A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Epiphany 5 – Salt & Light

Rev. Doug Floyd

Epiphany 5 – Salt & Light
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus has gathered His disciples. He has welcomed those who feel far from the kingdom of God. He has welcomed those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are crying out for justice. He has spoken to the hearts of the people and called them to turn and enter the kingdom of God. He has called each of us into His kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Now He gives us all a sense of what life in the kingdom looks like.

He describes this way of love as integrating our inner selves with our outer selves. In other words, there is no duplicity in the life of the kingdom. We don’t say one thing but think another. Our hearts and minds unite with our words and actions. We are becoming a people who are genuine lovers both inside and out.

Jesus models this kingdom of love and makes a way for us to follow Him in this way. As N. T. Wright says, “He would turn the other cheek; he would go the second mile; he would take up the cross. He would be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. He would be Israel for the sake of the world. He would be the means of the kingdom’s coming, both in that he would embody in himself the renewed Israel and in that he would defeat evil once and for all. But the way in which he would defeat evil would be the way consistent with the deeply subversive nature of his own kingdom-announcement. He would defeat evil by letting it do its worst to him.”[1]

Even as Jesus fulfills the Sermon on the Mount, He also calls His disciples to follow Him in this way. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of His followers as salt and light. He calls them to an obedience to the Law and the Prophets that exceeds that of the Pharisees.

Let us begin with the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is calling His followers to an obedience that goes to the heart of the law: the redemption of the world. The Pharisees were preserving an external observance of the law but failing to see its true implication. The Law was pointing beyond itself to God’s healing grace. Jesus says that He himself has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. From now on all God’s disciples fulfill the law by following Jesus, by obeying Jesus.

Only Jesus by His Spirit can form us into a people who embody the calling to live as God’s righteousness in the world. In that sense, our calling is to follow Jesus, to become apprentices of Jesus. In and through Him, the church lives as His body. Different members of the body reveal different facets of His righteousness.

Jesus tells His followers, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”[2] Israel was the salt of the earth, but sadly she had lost her savor.

When Jesus tells His followers, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world,” He is describing a condition: a state of living. So how to do we become salt and light? We already are salt and light in Christ. We simply abide in Christ. We follow Christ. We obey Christ.

Let’s think about the nature of salt and light. We salt our food and the tiny crystals disappear into the food. The flavor of the food is enhanced. My friend who went to culinary school once told us that his instructors would regularly say, “More salt.” It can make food taste better. It seems to enhance the flavors that already exist by heightening their intensity. Margaret Visser writes about salt in her book, Since Eve Ate Apples Much Depends on Dinner. She says that “In religious symbolism it is always linked with “strong,” powerful substances like iron or blood. We feel that a little of it is all we need, that this little has made all the difference, and that we ought not to abuse the privilege of having it.”[3]

Salt is potent. A little has great power and impact both in taste and in symbol. Visser explains that “Bread and salt are customarily offered in Russia (where the word for “hospitality” means literally “bread-salt”) and in other countries, as a sign of welcome to a guest: bread and salt symbolize the precious stores of the house, the fruits of the host’s labour, his patience, his ingenuity, his civilized foresight and preparedness.”[4]

Salt plays an essential role in Old Testament sacrifices. In Leviticus 2:13, we are told, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” [5] Why was salt an essential role in sacrifices? Salt prevents putrefaction. It preserves. Thus salt becomes an image of the covenant. As Gordon Wenham writes, “Salt was something that could not be destroyed by fire or time or any other means in antiquity. To add salt to the offering was a reminder that the worshipper was in an eternal covenant relationship with his God.” [6]

When Jesus calls His followers “the salt of the earth,” He is calling us images of the covenant. The covenant is no longer dependent on human frailty because He has born the covenant is His own body. He is the guarantee of the covenant. He has gathered us into this covenant. He promises that the work He has begun in us, He will carry to completion. He preserves our hope in His resurrected life. We become images of His faithfulness.

Paul writes of this work saying, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”[7] As God’s salt, we are sent out with a preserving grace for a world that is rotting in sin. Christ restores and renews through us.

Salt – stability

He also works through us to enhance and beautify individuals and cultures. If you think of the world as created in and through Christ, then we can only reach our true potential, true glory in and through Christ. The true beauty of a person unfolds are she grows up into Christ. In the same way, it is only in and through Christ that countries reach their glorious potential.

Jesus also calls us “the light of the world.” This image is so rich it is difficult to fully unpack this morning. I would recommend taking time to reflect both the images of “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”

Think of the creation of the world. God said, “Let there be light and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Light reveals. Without it, we cannot see anything. As Paul Evdokimov says, “An object is only visible if light makes it luminous. We see the light which unites itself to the object, marries the object, so to speak, taking its form, giving it shape and revealing it.”[8]

Light reveals the beauty of the world around us. Light also speaks of revealing God in His goodness and grace. In the darkness of sin, humans misperceive the Creator. They fail to see the Creator and end up worship creation, which leads to destructive thoughts and behaviors.

We see this idolatry played out in our culture and our world by simply observing human brokenness, human wars, and all manner of human destructiveness. The light of Christ exposes the sin while also opening eyes to the only hope for healing in Jesus Christ. So light reveals both earthly beauty and heavenly glory. At the same time, all creation is moving toward light.

In Revelation 22:5, we read, “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”[9] All creation is moving toward consummation in God’s eternal light. The darkness of fear and death and pain and loneliness will be consumed in the light of God’s unending love.

Now back to Jesus designation, we are called “the light of the world.” In this world, we reveal. By His Spirit, we reveal the wonder of the world and the glory of God. In this sense, our lives play a role in calling people to worship the Lord of glory in all things. As Paul writes, “[W]hether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”[10] And again, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” [11] We are the lights of God shining out in this world. We are highlighting this glory of creation, giving thanks and praise to God for the sun above, the trees, the rain, and all the goodness of God.

Demos Shakarian called us the “happiest people in the world.” We don’t walk around with an artificial smile, but we do know true joy in Jesus Christ. We are becoming a people who worship in all ways and at all times. We gather together in worship, but we also worship as we come to church and as we go out, giving thanks to God in all things. Oddly enough, as we give thanks, we discover more reasons to rejoice.

Kelly and I have both learned God is good and faithful even when we experience great loss. He will not forsake us, but is present in the midst of our pain and struggles. His love is unshaken and unfailing. As He pours out His love in us, we are being changed from glory to glory.

We are going forth as His salt and His light to a world in need of hope.

[1] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 564–565.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:13.

[3] Visser, Margaret. Since Eve Ate Apples Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Mea (p. 66). Grove Atlantic. Kindle Edition.

[4] Visser, Margaret. Since Eve Ate Apples Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Mea (p. 67). Grove Atlantic. Kindle Edition.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Le 2:13.

[6] Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 71.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 5:18–19.

[8] Evdokimov, Paul. The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, illustrated . Oakwood Publications. Kindle Edition.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:5.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 10:31.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 4:4.


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