Epiphany 5A: Stay Salty; Keep Shining

Readings

  • Isaiah 58:1-12
  • Psalm 112:1-10
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
  • Matthew 5:13-20
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

I like to learn about the history of food things in general, but I find the history of spices to be quite exciting.  The history of salt is utterly fascinating because of its multipurpose nature.

Despite the love affair that humanity seems to have with salt, and the current over-consumption of sodium by human population in general, we cannot remove salt from our diets or lives entirely, because we have medical and scientific proof that salt is essential for life.

The farming of this life essential element has been traced as far back as 8,000 years ago to both Romania and China.  Salt has been a currency, a means of preservation, and a curative and seasoning in every day food.  People have gone to war over salt, and roads were built just for the movement of salt across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Today, Jesus says that we are the salt of the world.  Which is a pretty interesting symbol when you think about how important salt is to our very being.  Because Jesus asks about salt losing its saltiness, I began to wonder.  Specifically, is salt only salty when applied to something else?  I mean, if you really thought about it, how does salt compare itself against more salt?  It would seem that salt, in isolation, becomes essentially inert – salt separated from the rest of the world loses its saltiness.[1]

Jesus also says we are the light of the world.  Which got me to wondering about the similarity between light and salt.  I think I read somewhere sometime something along the lines of light shines its brightest against the darkness, but if you’re surrounded by light, what can more light do?  And yet, light in utter isolation can’t truly shine and becomes essentially inert.

These thoughts pose a challenge to us, then, perhaps, in what it means for us to be salt and light.

Which brings me back to a recent and previous sermon where I shared with you that Jesus is not the only one who bears this title: Light of the world.  Here we have it today.  And in that is a hint, I think, about what it means for us to be the light of the world.  Because Jesus bears this title, it makes me certain that we are the light of the world because we, through word and sacrament and relationship with God, bear Christ’s light.

Light-bearers, we are.  We carry God’s light.

So, we are the seasoning that adds that special something to the lives and life around us.  We are also the light that shines and makes plain the presence of God in the world around us.  If my earlier thoughts holds truth, then neither of these things does much by itself.  We are at our best when poured out: sprinkled little by little into the world.[2]

Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” [Matthew 5:13-14, CEB] It is very important that I point out the very thing that strikes me about these words beyond the curiosity of the symbols Jesus uses.  Jesus isn’t saying, ‘You should be,’ or, ‘You have to be,…’ or, ‘You better be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.’

Jesus says, you are. You already are.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because we talked about that alreadiness last week when Jesus was blessing the disciples.  We already are blessed.  We already are salt and light.

“Even if you don’t know it. Even if you once knew it and forgot. Even if you have a hard time believing it.”[3]

Which sometimes gets a little complicated because we really don’t understand all of what it means to be salt and light.  And sometimes, we don’t agree on what it means to be salt and light in the world around us.  But, it also means that you don’t have to question it.  Just like that blessing from Jesus, in that you don’t get blessed by doing, Jesus is naming the truth of what we are when we are in the world. You just go and be it.  Because you are already.

I think that’s the neat thing about this talk up on the mountain.  Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Let’s think about what this could look like,’ or, ‘let’s envision we could do as salt and light in the world.’  Jesus says, ‘You are.”

You simply are.  And in whatever you do, you are salt and light.  You just are.

I think that somewhere deep down we know that we are.  I also think that sometimes we doubt.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of being salt and light in everything that I do, every day, wherever I go and in whatever I say begins to feel pretty cumbersome.  I know I am nowhere near as good a disciple as I expect myself to be.

Maybe that doubt and fear is that we perhaps speculate that, surely, Jesus could not have possibly meant us.  Surely, not all the time?  Or, we hesitate: wondering whether this is the right time or the right place.  Or, we convince ourselves that our voices couldn’t possibly make a difference.[4]

I know that sometimes being salt stings, and sometimes that is a hurt that I don’t want to inflict.  I know that being light in the world exposes too much of what I don’t really want to see. [5]  Being salt and light can get awfully uncomfortable all too quickly.

And, a desire, a temptation, to hide all that salt and light presents itself in those moments of doubt and fear.  If we but tuck it away, we can control and choose when to be salt and light, when to be active.

