Salt and Light

by Sean Foster on February 9, 2014

Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Don Sutton started playing for the Dodgers in 1966. He played for the Dodgers for most of his career and had a remarkable career pitching. One season he went through a dry streak. He hadn’t won a game in eight weeks. The press was critical of him and suggested that he should be dropped from the starting lineup. The future looked bleak, and naturally, Sutton felt terrible.

Before one of the games, Dodgers manager Walter Alston came out to the mound and tapped Sutton on the shoulder. He said, we need to talk Don. Sutton listened and prepared himself for the worst.

Don, said Alston, I know how the past couple of months have been for you. And everybody’s wondering whether we can make it to the play-offs . . . it’s a lot of pressure right now . . . and I’ve had to make a decision.

Sutton had visions of being taken off the mound. Alston continued and said, Don, if the Dodgers are going to win this year, and looking Don right in the eye, he said, they’re going to win with Don Sutton pitching. Come what may, you’re staying in the starting job. That’s all I wanted to say.

Sutton’s losing streak lasted two more weeks believe it or not, but because of his manager’s encouragement he felt different about it. Something in him was turning around. He found himself pitching the best baseball of his career. And in the National League Pennant Drive, Don won 13 games out of 14. Alston had faith in Sutton

Now, this is the season of Epiphany. It is a season that can be short or long depending on the date when Easter lands. With Easter being late this year, Epiphany is a season that lasts 8 weeks. That’s about as long as it gets. But regardless of the length, the major theme of Epiphany is light. It is the season of light. God’s light, Jesus our Savior, has come into the world, dispelling the darkness and bringing salvation to the world.

We are God’s people. We are ambassadors of this Light. Much the same way the moon reflects the light of the Sun, we reflect the light of Christ in our lives, sharing his Grace, Truth and Love.

Now, you may remember a few weeks ago that I actually touched on our lesson from Matthew’s Gospel today. Our text this morning is a classic Epiphany lesson.
You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)
These are heavy words, but they are also a great compliment. As you can imagine, salt in the ancient world had great value and worth. Did you know that soldiers were paid with salt? Part of their wages were paid in salt.

I love to study words and language. Did you know that the word salary came from soldiers being paid their wages in salt? Some are paid an hourly wage, and some are paid a salary. But salaries go back to the Latin word salarium. Sal is the Latin Word for salt. Now I know that some etymologists argue over the origin of this word salarium, but most scholars believe it was because part of a Roman soldiers wage, or salary was paid in salt. So, there’s your useless fact for the day. But salt was extremely valuable – as valuable as gold in the ancient world. Etymology of Salary

No doubt you have heard the phrase, that person is worth their salt? The phrase has changed a little bit over the years, but not too much. When someone say’s: now there’s a person worth their salt, we know exactly what they mean. It means, they are effective. They have value. Originally it meant, that person is such a hard worker – they deserve their payment of salt.

Salt was extremely valuable. At one time it was used as a form of currency. So, when Jesus speaks to those who are gathered together listening to the sermon on the mountainside; and when Jesus say’s to them: You are the salt of the earth. Yes, it is a heavy statement, but hear also the value that Jesus places on these people. You are the salt of the earth – so valuable are you!

I mean, picture this group that Jesus ministers to on the side of that mountain. They are not the rich and educated. They are the poor and working class. Peasants, farmers, fishermen who are just hoping ends meet. You are the salt of the earth.

Salt of course adds flavor and preserves. It was the only way that people could keep meat from spoiling in the ancient world. But the implication is that without salt, things spoil and decay. We are the salt of the earth. Our influence in the world for and with Jesus is to prevent spoilage and decay. Ultimately, it is to prevent the spoilage and decay of sin.

Salt adds taste too. I mean, I know that health professionals caution against adding salt because things are already heavily salted, but you can’t have French fries without salt. Sliced tomato with a bit of salt… it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Salt brings out the flavor in food. We are the salt of the earth. We are to be a blessing to the earth. To make it better.

But we are not just the salt of the earth, Jesus said, we are the light of the world.
• Light shatters the darkness.
• Light drives the darkness away.
We know how important light is. We depend on it! It is essential to our living. Just as Jesus is essential to our living – and life.

