The Sermon On the Mount
Being Salt and Light
I was driving through Simpsonville the other evening and noticed a couple of church signs that were very interesting. The Church of Christ sign says Turn to Christ or burn. Nothing subtle about that one, is there? Across the road, at Simpsonville Christian Church, in preparation I guess for Pentecost, their sign says Church on fire.
We are continuing our series of messages from the Sermon On the Mount. We spent the past four weeks on the Beatitudes and this morning we arrive at a well-known passage, as Jesus talks about Being Salt and Light.
This is one of those passages that has seeped into our language, as I mentioned several weeks ago. We often speak of people who are salt of the earth kinds of people and about not hiding our light under a bushel.
This morning we will study these images and how they relate to the kingdom of God and who we are called to be.
Salt – adds flavor, it heals, and it irritates.
The gospel adds flavor to life.
It adds life to life! Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in his diary – I have been to church today, and am not depressed (Barclay, p. 121). What a sad commentary! But how many times have we left worship feeling worse than when we arrived? The gospel ought to be convicting, but it isn’t a reason to dump guilt and gloom on people. The caricature of the gloomy, dowdy Christian is far too often a reflection of the reality of a dreary, gloomy approach to faith.
I believe the gospel ought to add flavor to life, it ought to add life to life, it ought to bring to our lives a sense of joy, or something is missing.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a meeting with some other ministers in our region and we were asked some questions about the story of our calling into ministry. One of the questions was this – was there anything that made you hesitant to embrace your calling? The response was rather amazing – almost every one expressed a hesitancy to embrace our calling because the portrayals of ministry we had seen were rather depressing. We had been presented with models of ministry that were of a gloomy, joyless existence. What a tragedy!
The gospel adds life to life!
Jesus was criticized because he enjoyed life. He was criticized as a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:17). Jesus was a giver of life, and part of receiving life is understanding that life is a great gift that should be celebrated.
The gospel brings healing to life.
When my mother-in-law lived near the ocean I enjoyed visiting there so much. It was the beach, after all. One of the reasons I love the beach is because I can breath better at the beach than anywhere else. The salt air is wonderfully healing to my sinuses that are being destroyed by living in the Ohio River valley. Anybody else have sinus problems because of this wonderful Ohio River valley air?
Salt has healing properties, and Jesus uses the image of salt because he is calling us to the ministry of healing. Our Statement of Identity as Disciples is that we are called to be a movement for wholeness (healing) in a fragmented world. We are called to be agents of healing; healing that is so needed in our world today.
We are called to be healers of relationships, as we talked about two weeks ago. The landscape of humanity is littered with broken and fractured relationships, and we are called to bring healing to relationships.
I mentioned in one of my earlier messages here, and it is worth repeating, that the root of the word salvation carries the meaning of healing. The gospel is a message of healing. Jesus spoke of healing, he brought healing to people, and he passes to us the ministry of healing.
There are those, unfortunately, who pass on a dysfunctional version of faith that, rather than bringing healing, piles one issue after another upon people. It is dysfunctional because it dumps guilt and shame upon people rather than bringing joy and love. Sometimes we have to bring healing to the unhealthy things done to people in the name of religion.
The gospel is a conscience.
When we visited the beach I loved to swim in the ocean, but there was one thing I did not do when I would dive under the water – I never opened my eyes. One of the qualities of salt is that it is an irritant, which reminds us, I think, that we are called to be a conscience to our world.
The gospel is, at times, irritating to people. It doesn’t irritate just for the sake of irritation, but it irritates because it serves as a conscience. The purpose of the gospel is to remind us as we become self-absorbed and self-righteous that we were not created to be self-absorbed or self-righteous.
The gospel has always served the role of conscience to our world. It is the gospel that brought a sense of human dignity to our world. For much of human history, people have been viewed as disposable. In the Roman Empire children were often discarded, literally thrown away, but the church took those children and raised them. The idea of social safety nets – being our brother and sisters keeper – was not present in most societies, but it became common because of the influence of the gospel. We could not begin to catalogue the number of ways the gospel has improved society by the addition of hospitals, orphanages, schools, and so many social agencies and ways of caring for others. Even the desire itself, to help other people has its roots in the gospel. Entire social movements have been born in the gospel. The Civil Rights movement was born in churches. The very idea that people are created free and equal and should be able to live in freedom and equality comes from the gospel. And that is a message that irritated a lot of people. The gospel is a conscience that reminds us that we cannot destroy this beautiful creation God has given us to tend; it is a conscience that says we cannot forget the poor amongst us and we cannot structure the world to favor those with wealth and power and trap the poor in perpetual poverty; it is a conscience that says freedom is a right that is to be enjoyed by every person, not just in countries that do not practice democracy but also in free countries that are slow to guarantee equality to all.
Light – to guide the way.
This spring we had a lot of storm warnings and in spite of all the warnings, I never really got prepared. One of the nights, when the power went off, I was stumbling around in the dark in the garage looking for flashlights and wondering why I hadn’t made preparations. I finally bought several flashlights and candles to put around the house.
Light is a guide. We are called to be a guide, to show the way as people of grace and love. In fact, we call some people guiding lights because they show the way to the rest of us.
This is such a positive quality – parts of the world of faith just hammer away at a negativism that tells people how bad they are and all the things they do wrong. I get so tired of that. Do you? Jesus, though, uses healthy and attractive images. He says we are people of light, people of good news, people of love and grace
Some years ago, as a member of a civic club, I was working the concession stand at a Little League baseball game. One of the other local ministers was working in the concession stand with me. After a close call on the field one of the spectators began yelling at the umpire, using some very choice words, and made quite a scene. The other minister shook his head, looked at me and said, can you imagine having that person in your congregation? I said, yes, I can imagine, they’re a member of my church.
Light is a great image. Light dispels the darkness of sadness, and gloom, and hatred, and all the things that harm the human condition.
Being salt and light. We are called to bring life to life, to bring healing, to be a conscience, and to show the way of love and grace.