Sunday, February 9, 2020

“Salt and Light”

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 5th chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 13th verse.

5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20)

“Salt and Light”

There’s an old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all know that this is not true. Words have a powerful effect on our lives. Each of us seems to have something like a tape recorder in our brains that plays back all the cruddy stuff people have said about us. They told us we were stupid, a geek, fat, ugly, a scarecrow, a lightweight, a failure, along with scores of other derogatory descriptions. Sometimes they’ve said it so many times to us that we begin to believe it ourselves. It’s been estimated that it takes ten positive comments to counteract one negative comment for a child. The ratio actually goes up in the teen years to forty positive comments to counteract one negative comment and then falls back to 10:1 for adults.

Conversely, we also know the power of positive comments. Some of us have been blessed with a person who saw something in us—something good—and told us. They helped us catch a glimpse of what we were capable of, and our lives have been forever changed and blessed.

In this week’s lesson, we read about Jesus proclaiming to his followers that they were salt and light—positive images of change. When we read these words, we also realize that they are about us. Jesus is telling us that we are salt and light.

At first glance, “salt” and “light” may not seem to be much of a compliment. Salt is a necessity of life, however. Wars have been fought over salt, and some cultures have used it as currency. Light, too, is a necessity of life. Plants do not grow without light, and we do not function well in darkness.

The key to Jesus’ words is that he tells us that we ARE salt and light. Salt and light are not some statuses to be attained. They do not take hard work to achieve. They are not the keys to our salvation. Salt and light are simply what we are.

Being born from above and empowered by the Holy Spirit makes us salt and light. We are like the songbird who welcomes the morning sun. He is only doing what he was created to do. We are like a fruit tree that produces delicious fruit from water, soil, and sunshine because that is what it was created to do.

We are salt and light. What a compliment this is. What a great praise from our creator this is.

It is a temptation for us to try to be salt and light. Many times we end up looking like American Idol contestants. Someone has told them that they could sing (or didn’t have the heart to tell them that they couldn’t). They then audition for American Idol and make a fool of themselves in front of not only the three judges but also the viewing public.

Being salt and light is to understand that the Holy Spirit has indwelt us and is working through us.

Being salt and light is to understand and recognize our gifts and talents. We are salt and light as we live out our lives of faith in our personal context.

A man was salt and light to a friend who was going through difficult times. This man listened when his friend needed to talk. He occasionally called to inquire how things were going. He offered words of encouragement when needed, gave advice in rare circumstances, and prayed often. His friend’s difficult times, eventually ended, but his life was changed. The man’s salt and light had touched him with the love and grace of God.

A young woman was trying to make a difference, but the forcefulness of her personality alienated people and defeated her purpose. A good friend took her aside and helped her to realize what she was doing. With a little coaching, she was able to use her drive more positively. The young woman’s life changed dramatically, and she was able to achieve many of her goals.

Recently, Habitat for Humanity held a ceremony where they give the keys of the newly built house to the family. Seeing the smiles on the couple’s faces, and the faces of their children, everyone knew that the family had been touched with the salt and light of many volunteers.

It is important to note that, though, being salt and light does not involve hard work at trying to be something that we are not, salt and light always take place in the context of relationships. Church buildings are not salt and light, but rather the people who worship in them. Programs and ministries are not salt and light, but only the people who volunteer to use their talents and abilities.

In other passages of scripture, Jesus highlights the importance of relationships. He talks about making sure that our relationships are healthy and whole. In his teaching, he underscores the importance of confession, forgiveness, and love. Salt and light are difficult to share amid broken relationships, distrust, anger, and hatred. But love and trust are like a plowed field waiting to be planted.

You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. You are absolutely essential for life.

You have been blessed so that you can be a blessing to others.

Let us pray: There is no part of life you do not touch, O God, infusing your rich fragrance—gritty and real—getting in underneath the surface, drawing out and lifting up winding love around until defenses are lowered, barriers broken down and the power of your love reveals the beauty you intended for all your children.

May our actions draw attention to you, to the richness you bring to all life and the abundance you share, setting the scene for us to share too.

Help us to bring light into all the darkness of life, spreading hope for a better world, a world where justice is made real by your children living together in harmony. Help us to bring salt into the blandness of life, encouraging vitality and joy in living in a world that dares to hope for the future that you promise where all your children will know themselves loved and valued and treasured, created in your image, bringing you glory forever. Amen.

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Kevin Ruffcorn.
Jesus graciously proclaims that his followers are salt and light. They live out a new righteousness established by the cross and empowered by the Spirit.

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