As John’s Gospel writes: Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12) We too are light in that we reflect Jesus to the world.

You see, as I kept reading this lesson from Matthew’s Gospel this morning I kept thinking about the audience: the people who were listening to Jesus sermon. And as I say, on the one hand, it was such a heavy message to hear, but it was also a message of encouragement. This is how much Jesus loved and valued these people he ministered to. Peasants, farmers and fishermen. Ordinary, everyday people. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

However, it makes me wonder, as we listen to this sermon of Jesus’ I wonder if these words sound different from the way they were heard by those who first listened to this sermon? I mean, we hear this sermon of Jesus, and we immediately feel the weight of them. We know the responsibility that goes along with these words that we are salt and light. To be in the world, but not of the world. To influence and flavor the world with the good news, Grace, Mercy and Love of Jesus. To be light and to dispel the darkness.

We hear these words of Jesus and we feel the weight and responsibility of these words. We can even start to get down on ourselves. That we have failed to be salt and light.

But what is the purpose behind this teaching of Jesus? What was the purpose behind Jesus saying that we are salt and light?

Of course, without Jesus, we are neither salty nor light.

And yet, when we hear these words, instinctively we feel the pressure and need to be salt and light. … But I wonder if Jesus gets left behind as we go to fulfill the mission?

You are the salt of the earth
You are the light of the world.

After reading this lesson over and over again, I believe at the very heart of it, there is the message to stay close to Christ.

Jesus asks, a question in His sermon: If the salt has lost its taste – how can its saltiness be restored?

I mean, this is really simple and basic I know… But if we have somehow lost our saltiness – does that not mean that we have drifted from Jesus who makes us salty Christians? Off we go on our own to be salt and light to the world – but are we leaving Jesus behind?

So, let’s back up a bit…

The central message of the Gospel is that Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messia,h left all His heavenly glory to be with us. God in giving his Son, not only shows us that God loves us by giving His Son to live among us; but God gives His Son to die for us. So that…
• We would have life.
• We would be reconciled to God
• And most importantly – that we would be in relationship with God.
God craves to be in relationship with us!

And throughout our relationship – we grow to become more like Christ.

Of course, becoming like Christ – it doesn’t happen instantly does it? And naturally some are slower than others, but there is great patience and love from Christ.

I mean, if you read through the Gospels – the disciples who Jesus chose to follow him and who would later carry out His mission of sharing His Grace, Love and Mercy. Disciples who would go out into all the world and baptize people into the faith in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I mean, the disciples were disasters. They were slow to learn. Rarely did they understand the mission or what Christ was doing. In fact, it was well after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension into heaven before Peter; yes, Peter the rock upon which Jesus said he would build his church. (Matthew 16:18) Peter does not fully understand the meaning of Jesus words to go into all the world and preach the good news until years after Jesus ascended into heaven.

But, God sent his Son, so that God could be in relationship with us. And that’s really what the church needs to do today more than anything else. More than setting up programs; more than worry about finances; more than anything, the most important thing is to be in and grow our relationship with Christ.
• To draw close to God
• To grow in our relationship with God.
• Because – that’s how we get salty.
Without cultivating, growing, spending time in prayer and the Word – there is a risk, as Jesus suggests, that we could lose our saltiness. And perhaps, that could be said of the church today…

Similarly, no one who lights a lamp puts it under a bushel basket. I mean, the very suggestion is silly isn’t it? And yet, the church may very well be a living commentary of putting the light of Jesus under a bushel basket today. These church buildings we gather into and under and live out our faith and talk about our faith, but it needs to go beyond these walls. Have our church buildings become like bushel baskets, hiding the light of Christ from the world?

We live in the age of mission. It is time for the church to get out of the church building and go beyond the walls into the world to share the light of Jesus. To Invite All To Be Alive In Christ (Hopedale’s Mission Statement).

So, our lesson today: You are the salt of the earth. You are the Light of the world. We become salty Christians. We reflect the light of Christ – as we grow, cultivate and develop our relationship with Christ.

May it be so for us.


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