Last week we reviewed our “to-be” list and considered what it might mean to “be bold, be caring, be courageous” in living out our faith. We also reminded ourselves of Jesus’ blessing upon us and upon others as we read the part of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. Our passage today is also from the Sermon on the Mount and it follows directly on the heels of the Beatitudes. Jesus is still teaching and his primary students are his followers, his disciples. There is also a huge crowd around who are attracted by Jesus, his teachings, his healings, his compassion; they are listening in, also. I wonder if, in addition to blessing, Jesus, is pointing us to a “way to be.”
“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world,” Jesus says. That’s a pretty big pronouncement. Along with offering a blessing, Jesus seems to say, there’s more to you than meets the eye! You are more than fishermen, you are more than the circumstances that describe you, you are more. I want you to know it and to allow that knowing to become a part of who you are. Today, as we look at this next snippet from the Sermon on the Mount, it seems like Jesus might be saying to his disciples that they are important in the neighborhood, even if they haven’t come to exactly realize it yet.
Which leads me to a thought-provoking question I would like to ask you this morning. Are we important in this neighborhood? If First Presbyterian Church of Zephyrhills closed our doors tomorrow would our neighborhood care? Would they notice? What do you think about that question? I asked a few folks this week and got some interesting and slightly disappointing responses. The feeling was that only a few people might miss us – those who come to us for food and such. I think that we would be missed– by those who worship here, those who come for Messy Church, those who come for food, those who have come at times of trouble knowing someone would be here to listen. But it is true that this is just a small portion of this entire community. As we consider Jesus’ astonishing pronouncement that we are salt and light, it’s important for us to give this our full consideration. And I think it would be good for each of us to ask someone, anyone outside of the church – how we could be even better neighbors. How can we shine a light on Zephyrhills and give glory to God? Would you spend some time considering this?
So Jesus loves using easily recognizable things to help people grasp what he is saying, this morning’s teaching is no different. Here he uses two very recognizable and familiar elements; those listening would be able to understand: salt and light. When Jesus tells his disciples to “be salt,” he is possibly drawing on a number of Old Testament uses for salt for this visual. Common uses: salt was used for seasoning, preservation, and purifying (2 Kg. 2:19-22). It was used to ratify covenants (Num. 18:29; 2 Chr. 13:5) and also in liturgical functions (Ex. 30:35; Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24; Ezra 6:9). To eat salt with someone signified a bond of friendship and loyalty (Ezra 4:14; Acts 1:4). Salt scattered on a conquered city reinforced its devastation (Jg. 9:45) (Reid, 35). Salt was sometimes used to indicate wisdom. Today, salt adds flavor to food, cures food, creates traction on icy roads (not needed here), purifies the water in our swimming pools and can even serve as an antiseptic in wounds. You may have heard the expression “salt of the earth,” by which we mean someone is a good person. When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” I wonder if he has something much more specific and sacrificial in mind for his disciples. Something beyond just teaching them something, he is showing them how to be. This teaching isn’t just a teaching; and it isn’t just to benefit the listener. When we think of all of Jesus’ own actions we see that they are all intended, not for his own glory, but to the glory of God. The goal is always to give glory to God. Likewise, the actions of the disciples (and us as Jesus’ disciples) is not for our glory but God’s glory. These two images of salt and light are perfect for describing a ministry that points beyond itself to God. Salt and light are things that enhance or enlighten something else. Salt in food makes it taste better. Light illuminates other objects, it reveals even hidden things and pushes back darkness. John writes of Jesus, “his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5 NLT)
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. I believe Jesus meant that statement far beyond his first few disciples, I believe he means that for us too. More than just an ancient teaching, it is a way to be. It is who we are. Beyond just being named Beloved child of God, we can add two more things to our nametag, salt and light. Meant to bring flavor to the world, meant to use our light to point to God. Sit with that knowledge a minute. Look deeply into your life over the last couple of weeks and think of the variety of ways God has used you to be salt and light. Maybe through your words of encouragement to others. Your faithful handling of daily tasks or in interacting with people in your neighborhood. Perhaps through some volunteering you may have done. The prayers you’ve offered or protests you’ve been a part of or promises you’ve made and kept. A lot of it may seem small, but never forget that small is what God most often uses to change the world. I feel blessed because I see people in our faith community and other community members displaying these traits of salt and light in meaningful ways nearly every day. And the world absolutely needs a little salt and a little light right now, doesn’t it? Friends, our faith is only in part about amassing knowledge, it’s only in part about being here on a Sunday morning to be reminded of these things. It is important. It is essential. It is God honoring. But it is so that we can enter into the world as salt and light. It is so that we can make a difference.
I have been watching an interesting series on Netflix lately called, “New Amsterdam.” It’s a medical drama that centers around America’s oldest public hospital and its new medical director, Max Goodwin. In the series, Max constantly disrupts the status quo by looking at the needs of the people to be served over and above the existing bureaucracy that has hired him. There are plenty of problems: money, staffing, too many patients, not enough resources, constant crises. Yet Max seems to focus on one thing – saving lives. And gradually, gradually with set backs and troubles along the way – his practical, hands-on salt and light approach begins to breathe new life into the old hospital, it’s staff, and their patients. In one episode he discovers that (even though they are a public hospital) former patients are being hounded by creditors trying to get payment from them. He refuses to allow this and instead barters with the debtors to pay off their debt by providing a variety of services to the hospital depending on their ability. In another episode, he discovers that a homeless patient who frequently visits the er when he needs a break from the streets, has cost the hospital over a million dollars in just one year. He funds an apartment for the man, and then also realizes that this patient simply likes being in the hospital and so he gives him a job helping people find their way around the huge hospital. His own willingness to put aside bureaucracy and red tape in order to be of real and genuine service – to save lives shines a light within the hospital upon hidden problems, but also upon hidden compassion and more – but not without rubbing in a little salt too. And of course, his example begins to inspire others on staff. It’s thought provoking.
But we don’t live in a tv show. I get that. And none of us run major hospitals or have that high level of influence. BUT that is no excuse for not looking at our own circles of influence. We can still BE a light that shines on hidden problems in our church, our community, ourselves. We can still shine a light on the hidden beauty that is found in all people we encounter. Remembering that all are children of God created in the image of God. We can stand up for things we believe are right. We can, in our simple day to day living of our faith, give glory to God. You are salt, You are light. Put your light up high, let it give light to all you meet. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.” (Matt 5:16). You, too, are important in the neighborhood!