Jesus tells his friends that we are the salt and the light of the earth.
Of course, Jesus’ choice of words is symbolic and speaks truth far more profound than mere personal habits. This saltiness and luminescence is about the state of our souls., and this is in a collective context In Jesus’ time, salt was a precious commodity and difficult to obtain. In the Bible, salt is used metaphorically to signify permanence, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification. Life without salt was nearly unthinkable. In some cultures, it was used as money. Salt was so highly valued that philosophers used it as a symbol of wisdom. Ancient people needed salt to make strong pottery, to preserve food and heal wounds. Salt was considered the purest of elements, because it was derived from two pure resources: the sea and the sun. Jews used salt to purify their sacrifices and their cooking utensils. In the Bible, light is a symbol for divinity, life, wisdom, knowledge, purity, and goodness. Jesus comes into the world as the Light for all, and invites his disciples to share in the process of existential illumination.
Even if we avoid sprinkling salt on our food these days, we still use it. You can be certain that maintenance crews use it on icy roadways. Girl Scout leaders everywhere make clay using salt. Salt is useful to eliminate weeds and poison ivy in organic gardens, to sanitize cutting boards, and to relieve the pain of bee stings.
Light, which is surprisingly powerful and fast, is necessary not only for our vision but for the generation of life. Light is the primary source of energy for living organisms. Crops struggle to grow in low light conditions. The absence of light leads to blindness and death.
Apparently God likes to use a little salt and lots of light. On a hillside in Galilee, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount. It is all about how to live as people of God – and he tells his followers: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Consider this metaphor in a spiritual context. Listen to the voice of Jesus speaking to you, teaching and encouraging you. Without you, the reign of God is nearly unthinkable. You are as precious as money and as holy as light. You are highly valued as symbols of wisdom and knowledge, because you follow Jesus. You are the people who make the Kingdom into a reign of strength and holiness, you preserve the elements of life in the world, you are willing to heal the wounded. You are pure, because your identity is derived from the water of your baptism and the Son of God. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
The Word of God in the scripture consistently teaches that we must remember our foundational identity and to allow it to inform and direct our life. God’s priorities are not those of the world. When we try to domesticate Jesus or to mould God according to our culture, we forget who the Almighty is and we are in error. The righteousness valued by God is not about devotion or wisdom cultivated for our sake. Following Jesus into righteousness is all about doing God’s generous and self giving work. In the very ancient prophecy of Isaiah, repeated by Jesus, this requires loosing the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of the yoke, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless. The life of the disciple has a practical dimension of spiritual action. We get to be salt and light because God, the Holy One, has created us to bring brightness and flavor, life and value, into a fragile and messy world.
When Jesus speaks to his disciples, he speaks to us also. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We are the righteous. This is true for the community of St Stephen’s, and it is not because of what we do or because we are “perfect.” This is true because God accounts us as righteous through grace. We choose to experience and to share the love of God through this place.
I have a clergy friend from CT who is a part-time surfer, and even in winter he puts on his wet suit and spends a little time each week in the water. His motto is Stay Salty. He knows that without regular practice, he might lose the very qualities that define his life. We cannot take our saltiness or the light that shines in our hearts for granted. If we are unwilling to attend to the care of our souls, we risk losing the very qualities that make us essential in the life of what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. This would be far more serious than becoming merely dull or boring, like eggs without salt or poorly lighted rooms. In this season of Epiphany, as we remember the revelation of Christ in the world, Jesus invites us also to be salty and luminescent, to diminish the shadow of sin and alienation from the values of God.
How can we cultivate a life marked by salt and light? Mostly by exercising our salt and light muscles.
We can cultivate a life marked by salt and light, for the sake of our souls. Be intentional this Epiphany and work on your spiritual life. Allow yourself to be shaped by faith. Save some time for prayer. Read a devotional. Look for and reflect on moments of grace. This spiritual exercise will strengthen you to walk with God.
We can cultivate a life marked by salt and light, for the sake of our parish. Step up and lean in. Embrace your identity as a spiritual community. We have a great coffee hour, but Church life is not a buffet. If we long for a vibrant community, it is most effective to be part of the change we seek. We grow stronger as we expand and strengthen relationships with each other. Join a Foyers dinner group. Engage in a ministry. There is a place for everyone to belong here.
We can cultivate a life marked by salt and light, for the sake of God’s world. We can change the world, starting here. Community Connections has a great program and there is always enough work for new members. (Pack food for the hungry at the Food Bank on Valentine’s Day). That is how we will share more deeply in the life of God, loosening the bonds of injustice, undoing the thongs of bondage, and freeing the oppressed.
Stay salty, and let your light shine, so that our neighbors will see your good work and give thanksgiving and glory to God.
Let the church say Amen!