Saturday, February 5, 2011
Salt and Light (Feb 6, 2011)
Homily: Yr A Proper 5, Feb 6 2011, Christ Church Huntley
Readings: Is 58:1-12; Ps 112; 1 Cor 2:1-16; Mt 5:13-20
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world
If you ever want to see moose, one of the best moose spotting places in the world is along Highway 60 as it runs through Algonquin Park in the month of May. As the snow melts in the spring it leaves behind pools of salty water, salty because of the salt that has been spread on the highway during the winter. And moose need salt! During the winter months they become salt-depleted, and so in the spring they are attracted by the salt, and are nourished by it. And if you drive this stretch of highway in the spring, you’re sure to see dozens of moose along the side of the road.
Salt is good stuff. Salt not only makes things taste better, but it is essential for life. Of course, these days we sometimes think of salt as bad, because we get too much of it in our diets. But to the people that Jesus is speaking to in today’s gospel, salt is a wonderful thing. Not only is it needed for human health, but in those days before refrigeration, it was also the best way to preserve food. If you wanted to make sure that things don’t go bad, you add a little salt.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the salt that is nourishing, life-giving and brings out the good in things. You are the light of the world. Don’t hide under a basket. Put your light on a stand where it gives light everyone.
Yes you. You George, you’re the salt of the earth. You Linda, you’re the light of the world. You John and Sue and Mary, yes all of you. Salt and light, every single one of you.
What’s your response when I tell you this? When Jesus tells you this in today’s gospel?
I tried this out at home this week, away from church, in what you might call a normal setting. As Jonathan and I were sitting having breakfast together one day this week, eating our bowls of cereal, I said to him in all seriousness, “Jonathan you are the salt of the earth. You’re the one that brings life to people, who nourishes them, who brings out the good in things. You’re the light of the world, so don’t hide your light, get out there and shine and bring light to others.”
At first he looked up at me to see if I was kidding, to see if I was setting him up for some kind of joke. But when he realized that I was serious, he smiled. I think he felt affirmed. In that moment I think he grew just a little bit.
You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. Jesus isn’t kidding, he’s not setting us up for something. He’s serious. He means it. And he’s not talking about people in general. He’s talking about you.
He’s not talking conditionally. He doesn’t say if you do this and this and that then you will be salt and light. He’s not asking a question. He doesn’t say “would you like to be the salt and light of the world?”
No he’s telling you what you are, affirming what you are, confirming what God made you when he created you: you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. Do you believe it? Believe it.
Last week in our gospel, Jesus blessed us. This week he is telling us who we are, affirming us in who we are. This is your identity. You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. And out of that identity flows mission. You are the light of the earth, so let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Now you might be wondering what are these good works that Jesus is talking about? What does it mean to let our light shine before others? I expect that the disciples who were surrounding Jesus were wondering the same thing. And I expect that their first response was to think of the scribes and the Pharisees. In Jewish society at that time, it was the scribes and the Pharisees who were considered to be the good people, the righteous people. And their good works emphasized a scrupulous adherence to the purity laws and to religious observances, things like hand-washing, praying, fasting and so on. Is that what Jesus is calling us to?
And Jesus, perhaps anticipating their thoughts, says to them, “no, your righteousness must be even greater than this, greater than the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. I want you to go beyond merely keeping the law and practicing religion. Your good works, your righteousness must consist of those things that we’ve been talking about: I want you to be peacemakers, I want you to practice mercy. Be compassionate, practice forgiveness, do justice.
Look not to the righteousness of the Pharisees; rather look to God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah which we heard in our Old Testament reading this morning:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. So let your light shine before others. How? By acting justly and living compassionately. By freeing those who are oppressed. By offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted. That’s how your light will shine, that’s when your light shall break forth like the dawn, and you will give glory to your Father in heaven.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Yes, you. Because if not you, then who? Believe it and great things will happen, because it is through us that God acts in this world. Each of us has our own way of shining. Some will teach, some will help, some will travel far, some will stay near to home. But when we all shine our light, the effect is more dazzling than the sunrise at dawn.
During these past 10 days, the young people of Egypt have come to believe that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They have put their lives on the line in order to end oppression, to feed the poor, to bring peace and justice to their country. Their actions have been strong and courageous, yet peaceful and compassionate. Their light shines before us, and we pray for a just and peaceful outcome to their demonstrations.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Imagine what would happen if we really took this to heart, if we really believed what Jesus is telling us, if we stopped hiding our light and instead put it on the lampstand for all to see. Imagine an end to injustice, an end to hunger, an end to oppression, imagine what things might start to look like, in our homes, in our community, in our country, in the world.
It is through you that God works in this world, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.