February 8, 2020 | Pastor Tim Dean
Blessed to be a blessing.This theme is a great way to summarize the section we hear today of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus blesses us with these words: “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world….” (5:13-14)
These words are pure grace. God declares us to be salt and light. Not “you should be” or “you may become” or “first you must do this.” You are salt, you are light. Jesus pronounces this identity for all of us—for all of God’s church.
This grace-filled declaration paves the way for us to hear, wrestle with and follow some of Jesus’ more rigorous words in the rest of the sermon, including exceeding the righteousness of Pharisees, dealing with anger, forgiving and loving our enemies.
Jesus begins by blessing us: you are salt and light
But having said that, it’s a lot more complicated for us to be salt and light, than for us to become salt and light. Salt works by dissolving and disappearing. Salt provides flavor by disappearing into a soup or casserole.
Same with light. Jesus is not talking about glaring spotlights that make someone cover their eyes, or light up a football field. He’s talking about a single lamp lighting a house. Light, when it’s not obstructed, spreads out and can travel thousands of miles to bring clarity and sight.
ELCA Bishop Brian Maas says that these metaphors of salt and light ultimately speak of being used by God as God intends. “Jesus’ disciples transform the world by disappearing in humble service…to dissolve and to dissipate, and in the process to flavor and enlighten. There is no partial dissolution…. To be salt and light is to live the old hymn that says, ‘I surrender all.’” (Christian Century, “Living by the Word” column, 1-18-17)
In other words, Jesus gives us an identity to live out. To be used as God intends. To flavor, to bring clarity and understanding, to provide hope through humble service. Jesus blesses us as salt and light for God’s loving purposes.
We are called to live out our identity as salt and light
This identity of salt and light is a gift and challenge for us today. How often do we notice the bland, dull, drab flavor of the world? It can seem empty of meaning and purpose. A little salt sprinkled in can enrich and bring joy.
How often do we hear harsh, divisive, fear-laden voices in the world? Our nation is suffering bitter political strife right now. A lot of heat, but not much light. We are called to be light in places of fear and hate—reflecting just a bit of God’s hope and love.
We do this by humble service. Salt and light will be mixed in, disappear, not overwhelm, but transform people and conversations.
“Let your light shine before others,” Jesus says. He already has said that we are light, so then we need to let Jesus shine by offering ourselves and our gifts for the sake of others.
Our salt and light can be shared in so many ways
Working to rehab a Habitat for Humanity home.
Knitting a prayer shawl.
Listening carefully to someone, especially when we disagree. Listening not to convince or argue, but to understand.
Advocating for refugees, for those fleeing oppression and seeking a new life.
Caring for someone who has experienced a loss.
We don’t need to do flashy, grandiose activities. A little salt, a little light, can make a huge difference. The point is to claim God’s identity and through this identity, humbling bless others with healing and life.
Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual teacher and author, writes this:
“To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world. What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking. When we forgive our neighbors from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words. When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words…. May our lives give us the right words and may our words lead us to the right life.” (Nouwen, “Bread for the Journey,” 6-20-09 entry)
How we live as salt and light speaks our identity as God’s people.
The question for us is: how will God use us to dissolve like salt for others’ benefit? How will we disperse and reflect baptismal light in a world shadowed by fear and hate?
There remains only this hitch: the realization that this dissolving and dissipating is be known by another name—dying. Dying to control, dying to security, dying to self. This dying in turn is the shortest route—the only route—to resurrection.
When Jesus blesses us as salt and light, it is his way of inviting us to follow him in the way of the cross, on the path of dying and rising.
We are salt. We are light. We are blessed to be a blessing for others, in Jesus’ name.