My most recent sermon was based on Matthew 5:13-20 but to enjoy this reading more, you should also look at Isaiah 58:1-12 and the acrostic Psalms 111 and 112.
Salt and Light
“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.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Fulfillment of the Law
“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.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. 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. 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.
Deuteronomy 28 leads us to believe that those who are blessed are those with wealth, power and status. According to Matthew, Jesus started his ministry by challenging this. In the Beatitudes, which is Matthew 5:1-12, we read that those favoured are the humble, i.e. those poor in spirit; those who are hurting, i.e. mourning; the meek, those who hunger after righteousness; the merciful; those who are pure in heart, i.e. their motives and agenda for doing things is focused on God's love; the peacemakers, those who try to unite and bring people together; and those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, echoed in Luke, continues for three chapters: 5, 6 and 7, and might indeed be a collection of his sayings rather than one discourse. In the Beatitudes, Jesus sets out his stall and reveals that being a disciple is going to be costly.
The standard of following Jesus is high. Matthew 22:37-39 sums up beautifully all that is required: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself." In Matthew 7:12, what has become known as the Golden Rule reminds us to do to others what you would have them do to you. In John 13:34, Jesus adds a new commandment on to of the 613 found in the books of the Torah: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
The scene is set, Jesus has a huge crowd of interested people and he has already invited them in by opening the gates for those who will be blessed by God. Then he goes on to talk about his disciples being salt and light.
Just for fun, I thought I would look on the internet for all the interesting uses of salt:
I believe there are 35 references to salt in the Old Testament and 6 in the New, so clearly salt is important. Indeed, Leviticus 2:13 reminds us that every offering of your grain offering should be seasoned with salt. The Hebrews harvested salt, especially around the Dead Sea. The Hebrews poured saltwater into a pit and let the water evaporate until there was only salt left.
We are called to be the salt. For salt to work, it has to be involved. If you just keep salt in its container, nothing will happen, but once you spread a little bit, then the flavour is enhanced and the chemical Sodium Chloride (NaCl) can start to interact with its surroundings. Jesus was saying to us that we have to be involved, we have to act with our surroundings and we have to improve things. Our way of life should be distinct from society so that we can show people how things should be done with God at the centre. There is an adage that says people do not care how much you know, they only want to know how much you care. So Christianity has to show love in action. As James says in his letter Chapter 2:14-26, faith without deeds is useless. So, if we are to be the salt we have to interact and improve the circumstances wherever we go.
Salt cannot lose its taste, however, it can be contaminated to such an extent that the salt is no longer distinctive. It can be added to things, which makes the salt bland. Jesus warns against this by talking about salt losing its taste, so we must be careful about being contaminated, for example, being contaminated by society and enjoying the comforts of technology, which remove us from worship and take us away from God's presence.
Jesus then goes on to say we must be the light of the world. The usefulness of light is that it removes darkness. When young, many a scary monster disappeared when the light was turned on. Light enables us to see the world as it really is. Light causes growth. Light transmits messages either by code or from a lighthouse as a warning sign. Light can guide and light shows us the path.
I light a candle. How far away do you have to be before you can no longer see this candle, or what do we have to do to stop you from seeing this candle? Jesus has the words of eternal life, as Simon Peter says in John 5:68, and now his disciples have been told to spread the word to repent because the kingdom of heaven is near and that people can have a new relationship with God, creator of the universe. By loving God, loving your neighbour and loving one another with a sacrificial love, that the Greek word agape sums up, and acknowledging Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, will lead to eternal life.
So we are beacons of light: either a candle or a lighthouse; but we have to shine as a light to the world (Philippians 2:15). I read that you can see a naked flame 1.7 miles away but, of course, we can put things in front of the flame that would stop you from seeing it or extinguish the flame. Jesus warns us not to hide our light under a bushel, which in essence is an 8-gallon wooden bucket. The image is there: shine, don't allow a bucket to be put over you so that your light cannot show guidance or even warmth to others.
How can we ensure we worship correctly? Micah 6:8 reminds us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. Isaiah 58:6-9 confirms what true worship is. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
What stops us from being salt and be foolish instead? Not being active in the community and allowing ourselves to be contaminated by the standards of today rather than the standards of God. What stops us from being light? Allowing our light to be hidden or diverted or extinguished. If we can remain salt and light then we will be bearers of hope that through Christ our sins are forgiven, a new life created, our relationship with God restored, and eternal life, in whatever form that will take, is assured.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon