The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
February 05, 2017
There is a Peanuts cartoon that shows Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She says, "Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school, and I got
sent to the principal’s office. It’s your fault, Chuck." He says, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" She says,
"You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."
Even though Peppermint Patty was passing the buck to Charlie Brown, she was in a way correct. We do have an influence on others, for good or for bad.” And as Christians we hope to be a good influence on our friends and the people we meet. That’s what Matthew is telling us in today’s reading. In last week’s gospel we read the Beatitudes, the beginning of what some say is the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount. This week we continue with Jesus’ sermon where he explains how we are to live? What is God’s to-do list for us? Jesus was saying, “Those who are My disciples should influence the world in a positive way by the way in which they live.”He uses two metaphors, ”You are the salt of the earth.” and “You are the light of the world.” He doesn’t give us an explanation for his metaphors but leaves to us to determine their meaning for ourselves.
The first thing that we should note is that neither of them is stated as a suggestion. It doesn’t say “You can be the salt of the earth.” or You have the potential to be the light of the world. Jesus said “You ARE the salt of the earth and you ARE the light of the world.” We as Christians, as followers of Christ, all ready are the salt of the earth and we are already the light of the world by virtue of the grace we have received from God. Next it is also important to understand that the “You” that Jesus uses is a collective you. Jesus is saying, “ALL Christians are the salt of the earth.” and ALL followers of Christ are the light of the world. Jesus was originally speaking to his small group of mostly uneducated disciples, ordinary people in their community. As we are often reminded in the Bible, God calls everyday ordinary people to do God’s work in the world. We all as Christians, as followers of Christ, are commissioned by God to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We do not have to be spectacular individuals to be the salt, we do not have to be leaders to be the light. We do not have to be sensational human beings or even successful by the world’s standards. We just have to influence our own little corner of the world, wherever it is and how ever small it may be. The salt and light metaphors assure us that we are “somebody’ in God’s plan and are reminded that our special identity as Christians calls us to be a positive influence in the world.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
What do we know about light? Literally light exposes what’s in the darkness. Darkness is gone as soon as the light comes on. Light guides us and helps us stay on a safe path. Airplanes are able to see the runway at night because of the lights. As the light of the world we are to guide others out of the darkness. Our light does not shine to attract others to us, but rather so that they will be attracted to Christ.
Light is often reflected. The moon has no light of its own it reflects the light of the sun. The little reflectors on our highways reflect the light of our cars’ headlights. The reflectors are useless without our headlights shining on them. The light we get from the moon and the reflectors on the highways depends on the light from another source. As the light of the world we have God’s light as our source. We cannot shine without God’s light. Jesus was called the light of the world but his time on this earth was limited. Now we are called to be reflectors of God’s light. As the highway reflectors serve as much needed directional guides for safe driving, we are directional guides for others to find their way to Christ.
Jesus said You are the salt of the earth.
What do we know about salt? We know that because salt was a necessity of life in ancient times it had great value. Salt was so important that it was sometimes used for money and Roman soldiers were often paid with salt. In fact, our word “salary” comes from the Latin word salarium which referred to the payments to the soldiers with salt. We often hear the phrase saying that someone either is, or is not, “worth their salt.” So being called the salt of the earth is the same as being told that we are valuable and necessary. As Salt of the earth Christians are valuable and necessary to the Kingdom of God.
We all know that salt is used as a seasoning to bring out the taste in food. Just a pinch of salt unlocks the flavor of a whole pot of soup. Who wants to eat popcorn without salt or for that matter why drink a margarita without the rim of the glass coated with salt. As followers of Christ our influence gives the world flavor, bring out the best “taste” of those around us. Salt is not only good for adding flavor. More important it was essential for survival because it was the only way they had to preserve meat and to keep it from decaying. As the salt of the earth Christians have the task of having a positive influence on humanity and keep it from decaying.
Christianity has in fact had a profoundly positive influence on the world. Before Christianity the killing of babies, and abandonment of children was commonplace. Hospitals began through the influence of Christianity. The Red Cross was started by a Christian. Almost every one of over 100 of the first colleges and universities in the United States were founded by Christians for Christian purposes. The same could be said of orphanages, adoption agencies, humane treatment of the mentally ill, and the list goes on and on of dramatic impact of Christianity in our world.
Salt also makes one thirsty. Christians as salt of the earth have the power through our behavior toward others to make the Christian life and faith so attractive and so desirable that others will say “I don’t know what they have but I want it.” We can make others thirst for God’s Kingdom. In doing research for this sermon I found another interesting take on this metaphor. There are several references in the Bible to the “covenant of salt” describing God’s unbreakable promise to the descendants of Abraham.
Matthew was written 10–20 years after the fall of Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed. The Temple and even Jerusalem itself was a symbol to the Jewish people of God’s presence. Now that the Temple no longer existed, the Jewish people, including the followers of the The Way, who would later be called Christians, were searching for how to be faithful now that this important symbol of God’s presence was gone. So a new use or salt became common. The custom began of sprinkling salt on bread over which a prayer was said before the meal. This salt then became their new sign of God’s presence with God’s people.
Also at that time the Jews were trying to determine how they should respond to the destruction of the Temple. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright points out that different sects within Judaism had different reactions. The Zealots wanted to fight. They wanted to start a revolution and overthrow the Romans. The Sadducees knew that they could not fight the Romans – the Romans were just too strong. So the Sadducees looked for ways to work with the Romans, they made compromises and concessions, so the Jewish people could survive.
The Pharisees encouraged people to live as faithful people by following the Law. Many practiced Torah, saying their prayers, living out their faith in private, in secret. They didn’t want to give the Romans reason to come after them. So they kept their heads down. Practices their faith, alone, quietly, in isolation. These were all reasonable responses to persecution – Fight back, make a deal or hide out. But Matthew wanted us to know that Jesus talked about a different way. The rebel Jesus, who turned the Jewish world and it’s laws upside down taught another way of living life. Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed us how to be salt, how to be symbols of God’s covenant.
Matthew was saying to the people “You are the salt. Remember that salt you’ve been sprinkling on your bread? Well now, you are the salt, the living symbol of God’s presence, of God’s love and faithfulness.” That is such an awesome statement. We are symbols of God’s presence in the world. Wow that is such an overwhelming responsibility.
One more thing I’d like to add. It is important for us to remember the fact that salt whether it is valuable or not, whether we use it for flavoring, as a preservative, to cause thirst or as a symbol of God’s presence in the world, in all cases salt while sitting in a salt shaker is useless, it has no influence on anything. Salt is not a substance that is useful by itself. Its value comes when it is applied to other things. The same is true of Christians, we are called to exist for others. We have no influence if we are not out in the world with others, if we are not interacting with others in some way. Jesus said the same about light. He told us not to hide our light under a bushel basket. Christians sitting alone in their homes are unlikely to make much of a difference to the people outside their door, the people who need to see the light of Christ. It is as we rub elbows with others, both Christians and non-Christians, that we have the opportunity to bring a Christ-like flavor to their lives. It may be the simpleness of contact. Standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in the doctor's office. It may only be a smile or a kind greeting. We all have many opportunities to be kind and show God’s love.
We can make our own metaphor and say that the church is our salt shaker. It is good to come together once a week to worship God, to learn and to be renewed and then the doors of our salt shaker open up and we are spread out into our own communities to be a positive influence on those we meet. People will look to you as an example of what God desires. That is the reason why we are here, to love God and to extend God’s love to others. That is God’s very short to-do list. And don’t worry about our numbers being small, just a pinch of salt is effective on large amounts of food and a tiny light can be seen in the darkness for great distances.
So today I ask you, how will you salt the earth? How will you use your light to guide others to God?