You are salt. You are light. The world is diminished, tasteless, dark, if you do not live as you are, and when we all are salt and light together, astonishing grace from God shines and seasons the creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, year A
Text: Matthew 5:(1-12) 13-20
(Note: Because of the feast of the Presentation last Sunday, we missed hearing Matthew 5:1-12, the appointed Gospel for 4 Epiphany. We read those verses today, because they provide clarifying context for Jesus’ words on salt and light today. Additionally, vv. 17-20 are appointed for today, but provide a much more helpful context for next Sunday’s appointed Gospel reading which begins at verse 21, and will be read next week.)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Here’s an important truth about salt and light.
You notice when they’re not present. The world is diminished, tasteless, dark, if salt and light are removed.
Ponder, then, why Christ wants you to imagine yourself as salt and light. Can you conceive that Jesus claims if you don’t live as who you are in the world, the world is less beautiful, is bland, stumbling in darkness?
Do you know how important you are to the quality of this world? Have you understood how central this is to what it is to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus?
I doubt “salt and light” would be the way most Christians, if asked, would summarize what it is to be Christian.
Many would speak of faith in Christ Jesus as the core of being Christian. They might say trusting Jesus as your Savior. They might speak of Baptism. They might speak of assurance that they will live in heaven after they die. They might even recite one of the great ecumenical creeds, the Apostles’, the Nicene, or even the Athanasian.
You know what isn’t in the Creeds? Salt and light. The list of the blessed ones Jesus enumerates at the start of Matthew 5. All of Jesus’ teaching, for that matter. You know what trusting in Jesus for life after death doesn’t say anything about? The life before death Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching about and inviting into.
We’re walking with Matthew’s community in worship this year, hearing from that Gospel for most of our Sundays, except in Lent and Easter. Do you know how much of Matthew’s Gospel is devoted to telling you of Christ’s death and resurrection? 15%. That’s a large number. But do you know how much of Matthew is devoted to telling you about Jesus’ teaching, his call to be salt and light, his declaration of blessed ones, his parables? 49.7%. Nearly 50%! Half the Gospel.
Matthew’s community is deeply invested in learning about life here in God’s reign.
They trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in the hope of life with God after death. That’s clear. But it’s also clear this community heard again and again how interested Jesus was in the life they were living right now.
How he invited them to repent – to change their minds, change their direction – and turn into God’s way. How he challenged them to re-envision even the Ten Commandments to be a deep shaper of a new life. How he taught them the ways of the reign of heaven that, as he taught them to pray, were lived on earth as well as in heaven.
Jesus taught them a life of love of enemies, of unlimited forgiveness in the community. A life of abiding trust in God’s providing for them, where they learned to release their anxiety about the world.
It was a visible, one others could see and notice. A life where they were salt. A life where they were light. Where they, by their simple existence as disciples of Christ, made a difference to the world.
So Matthew begins Jesus’ teachings in his Gospel with Jesus’ declaration of God’s radically different values for this life here.
The values of God are so different from the world’s values, their effect on the world is like salt on bland food, light in utter darkness. They completely transform what they touch.
The world says the blessed ones are the proud, confident ones. But Jesus says, actually in God’s reign the poor in spirit are the blessed ones. They know their weakness and fears, and learn to rely on God’s guidance and life: they’re the ones living in the reign of heaven.
The world says the blessed ones are the successful ones, the ones who know no failure. Weakness and struggle are signs that you’re a loser to the world. But Jesus says, actually in God’s reign those who mourn and grieve their loss and failure are the blessed ones. In their pain, God comes with comfort.
The world says the blessed ones are the ones who live in the “real world,” not in unrealistic hope. The world values cynicism and trusting only yourself to get ahead. But Jesus says, actually in God’s reign only those who are pure in heart – those who have simple love, simple hope, simple compassion – can see God. Their heart mirrors God’s, and they are the blessed ones.
The world says the blessed ones are the strong ones, who impose their will on their lives, and others. Who do what needs to be done, even if it requires violence, deceit. We’re living in that horrible reality right now. But Jesus says, actually in God’s reign the peacemakers are the blessed ones, they are God’s children. They embody God’s non-violent, peaceable, non-dominating way of love in their hearts and lives.
The values of God’s reign, so utterly at odds with the world’s, are salt and light, Jesus says.
When you understand Christian faith is living the Christ-life, Matthew’s community believes, you bring the seasoning of God’s radical value system to a world mired in its own self-adoration and love of power. And as salt transforms any dish it’s put into, so will your life transform the world you encounter. Bring delight and joy to what was jaded and tiresome, life to what was death.
When you live your faith, live as Christ, Matthew says, you are the light of God’s radical value system in a world lost in the dark. And just as a single candle can break through the darkness of the greatest dungeon, so will your life transform and enlighten the world you encounter. You will help people see, open new visions for those blinded by the world’s values.
That is, Jesus says, if you live as salt. If you live as light. But if you’re not salty – if you refuse to let your life be applied as seasoning in the world – nothing in the world changes. And if you’re not going to use salt, Jesus says, throw it out and trample it. And if you’re not light – if you hide yourself away inside your own house or life – nothing in the world changes. And if you’re going to cover up light, Jesus says, there’s no point in having it.
But did you hear exactly what Jesus said today? It’s really good news.
“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.”
You are. Already. It’s what you were made in baptism. Even if you forgot that Christian faith only makes sense if it’s lived, you are already what God needs to transform the world. Be salty as you are, and bring the seasoning of God’s unconditional love and grace to a world of hate and fear. Be light as you are, and shine the light of God’s desire for all God’s children to be blessed, comforted, filled, and to see God, shine that in a world that can see nothing right now.
And imagine this: what if every child of God in Christ, baptized as salt and light, began to live that, together? If millions and millions were God’s seasoning of love, millions and millions God’s light of grace? What would happen to this world?
That’s Christ’s plan. There’s absolutely no reason for it not to happen. Because you already are what you are. Jesus said so.