Salt and Light in the Earth

Sermon on the Mount, Farkasházy Miklós (1930)

Epiphany 5 2020
Rev. Connor Searle
2 Kings 22:8–20, Psalm 27, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 
When I first found out I was going be a father, I panicked a little bit and I went running to my counselor at the time to have a bit of a breakdown. “I’m not the best person in world—If I was, Jesus would not have died for me—I struggle even to be a decent husband, how in the world am I supposed to be a good father?” I asked him. The advice he gave me was profound in it’s simplicity and ever so slightly salty so I’ve edited it just a tad since we’re in mixed company. He told me, “If you will just show up, and give a bother, you will already be doing better than 80% of the fathers out there.” Not bad advice. I’ve since taken that little phrase and I find myself applying it in all sorts of spheres in life. Especially in my work. 

It’s probably no surprise to you that working as a chaplain at a rescue mission can be rather discouraging. Not always–we have one guy we’ve been discipling who is 7 months clean and has the biggest servant’s heart I’ve ever seen. He’s a walking miracle. But in the ordinary, everyday grind of things, it’s easy to get discouraged. 

One of the things I do each day, is to set up a little table and a stool in the chapel during lunchtime. I have my Bible, my prayer book, and some anointing oil in case someone desires prayer. Some days, folks come up for conversation and prayer. Other days, I end up sitting there by myself for an hour and half. 

Well the other week, I was just striking out. And it was fairly discouraging. But, I tried to keep my counselor’s advice in mind. Just show up and give a bother. Towards the end of the hour or so I was in there, a lady we’ll call Angela (who has a reputation for being mentally and emotionally unstable) came flying in, yelling at the top of her lungs, practically tearing the chapel apart looking for something. I tried really hard to be as invisible as possible. Eventually Angela gave up looking and she threw herself into one of the chairs in the front row and started crying and yelling and praying—sort of.  I stared really hard at my Bible, not wanting to engage at all because… I’m a sinner. The Spirit stirred me though and I got up and went to her. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that she had lost her Bible, and in that Bible had been a $5 bill she was going to use to by some new boots for work.

She showed me her boots. They were in tatters. I knelt next to her and prayed with her softly until she calmed down. And then I found out her shoe size and went and got something close from my boot closet upstairs. Later that day she came and found me as I was setting up for evening chapel. She greeted me with a smile and pointed to the boots I had given her. They fit her perfectly. “You brightened my whole day.” She said. And I believed her. 

Man. What would have happened if I hadn’t showed up in that moment? But because—by some miracle—I did, a little bit of the light and love of Christ pierced through the darkness of Angela’s mental and emotional state. It wasn’t anything extravagant. A five-minute-prayer and a pair of donated boots. But for that day, at least, it changed everything for her.

Today’s text picks up in the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’s guidebook for discipleship and life in the Kingdom of God. 

“You ARE the salt of the earth,” Jesus says. “You ARE the light of the world.”

Perhaps the first thing we ought to pay attention to here is that this isn’t a command. Bonhoeffer points out that Jesus does not say you have the salt or you have the light. Nor does he tell us to go be the salt or to go be the light. He says we are the salt. We are the light. If we are disciples of Jesus we can no more cease to be salt and light than salt can stop being salty or light can stop shining. We are God’s salt for the earth. We are God’s light for the world. I love these words from St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”

In Holy baptism God lays his claim on us, calls us his own, and gives us a new name. The dirty rags of our former life are washed away and we are robed in the righteousness of Jesus on whose account we are called beloved, declared forgiven, and named as his sons and daughters. And by virtue of that same baptism, he calls us salt. He calls us light. We’re given a new—a baptismal—identity. All of this not because of anything we have done or will do, but sole by Grace. In Ephesians 2 we read that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5)

One of the implications of that is this: If we are united to Christ in baptism, following him in faith, there is not a single part of our daily experience that is not meant to be salt and light for the world. Bonhoeffer says, “the call of Christ makes those who respond to it salt in the totality of their existence.” And I think that’s what is so fascinating to me about our text today is that Jesus doesn’t choose some extravagant imagery to describe his disciples. He uses ordinary commonplace things—salt and light. Eugene Peterson who recently joined the ranks of the Saints Triumphant paraphrases Romans 12:1 this way—and I think this is really spot on: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

