Now that’s something I can understand!
We all know that salt is an essential mineral for life. Three quarters of the planet is covered with salt water, or it can be mined from vast underground caverns. And it can be used for so many things: salt makes food taste more flavorful. It’s used to preserve food without refrigeration. And it helps melt icy roads and sidewalks.
Then there’s light. Light fuels all life on earth because without light we don’t get plants, and without plants, we die. But it also makes it possible for us to work and go to school. It provides us with warmth and energy.
But what’s so amazing about God’s creation is that these two elements which are so vital to life on earth are also so readily available. So when Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he really saying something like this:
Pay attention. You’re not precious jewels or gold, to be hidden away in a vault and only come out on special occasions. You’re not rare exotic creatures to be locked away in a gilded cage. You’re more common than that, and you’re more important to life than you imagine.
You are salt, and I need you to get out there and be salty. You are light, and I need
you to be very bright lights for everyone to see.
Over the centuries, Christians have always understood that we are called to perform good works in the world. Providing food for those who are hungry. Providing shelter to those who have no homes. It is the very essence of discipleship to do these good works as Jesus would have done. Our congregation does an amazing job of helping those in need.
But it’s just as important for us to proclaim the reason we give what we give, and do what we do. It’s important that we tell people that we do this because we are followers of Jesus Christ.
Last week, the Gospel message was, “Christ is the light of world.” Today, Jesus tells us that , we are the light of the world. Our light is the direct reflection of Christ’s light. But just as importantly, Jesus wants us to shine our lights, to share that brightness with everyone we meet. In other words, if we are salt, Jesus wants us to be salty salt, otherwise we aren’t doing any good. If we are to be the light of the world, Jesus wants us to be very bright lights, so that everyone around us comes to know God through us.
And how do we do this?
I believe this is where we have to get serious about who we are and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Because by our baptism we have taken a vow to be followers of Jesus Christ. That is what the word “Christian” means; we are Christ-followers. And the greatest teaching Jesus ever gave us was this:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
Jesus came for more than just to be a teacher; he came to be fulfillment of the the law and the prophets, of the hopes and dreams of God’s people.
Yesterday on Facebook, I saw a post that said, “Be careful how you live. You might be the only bible some people will ever read.”
I think this is what Jesus meant when he said we are salt and light. It’s not a question of whether or not we want to be – we already are! The world comes to know Jesus through the actions and words of his followers. If we say or do hateful things, the world comes to know Christ as narrow and spiteful. And if we say and do loving things, the world comes to know Christ as the very image of love.
Jesus asks us to live salty lives. He wants us to burn bright enough for all the world to see. He wants us to proclaim God’s love for the world and be instruments of his grace, through our passionate love for our neighbors.
Let your lights so shine before others that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father in heaven.
Thanks be to God!