I wonder if Jesus saw that same doubt and fear in the eyes of the disciples.

Because the next thing that Jesus says is, “A city on a hill can’t be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket.” [Matthew 5:14-15, CEB]

The convenience of that proverbial basket to hide all that salt and light is that it can make all that aforementioned uncomfortableness disappear.

I like that Jesus makes plain the realities of being salt and light.  That our being salt and light gets hidden, or conveniently placed out of sight for the sake of decency, or comfort, or exhaustion, is something that we have power over.  The proverbial baskets to cover up that light and salt come in a number of ways, but it doesn’t change one particular truth.

We are still salt and light.

When we step into the truth of what we already are, we become aware of the false comfort those proverbial baskets offer.  When we live out lives actively into that truth, we demonstrate power over the temptation to block out that light or take away that saltiness,[6] knowing that Jesus has already named us and called us into the role of salt and light.  Jesus has already loved us and blessed us, whether we think we are worth it or not.  Jesus has taken care of the already part, so that we can be free to shine with good news in all aspects of life.

I think that if you are feeling like you have lost your saltiness, or your light is barely visible, then you need to figure out why.  “What, or whom, do you fear? What or who has silenced you?” [7]  And maybe the answer isn’t immediately apparent.

But, I think a great place to figure it out is amongst others who are salt and light in the world.

For example, when we gather as congregations, we engage in a place “where folks of all different viewpoints come together… people who may differ on approach to being salt and light but commit to pray for deeper understanding, for wisdom, and for courage to speak and act in line with our faith, and for each other.”[8]  When we gather as congregations, we hear God’s words and promise of our alreadiness.  It’s in the words and in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine that we rediscover our call to be salt and light.  It’s in our gathering as a faith community that we can focus on and find the light that is always with us.  And it’s in our being sent out again that the light within goes out ahead of us, shining with the truth of God’s love and blessing that is already present.

I think maybe Jesus knew that salt can’t really lose its saltiness.  And light can never really be stifled.  Jesus knew that God will continue to bless the world through the salt and light of the world – through us, and through our prayers, our words, and our deeds as Jesus’ faithful disciples.  Those are the truths of God’s promises.  They encompass everyone – not a single person, salt and light of the world, will be thrown away or trampled under foot.  “Humanity—each one of God’s precious children—is the salt of the earth. Each one of us, and each of our neighbours, both far and wide, is indispensable to God’s covenant relationship with God’s people.”[9]  Jesus is affirming those promises today, and we are all going to be changed by them.

Let us pray,
Holy One, source of all goodness and light, thank you for your blessing already upon us.  Thank you for calling us into a vocation of bearing your light in the world through all that we do, but primarily in all that we already are.  Be a very present help to each person who is called on to step boldly and stand firmly as the salt and light in any particular moment, but especially those who are filled with fear and doubt.  All this we ask in the name of the one who affirms your promises, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Amy Allen. “The Politics of Saltiness –Matthew 5:13-20.”  The Politics of Scripture, Political Theology Today.
  2. Karoline Lewis. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 5, 2017.” Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.
  3. Karoline Lewis. “Just Be It.” Dear Working Preacher, January 30, 2017.  Preach This Week.  Working Preacher.
  4. David Lose. “Epiphany 5A: Promises, Not Commands.”  Dear Partner, January 31, 2017.  …in the Meantime
  5. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 9, 2014.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.
  6. Emerson Powery. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 6, 2011.” Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.
  7. Andrew Prior. “Speaking as a Pharisee…”  Theology – The Year of Matthew 2017.  One Man’s Web.

This week’s image is entitled, “Still Life With Salt Tub,” created by Pieter Claesz, in 1644.  The image is public domain.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Emerson Powery.  “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 6, 2011.”
[2] Amy Oden.  “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 9, 2014.”
[3] David Lose.  “Epiphany 5A: Promises, Not Commands.”
[4] Karoline Lewis.  “Just Be It.”
[5] Karoline Lewis.  “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 5, 2017.”
[6] Amy Oden.  “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20, February 9, 2014.”
[7] Karoline Lewis.  “Just Be It.”
[8] David Lose.  “Epiphany 5A: Promises, Not Commands.”
[9] Amy Allen.  “The Politics of Saltiness –Matthew 5:13-20.”

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