Salt & Light – Epiphany 5A 2017 Feb. 5, 2017 [Boy Scout Sunday at 10:30 service]
You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world!
These are the words Jesus speaks to his disciples and the crowds during his famous Sermon on the Mount just after he finishes the beatitudes.
You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world!
Jesus isn’t saying, “Try to be light” or “Work to be salt,” he says, You ARE salt, but it’s no good if you don’t have any flavor. You ARE light, so don’t hide that light under a bushel basket.
God has made us to be salt and light in this world, and that is what we are supposed to do.
Think about people you know, or people in history who exemplify being salt and light. No doubt you can come up with a few examples.
A several years back, there was an eighteen-year-old Albanian girl named Agnes decided to become a nun. Her mother was supportive, but her brother, a lieutenant in the Albanian army said, “How could you? A little girl like you become a nun! Do you realize that you are burying yourself?”
The girl answered, “You think you are so important as an officer serving a king of two million subjects. Well, I am serving the king of the whole world.”
That girl did become and nun and ended up in an old building in Calcutta, where she had no desks or chairs or tables. She used the dirt floor as a chalkboard.
But, as a result of her persistent faithfulness, by the end of her life she had established 80 well-equipped schools, 300 modern medical dispensaries, 70 leprosy clinics, 30 homes for the dying, 30 homes for abandoned children –– and she was supervising the work of 40,000 volunteers worldwide. Her last name was Bojaxhui. (boh-yah-JOO) We know Agnes Bojaxhui as Mother Teresa. She was salt and light to all she served, and a light that inspired millions.
A beautiful example of being light and salt. . She was officially canonized, made a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church this last September.
But maybe an example like Mother Teresa is too lofty. It is certainly hard to live up to. In fact I hear many people say, “I’m no Mother Teresa.” Still, if you think about it… one small girl, who wouldn’t let her light be put under a bushel.
Then there’s the story of a British Stockbroker, Nicholas Winton, who’s life also exemplifies being salt and light. Some of you may know his story, but I just recently learned about it. Nicholas Winton was born in England in 1909, the son of German-Jewish immigrants. His family converted to Christianity and he was baptized and raised in the Anglican Church – which is the church we Episcopalians are part of.
In 1938 a friend of Winton’s asked him to forgo a ski vacation they had planned and join him to visit refugee camps in Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s rise in Germany and persecution of the Jews had thousands crossing the border into, as of yet, unoccupied Czechoslovakia.
The dire need he saw in the camp broke his heart, and he knew it was only a matter of time before war broke out. He could have just given a donation to the local refugee camp, and gone back to his ski vacation in Switzerland, but he couldn’t. While keeping his day-job as a stock broker, he started his own aid organization, and worked to transport 699 mostly-Jewish children and resettle them in Britain.
What’s more, Winton never spoke a word about his efforts. He kept them a secret. It wasn’t until his wife found a scrapbook in the attic 50, years later, in 1988, that this story became known and he began to speak publicly about it. He ended up getting reuninted with many of the children he had saved, many of whom have gone on to do great things with their lives. His extended family of those children, and now their own children and grandchildren, numbers over 6000. He just died in 2015 at the age of 106, having been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his humanitarian work.
The ways you and I are to be called salt and light may not make it into newspapers or history books, but that doesn’t mean we are exempt from stewarding all of our gifts and talents, resources and influence to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
We have to move beyond just right religious practice and belief, (as if that could even be fully defined,) and move into right action born from our faith. Our right actions need to be more than convenient check-the-box charity done out of duty or just to make ourselves feel better. As Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus isn’t saying that we need to be more religious than the scribes and Pharisees, keeping the hundreds of Old testament laws and customs. I think what he means is that we need to exceed the Scribes and Pharisees in our active participation in what God is up to in the world.
It is way too easy for us as humans to default toward our own comfort or convenience or conformity of routine. But God calls us out of complacency. What Jesus really needs from us is to be the salt and the light—the salt that just might sting and the light that just might expose what we do not want to see.
In essence, God’s message we heard through Isaiah is, “Do you think that I’m going to pay attention to you when you keep to religious rituals like fasting just so you can show off to others, or so you can manipulate me into doing what you want? I don’t give a flip for empty religious rituals. You come and offer religious rituals, but you leave worship and go back to your self-centered, materialistic lives, where you abuse your workers and quarrel among yourselves.
A real religious sacrifice is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, fighting for justice and unshackling those who are imprisoned by fear or oppression. When you do that, your light shines like the sun at midday.
Jesus’ call to be the light of the world means much the same today. Our actions are to show God’s truth and love and justice. We are to be light and salt.
At Christmas time, I tried to offer a small beacon of light showing St. Michael’s neighbors that we are a welcoming congregation. I personally purchased a yard sign that said, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor.” It was written in English, Spanish and Arabic… you may have seen those Green, Blue, and Orange signs around the community.
Well, the sign was up Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it had disappeared by the following weekend. Perhaps it just blew away, or was taken innocently by someone trying to prevent “solicitation” on church property. But it could be that that sign served less as a beacon of welcome, and more as a spotlight on prejudice in our community. No worries, I plan to get another sign. Maybe some of you will want one for your yards too.
Being light means being not only a beacon of God’s love and goodness and hope, but also persistently shining the light of truth that exposes dark corners of injustice, corruption, and oppression in our world.
Being salt means living out properties of salt in our own lives.
First, salt brings flavor and spice to life. We are certainly called to that. Nothing kills faith faster than boredom. Our faith should flavor all we do, and we shouldn’t be so bland in our faith that our faith doesn’t spice our conversations or our actions. But as you know, salt is usually best when it is a subtle enhancer, not so overpowering that it makes people choke.
Secondly, salt acts as a preservative. God called the Israelites and calls us to be salt to do our part to keep the world from going bad or from spoiling. God’s people are meant to preserve God’s purposes in the world.
Thirdly, besides providing flavor and preserving, salt is a healing agent, as any of you know who gargle salt water when you have a sore throat. Part of what it means to be salt of the earth is to be agents of healing and reconciliation in the world. And as we know, when salt hits a wound, it can sting. Meaning, real work in reconciliation and healing is not always easy. Human beings prefer to avoid pain and discomfort, but often times, true healing and change – change and healing of our bodies, our society, or our land – only comes when one is awakened by the painful salt of God’s truth, calling us to purify our intentions and our actions.
Theologian Craig Blomberg said, “We must remain active preservative agents, indeed irritants, in calling the world to heed God’s standards. We dare not form isolated Christian enclaves to which the world pays no attention.”
Many of you are already finding ways to be salt and light in the world, whether through our ministries at St. Michael’s, or in action you engage in in the world. [Much in the Boy Scout’s honor and law holds up the necessity of being salt and light.] But we must not be complacent. We must not hide our light, or allow the zing of our God’s saltiness be diluted by complacency.
You are salt. You are light. Together, we can make this world more like God’s kingdom, shining with God’s truth and flavored with God’s zest. Amen.