In Martin Luther’s day, people had an obsession with the extravagant. If you wanted to be really spiritual, you would leave behind your family, your work, and your ordinary life, drain your savings account and go on a long pilgrimage to a holy place to venerate the relics of a deceased saint. This bumped you up a bit in the queue for the Heavenly banquet—yeah it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. If you wanted to be really sure of getting a reserved seat at the heavenly banquet, the only failsafe way to do that was to withdraw from the world completely, and dedicate yourself to repentance and prayer in a monastery. Luther, a former monk himself, took issue with this. After all, the New testament wasn’t written to monks. It was written to everyday, ordinary people, with jobs, homes, and families, and the commandments given therein were primarily about how to live the baptismal life in the “real world.” If we are to be saved, Luther argued, it won’t be by withdrawing from the world, but by living in it as Christians. 

Here’s what he says:

“If you find yourself in a work by which you accomplish something good for God, or the holy, or yourself, but not for your neighbor alone, then you should know that that work is not a good work. For each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even for one’s enemies, a husband for his wife and children, a wife for her husband, children for their parents, servants for their masters, masters for their servants, rulers for their subjects, and subjects for their rulers, so that one’s hand, mouth, eye, foot, heart, and desire is for others; these are Christian works, good in nature.” (Adventspostille, quoted in Wingren, 120) 

In other words, God’s divine calling on your life is not necessarily to do something extravagant and over-the-top for Christ. After all, Luther argues, God doesn’t need your works—your neighbor does. Instead, God calls us to let our faith season and illuminate every aspect of our normal, ordinary lives. Are you a husband or a wife? Honor Christ in that vocation. Are you a son or a daughter? Honor Christ in that vocation. Are you a student? Honor Christ in that vocation. Are you an employee at a call center? A construction worker? The director of a non-profit? A therapist? A musician? Honor Christ in that vocation. “We can do no great things,” said St. Teresa of Calcutta, “only small things with great love.” So show up in every role and every station of your life, and give a bother, that people might see Christ reflected in your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 

Because after all, it nothing less than our union with Jesus that establishes the works of our hands as “Christian works, good in nature.” Jesus is our righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees. He is the one who fulfills the law on our behalf so we need not cower before the thunder of mount Sinai. Jesus—if you allow me the liberty of paraphrasing another Lutheran pastor far more eloquent than myself, for a moment—is the True Salt of the Earth, and the True Light of the World.

Jesus is the salt that preserves our souls by pointing out our sins against him. He is the salt that purifies us with his perfection. He is the salt that never loses it’s saltiness. He is the salt that heals our wounds bother physical and spiritual. He is the salt that prepares our bodies for death and life beyond death. 

The world is so very dark. I live and work everyday in some of the deepest darkness imaginable. And yet even in there midst of that, there is true hope. Because the one who is God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God, entered our world. He is the Light that dispelled the darkness at creation. He is the  Light that at his incarnation took on human flesh in the darkness of Mary’s womb. He is the Light that overcame the darkness of Satan’s temptations, the Pharisee’s threats, and Pontius Pilate’s cowardice. He is the Radiance that pierced the darkness shrouding the Judean countryside on Good Friday. And he is the Light that triumphed over every kind of darkness and the shadow of death as he burst forth from the tomb on Easter dawn. And he is Light that shines through ordinary things like bread and wine, water and words, declaring to us the entire forgiveness of our sins for his sake. He is the light that shines through ordinary people like you and me, doing ordinary things… like dishes, and parenting, and studying, and listening with patience, compassion, and attention to a friend in need. 

Jesus is the true salt of the earth. Jesus is the true light of the world. Let us so let HIS light shine before men in the everyday, ordinary, and commonplace of our lives, that people may see our good deeds and find their way home to the God who loves them, and gave himself for them. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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