5th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, tell me what these three things have in common: a piece of fruit left out on the countertop, a plant left in a dark room, and my house. What do those three things have in common? Let me tell you. A piece of fruit left on the countertop will soon spoil, rot and start to smell unless measures are taken to preserve it. A plant that’s been placed into a dark room without light will soon shrivel, dry up, wither, and die. And my house. My house where adults are soon to be outnumbered 3 to 1 to children quickly goes from order to disorder, from clean to unclean quite quickly. My wife has to work incessantly hard to keep things in order (and she does a great job, by the way J). But that’s not just a piece of fruit, a plant or my house, is it? That’s the world we live in! The tendency of the whole world and the tendency of your life and mine is to disorder and disintegration. That’s why we need salt and light. And what we’re going to look at this morning from Jesus’ sermon on the mount is salt and light, first we need it, second, we have it, and third, we share it.
First, we need it. One of the main uses for salt at this time was that it was used mainly as a preservative. They didn’t have deep freezers, so the only way to keep meat from spoiling immediately was to salt it like crazy. Salt was a preservative. They also didn’t have electricity at Jesus’ time, you knew that, right? J And if you’ve ever been in a situation where there is no light- no moonlight, no light seeping through the cracks, but utter darkness, you know that it quickly makes you disoriented and gives you a sense of dislocation. They needed salt and they needed light.
But that’s really the truth of all of human existence. On its own it inevitably goes to greater and greater disorder, dislocation and disintegration. Things fall apart. That’s the name of a famous novel by an African novelist that I read in college- I don’t remember what the novel was about, but I remember the title, “Things fall apart.” Think about your body. We’re falling apart and it takes a great amount of effort to stop it, but inevitably it happens anyway. It’s tendency is to fall apart. Someday we die and we literally fall apart. Everything is moving in that direction. It’s also true about the social aspects of the world. Think about our nation. We’re sharply divided between two political ideas. Think about our congregation. It takes a lot of work to maintain a spirit of unity and peace in a congregation. Think about the fundamental human relationship of marriage. If you don’t incessantly work like crazy on your marriage it will fall apart, it will unravel. There’s misunderstanding, resentment, anger. I know a lot of people who are hard workers, they work really hard, they would be deeply offended if someone called them lazy, but though they are hard workers they are terribly lazy husbands or father, lazy wives or mothers. The natural tendency to things is to fall apart. Disintegration, disorder, dislocation. Things on their own go to pieces. So, what Jesus is saying is the world needs salt and the world needs light. Salt and light- we need it.
Second- we have it. You see, if everything in this world falls apart, we need something from outside of this world. And there is salt and light from outside of this world. Jesus is the light of the world. You see, under Jesus’ power, bodies that are falling apart – the deaf, the lepers, the mute, yes even the dead- are restored, the disintegration is reversed. In a world disoriented by the darkness of error, the darkness of unbelief, Jesus comes as the Light of the World, the way, the truth, and the life. Into a world lost and hopeless in sin, here Jesus comes to suffer, be crucified, to die on a cross, to rise from the dead. For what purpose? To preserve us for eternal life; to show us that He’s won heaven for us and has given it to us as a free gift.
The light shows you everything else. If we didn’t have lights in here, you would never see the pews and at some point you would run into them. We have lights so we can see the pews. The pews cannot show us the light but the light can show us the pews. You see, the light is the way in which you see everything else. When you have the light of Christ it changes the entire way that you view life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who walks in my light will have the light of life and never walk in darkness again.” Jesus is the true guide, He shows us the way, He guides us to reality. Only Jesus can really restore our relationships, only Jesus can give us God-pleasing marriages, only Jesus can give us true peace, only Jesus can restore our disintegrated and dead bodies. Only with Jesus’ preserving power and His illuminating light can we be salt and light in the world.
So, salt and light, we need it, we have it, and we also share it. “You are the salt of the world.” “You are the light of the world.” Salt exposes decay and light exposes darkness. In fact, salt was used for many centuries in healing skin injuries and is even used today as saline solution. Putting salt into a wound actually kills certain types of bacteria. Salt preserves meat because it doesn’t allow bacteria to grow. Jesus says that you are salt and you are light. That means that if you are light, your life should be so beautiful that when it comes into contact with other things in life it shows them up for what they really are. What that means is that simply by being Christian, your very presence reveals the dishonesty of those around you, the way you speak reveals gossip of your coworkers and friends, the pureness of your life reveals the impure life of those around you.
If your life, by its order, by the way in which you handle pressure, by the way you take criticism, by the way you treat people, if you are like Jesus, the beauty of that is going to show up the reality of the environment. A good light shows you true color, right? This happens to me almost every Sunday morning unless I lay my clothes out the night before. I pick through my sock drawer and trying not to wake Katie I have only the closet light on, it is virtually impossible for me to determine whether the socks are blue, black or brown. A good light shows true colors.
If you’re living like your Savior, then the beauty of your life shows everybody around you what is good and what is bad. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds.” “good” in Greek has two words. Agathos and kalos. Agathos means good as in quality. Kalos means beautiful. Here it’s beautiful. People ought to say “Amazing!” about your deeds. Being a Christian means you look different than the world. You’re not simply a husband, you’re to be a remarkable husband to the world. You’re not simply a wife, you’re a remarkable wife to the world. You’re not simply a good employee, you’re a remarkable employee at your job. You’re not just a student, you’re a remarkable student.
That’s the question. Is your life so remarkable that it shows up the contrast between the beauty of Christ and what’s around you, or do you blend in, and there’s nothing remarkable about your life at all, there’s nothing about you that stands out?
Secondly, if you’re salt and light, that means you bring joy to the people around you. Salt – as you know – is not just a preservative. What is it? It’s a seasoning. It brings out taste. It makes things taste good. Light is good because it shows the beauty of things. That window is most beautiful with the light shining through it. As a Christian you don’t just look at a situation and say, “What can I get out of this? How can I get the most out of this situation to advance myself? How can I enhance myself?” Rather, a Christian acts like salt and says, “How can I bring the best out of this organization, out of this group, out of these people? How can I make this the best possible place?”
Now this applies to every area of your life- at work, at groups you’re a part of, in your family- but perhaps most of all for each of us here at church. Do you bring joy to your church family? Do you serve with an attitude of joy and spilling over with grace and light up the lives of others here? Or are you negative, down, a black hole that just sucks the excitement out of the people around you? Do you complain about this or that? Are you grumpy about this or that? Or do you serve here at church with a self-less, joyful attitude of service? Or are you thinking about yourself and what you want? The way we interact as a church is the way the rest of the world can see Jesus. The church is not a club. It’s a new humanity, it’s different from the rest of the world. It is to be a shining example of what family life and what friendships and relationships can be under the lordship of Christ.
To be a light, you first have to be lit. Are you lit? Good news, you were baptized, you’ve heard God’s Word, you’ve been nourished by Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus has lit you with His grace and His forgiveness for all your sins. So, nourished by His grace again this morning live as who you really are: the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Amen.