Week 5: The discipline of salt and light
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Matthew 5:13-16; Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Are you a disciple of Jesus for your own sake? That is, is your faith just meant to benefit you?
Many seekers would probably say yes. People seek connection with God, however they define God, for their own good. It’s not necessarily selfish. People look for faith experiences or faith communities or faith teaching to meet their deep need for God.
Christians, too. Christian faith is often thought to be a personal question. Are you strengthened by it? Does it help you make sense of your life?
But on Wednesdays this Lent Christ has shown us a different view of discipleship: to see others as Christ sees them, to love others sacrificially like Christ. Two of our weeks – the discipleship of repentance and of emptying – could become self-centered. Empty yourself spiritually to be renewed and filled; repent and turn to God so you’re better. But we’ve seen them more deeply, as paths to see and love others as Christ.
But Jesus’ words today can only mean one thing. Jesus proclaims the influence we have in the world. Jesus clearly says we are disciples for the sake of others, not for ourselves.
You are salt, he says. You are light. And neither exist for themselves.
Salt is the universal seasoning, used by and essential to every culture.
Found all over the world, salt makes food palatable, brings flavor and life to what gives us nourishment.
Salt is also universally used as a preservative. It keeps things from getting rotten and decayed. It permits people to survive climate crises and the normal flow of seasons by keeping food when food is hard to find.
But salt does nothing for itself. Salt by itself isn’t edible. Its value is influencing something else.
Light is the same.
As our planet rotates on its axis, half the world is in darkness while the other is in sunlight. For all the peoples of the world of all times, bringing light into the times when they couldn’t see has been a priority.
The smallest amount of light can fill huge darkness. Fires flickering on cave walls enabled some of the earliest human visual arts. Human ingenuity realized that the wax made by bees or the oil of olives could feed a wick and burn slowly, and candles and lamps powerfully helped human development. Light shining in the darkness became a strong symbol of hope.
But light doesn’t do anything for itself, either. Light’s purpose is to enable things to be seen.
Jesus declares we are the same, made for the sake of others.
We are changed by the Spirit into something different than our world and culture. Something that brings flavor and enhances goodness, preserves things from decay. Something that brings light to a dark world.
You are salt. You are light, Jesus says.
In the Sermon on the Mount, where this comes from, Jesus describes many challenging, cross-shaped ways his followers are different from the world. We don’t hold on to anger with each other. We pay attention to our inmost thoughts that harm others. We don’t worry about the future. We are peacemakers. We are non-violent, which is what he means by “the meek”. Paul’s list in Ephesians today of how we live continues Jesus: we are imitators of God, shaped by kindness and forgiveness, not bitterness and anger.
So Jesus says, influence the world with what you already are in Christ.
Be salt. Be light. Be what you are, Jesus says.
Jesus is opening our eyes to how different the way of Christ is, and encouraging us not to be afraid of that. If we follow, do what Jesus teaches and walk where he leads, we are salt and light. We are an influence of God’s grace in the world.
So let your light of God’s love that fills you shine out in your words and actions, so people see that light and are led to God. Make a difference in the darkness that surrounds us.
Let your alternate reality as a follower of Jesus, your different way of understanding love and grace and forgiveness, salt the world that you walk through. Let it enhance what is good and make it better, and bring an end to rottenness and corruption.
We don’t follow Jesus for our own sake. Christ came as one of us to call us all to the same path of the cross that he walked. So that the world might be brought back to God.
So, be what you are. Be salt. Be light. And eventually all people will know the eternal love of God that we know.
In the name of Jesus. Amen