Matthew 5:13-20

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Law and the Prophets

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaksone of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, what’s the purpose of salt?  Anyone?  It’s a preservative when you put it on something…it keeps things like meat from rotting away.  The ancients used it because they didn’t have refrigeration and it kept their meat from spoiling.  It also gives off flavor.  

I grew up on country ham in KY.  I still love it.  So, I was excited when I was in the UK a couple of years ago, I found a sandwich that changed my life.  A simple “toastie” which is British farm bread toasted, splattered with melted butter and what the Brits call “bacon”, which is really just country ham.  The saltiness of the butter and ham is fantastic.  It’s simple, but rich with flavor.  

Now, salt on it’s own, not on anything is simply a mineral…doesn’t do anything.  But, when applied to meat or something else, it preserves it and gives it flavor.  Here’s the kicker though, eventually, if that salty food isn’t consumed or used for something good…it can eventually lose it’s saltiness.  And, salt without flavor or no longer useful as a preservative, it’s no good…throw it out.  

Our passage this morning comes on the heals of the sermon on the mount.  If you remember last week’s message, we talked about the beatitudes meaning blessing and that if you had an ethos, or a characteristic, that points towards inclusive and welcoming love of self, others, and God…then you are blessed.  That inclusive and welcoming love flows from the dynamic of God’s being into us, and through us.  The characteristics or ethos are like the flavors that we give off as we are transformed, converted, changed through our awareness and relationship with God.  

Now, God doesn’t give up on us, God doesn’t discard us…that’s not God’s character.  God’s characteristic or ethos is intense fidelity, commitment, loyalty and faith to us.  But, God does want us to be the salt of the earth, and if we aren’t willing to be salt, then God will simply work in other ways.  For us to be salt, we have to be willing to practice love and giving ourselves away in order to be the salt that the world hopes for the church, or the body of Christ, to be…and needs it to be.

We have to apply the salt, the spice of God deep into our lives, into the recesses and pores of very being.  That requires first a recognition that we cannot live this life on our own, we need God and we need community with one another.  We cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make changes…we have to recognize our need for conversion and that we can’t foster conversation or change on our own.

A few weeks ago, while on retreat at the Abby of Gethsemani, I spent time reading some more from a Franciscan priest, and from a Celtic scholar that I’ve enjoyed getting to know, and from Carl Jung, the great philosopher.  Reading about our small ego not being able towards growth.  But, so often we try to solve our ego problems with our ego.  It’s the old adage about doing the same thing and getting the same results.  We get stuck in our practices and addictions.  

How do we move towards being salt in the world, experiencing conversion and growth and live abundantly in a world that seems to focus more on fear and scarcity?  By letting go of our ego.  Who we are, our true selves as the monk Thomas Merton, who’s monastery was the Abbey of Gethsemani, would say, is not our small “e” ego, but a deeply aware person who is committed to letting go and unlearning the practices that have led us towards a static way of life, and by taking on the salt that God gives us through interdependence on each other, and letting God’s flow expose the deepest parts of who we are into the light of God’s love.

Jesus reminds us also in this passage that God’s light is shining in and through us, let it flow through us and be a light into the world!!!  Don’t hide it, let light do it’s thing, expose the darkness.

Being a light, means having the light enter into our lives, exposing what we need to work on out in the open.  Being vulnerable is hard…letting go isn’t easy, but it’s a crucial step towards growth.  We have to be willing to be accountable to one another through vulnerable and authentic relationships built on grace and mutual growth.  Accountability in the way of Christ doesn’t mean punishing someone, it means being able to live into grace filled lives filled with mutual encouragement towards living abundantly as God intended.

In a small way, I’ve seen so many have an honest approach at trying do this in the church.  Personally, over the years, I know that I’ve had to let go of many of the ways that I have done “church” and practiced ministry.  I’ve had to let go of my vision of the church, and I think many of you are as well.  In that space, we become a bit vulnerable and trust and relationship become the fruit of that work of letting go.  This is an important part of our journey together, in letting go and listening intently, we can hear God’s unique vision for this church.

When we begin that process of letting go…and starting out is the hardest part, we begin to see God’s expansive love work it’s way into our lives, like salt into meat.  It preserves us and it gives us a good taste in lives.  We begin to practice being salt by loving each other…as well as our neighbors.  We find ourselves being peacemakers, practicing justice, standing up for those on the margins, being merciful and graceful, as we live into the commitment and bonds of friendship within community and with God. 

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s scripture that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Jesus didn’t have a problem with rules or laws or church polity, but Jesus also said that being so focused on those rules than the bigger picture of God’s love, can lead us being more about the process than the relationship, and we lose our saltiness, we put our light under a bushel.  Those rules, the commandments, were given to us to show us how to be in relationship, and to remind us that we fall short and need grace to truly live life as it was meant to be lived.

Jesus fulfills the law by being the embodiment of the law as a person…the characteristics/ethos of the law in right relationship is Jesus.  And our relationship with Jesus, which brings out our true selves, means that we are also called to apply Jesus righteousness, which we possess, in our relationships with others…which leads to being light in a dark world, speaking up for the oppressed, the marginalized, the refugee…for justice and mercy or any opposing principles or ethos of this world which are often based on small ego.

More than just following Christ, we are able to live in Christ, which means moving towards a higher level of consciousness, of awareness….going beyond a literal observance of laws and rituals to a radical openness to relationship with God and others that is very much fluid and  requires faithfulness, trust, and even risk and marked by radical love and becoming salt that permeates into the lives others, preserving life, and giving it some spice!  So, friends, let’s keep on being salt and light!!!  

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