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Read Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58 here.
There’s an old nursery rhyme that asks what we’re made of.
What are little boys made of?
Snips & snails & puppy dog tails
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar & spice & all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
Snails and puppy dog tails. Sugar and spice. Is that what we’re made of?
There’s a movie on Netflix called Troop Zero that’s about a group of outcast girls led by a courageous girl named Christmas. They are rejected by their local troop, but they want to be scouts so they can go to Jamboree and compete for the honor of being recorded on the golden record that NASA would be sending into outer space. So they form their own troop.
When the girls and their leaders finally get to Jamboree and are checking in, the director says, “Looking forward to seeing what you’re made of!”
Christmas: *Raises hand* We’re made of organs and tissues.
And, of course, Christmas is correct. We are made of organs and tissues.
In our gospel reading this morning from Matthew, Jesus says we are salt and light (Matt. 5:13,14). I think Christmas, the little girl from Troop Zero, would appreciate me telling you that we are actually only 0.2% salt. This graphic shows each of the basic elements that make up the human body. Oxygen is top of the list, and sodium (Na) is way down at the bottom.
Interestingly, there’s also some phosphorus on that list of elements in our bodies, and scientists have found that the human body does glow, but the amount of light we give off is too dim to be seen with the naked eye.
But Jesus isn’t speaking literally. He’s using a metaphor to show us that through following Jesus we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, meaning that we help make things better and more beautiful.
Jesus says these words as part of his Sermon on the Mount. These comes right after the beatitudes, in which Jesus tells the disciples and the people gathered on the hillside that they are blessed when they are merciful, and when they mourn. He says blessed are the peacemakers, the humble and the pure in heart. Then in our reading for today Jesus says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and encourages us not to lose our flavor or hide our light.
Salt makes things better. In the ancient world, just like now, salt was used to preserve meat and to enhance the flavor of food. Salt makes things taste better.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “you will be salt” or “you can be salt.” He says “you ARE salt.” Right this minute, as followers of Jesus, we already are the salt of the earth. By just being who we are and not hiding, we make a difference.
What are some ways we are salt? How do we make things better? One way is by how we respond to situations.
When I was a student at Clemson University, I felt out of place because almost all of my classmates were between 18 and 22 years old and I was in my 40’s. One of my professors told me that the difference in age was helpful because I had the benefit of perspective. At the time, I had a hard time seeing this. I was too focused on how I didn’t fit in. But even though I didn’t see it, it was happening through the conversations I had with classmates and teachers both inside and outside the classroom. I just needed to be myself and not worry so much about fitting in.
Sometimes wise words will seem to fall on deaf ears, but years later remembered and more fully understood. This was the case with the words of that professor. I came to understand his words better just recently, believe it or not, in conversations about impeachment. For those who are younger, for whom this is the first time this has happened, it’s hard to know how concerned to be. The news makes a big deal out of impeachment, and it is a big deal, but it’s not earth-shattering. Those who are old enough to have witnessed other impeachments know that we lived through this with presidents Nixon and Clinton and the earth didn’t shatter. Age brings perspective, and helps us trust that God will bring us through, just as God did in the past.
Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Light is used throughout the Bible as a metaphor for wisdom and divinity. Light makes things more beautiful, partly simply because without light we cannot see. We are used to the brightness of electric light, but that didn’t start being used until the late 19th century, and even by the 1920s, only about half of the homes in the United States had electricity. In Jesus’ time, they used oil lamps which gave off only about as much light as one of these candles. But even a tiny bit of light dispels the darkness and helps us see. We are salt and light because we make a difference – we help make things better, and we help people see God’s goodness.
Sometimes we are salt and light in subtle ways. I saw this in a surprising way while doing CPE training as a chaplain at a hospital. One of the things we were called to do was to be in the emergency room whenever someone was being brought into the trauma center. It was awkward because the doctors and nurses were rushing around doing their medical things, and the chaplain has to be there without getting in the way. Sometimes there’s family in the waiting room that needs comforting, sometimes the patient needs comforting, but often the patient is unconscious and the family isn’t there yet, and so I just stood there against the wall. I commented to a nurse one time that I felt like I was just in the way and unnecessary. She assured me that they wanted me there even if I never lifted a finger or said a word because they knew I was praying for all that was happening, and that helped them to do their jobs better knowing God was with them.
Jesus says we are the light of the world, but he also said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12). So it’s important to remember that our light comes from Jesus.
Jesus said, “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus talks about salt losing its flavor or light being hidden. When we forget that our purpose is to follow Jesus and to bring glory to God, we get off track and lose the meaning of the things we do.
In our reading from Isaiah for today, Isaiah talks about spiritual practices that had lost their meaning. People were going through the ritual of fasting, a practice that helps us turn from sin and draw closer to God. We turn to God to be changed us and to become more like Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us, but Isaiah says the people had forgotten the importance of obeying God and loving one another. They were going through the motions of the fast, but still oppressing the poor, lying and cheating each other.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.” (Isaiah 58:3-4)
Isaiah lists what God wants us to do instead, a list of ways we show God’s love:
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.
We are salt and light when we do the things that God is calling us to do, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves, in the ways listed.
We are salt that keeps its flavor when we remember who we are, beloved children of God. We are salt and light when we show each other God’s love.
What are we made of? Love. God’s love. In Romans 5, Paul tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world because we are the bearers of God’s love to the world.
Kind of like glow-in-the-dark stars.
This is a picture of the Starry Night Cinema room upstairs in Wellspring Woods. The stars, those white spots, are painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. When the room has been dark for many days, those stars don’t glow. But after I turned on the light and left it on for a few minutes, then when I turned it off, I could see the stars.
We are like those glow-in-the-dark stars. We need the light of Jesus to shine in us in order for us to be lights for the world around us.
That’s why we gather for worship and Bible study, why we spend time in prayer, not simply to be doing those things, but because those things change us and help us to be more and more like Jesus. If we are doing those things without letting them change us, they will not be accomplishing their purposes in us, and we will not be so good at accomplishing God’s purposes in the world. But as they do their work in us, as we turn our hearts and minds toward Jesus, we absorb and reflect his light, just like the stars on the wall.
We help people “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
We are salt and light,
- called to be who we are and not hide it.
- Called to show the world that God is good.
- Called to let the light of Jesus shine through us in all that we say and do.
To do this, we need to get recharged and renewed by turning our faces toward God’s light.
This song we’re about to sing is one of the ways we do that. It’s a song in which we simply worship God and pour out our hearts to Jesus. The words are simple so that we can focus more on God.
Sometimes when the sun breaks through after a season of cloudiness, we turn our faces toward the sun to catch those wonderful rays of light.
May we turn our faces toward the Jesus the Son and bask in his light, so that we reflect the light of his love to the world.