Salt and Light
March 19, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
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(The Parables Sermon Series)
“Salt and Light”
March 19, 2017
Rev. Melanie Homan
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 God in heaven.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
That’s what Jesus says. He doesn’t say, “You SHOULD be the salt of the earth.” Or “If you try hard enough, you MIGHT become the light of the world.” “You ARE salt and light.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, what if I don’t want to be?!? What if I don’t want to be the salt of the earth? What if I don’t want to be the light of the world?” Like my children, when I am tired, I can be contrary. I was tired this past week. And, I found myself rebelling against the idea of being salt and light. What’s so great about being salt? What’s so wonderful about being light?
Then, all of these examples came to my mind, to reinforce my defiant disposition. At which point, I probably should have done what I make my children do – which is take a nap…because a nap almost always helps. But, I didn’t take a nap. I instead wrote down all the ways that being salt and light weren’t all that great.
For instance, “let your light shine”. The most surefire way to ensure our day starts on a terrible note, is if I turn the light on in my kids’ room when I go to wake them up for school. They fuss and whine and pull their blankets and pillows over their heads, and they won’t get out of bed until I turn the light back off. I know where they get this, by the way…because I do the same thing. My alarm goes off in the morning. I push snooze two or three times, Brennon turns on the light, and I pull the covers over my head. I do not want light when I want to sleep!
“Let your light shine” takes on a different sort of meaning for our kids, who LOVE flashlights. They love playing with flashlights, but when they let them shine, it’s always right in my eyes. “Hey mom, look at this!” as they point it directly in my face. “Turn off that light right now or I’m throwing it away!”
The same happens when we go camping. Brennon and the kids love going for walks at night with their flashlights. Which inevitably results in them trying to show me something by shining the light right in my eyes. I prefer walking in the dark, by the light of the moon.
Being light isn’t always the best thing. Neither is being salt. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant and were served a meal from a cook who was overzealous with the salt shaker, then you know that too much of a good thing is not a good thing!
So, what exactly are we to make of this idea that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth? After a nap I watched various versions of Godspell’s song “You Are the Light of the World” on Youtube videos. It’s hard to be contrary when watching the movie version of Godspell from 1973. It’s trippy. And, if writing this sermon is any indication of what’s in store for you, you will have the song Quinn and Umar sang this morning stuck in your head for days.
I keep going back to what I said in the beginning. Jesus says, “You ARE the salt of the earth” and “You ARE the light of the world” – NOT you NEED to be or you SHOULD be, but rather you ARE. So, if you are light and you are salt, then what do you do with your light and with your saltiness? Well, first off, since you are light, the right thing to do is not shine your light right in people’s faces when they are trying to sleep… or needing to find their way on their own. That’s not nice or helpful. The same can be said for someone who is grieving. We might REALLY want to let our light shine on them so their light will shine, too, when the compassionate thing to do is to put the dimmer on. Sometimes, when you’re in a world of hurt, the light can be too much, especially if we equate the light with being happy. I think that’s why there is a whole series of condolence slash empathy cards that have gained popularity. They say things like, “I wish I could take away your pain, or at least take away the people who compare it to the time their hamster died.” Or, “I promise to never refer to your illness as a journey, unless someone takes you on a cruise.” And, “Please let me be the first person to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.”[i] Sometimes people don’t need bright, shiny lights on them – they just need someone to be with them, right where they are at. We ARE light, but we can adjust our light. We adjust to what the situation calls for.
There is a difference between shining light where light is needed, of adjusting to what the situation calls for, and hiding our light and withholding it when it is necessary and needed. We somehow get this light thing mixed up. We pierce others with light when it’s harmful while, at the same time, we cover it up where it most needs to shine.
Here’s what I mean by that. We hide our light, we cover up that which God calls us to stand for – to advocate for – to seek after – when it gets too uncomfortable. I am tempted to hide light when I stand up here thinking that no matter what I say I’m going to offend someone. That by preaching the Gospel, by preaching what Jesus teaches us about caring for the poor and loving our enemy, that I’ll be accused of preaching politics. It would be easier to just hide my light than face the criticism that every pastor I know is struggling with. It’s safer to say nothing. It feels safer to keep peace by not talking about justice. But, that’s a false peace and it doesn’t work.
Then, there’s this:
Martin Niemoller. A pastor in Germany during the rise of Hitler. “He kept hoping that his government would emerge from its self-created darkness for years, yet he finally came into open opposition, for which he was arrested. In a sermon just prior to his arrest by the Nazis, Niemoller spoke of Jesus’ words, ‘you are the light of the world’”:
“What are we worrying about? When I read out the names (of church members missing or arrested), did we not think: ‘Alas and alack, will this wind, this storm, that is going through the world just now, not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and (keep) it safe.’ It is…during these days that I have realized – that I have understood – what the Lord Jesus Christ means when He says: ‘Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick! We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is His concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away. Let your light shine.”[ii]
There are times, when out of compassion, the best thing we can do is to refrain from shining light. Then, there are times when we keep light to ourselves out of fear, out of a desire for self-preservation, because it is so much easier to tell ourselves that we are “protecting” the light by hiding it. It takes intentionality on our part to discern between the two and to determine what is needed at any given moment.
So, here’s some light that needs to shine right now, even if it might be easier to hide it. As Christians and as United Methodists, we believe that housing is a human right. We believe the same thing about health care. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state, “Health care is a basic human right”.[iii] Each person deserves health care regardless of our religion, social standing or ability to pay.
Did you know that the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church calls upon all policy makers to work for just and compassionate migration policies that affirm the worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of all persons regardless of nationality or legal status?[iv]
The Church says “As followers of Jesus, we reject in the strongest terms efforts to expand the U.S.-Mexico border wall, penalize communities providing sanctuary, halt refugee resettlement or impose a religious test for those facing forced migration.”[v] That’s our light. The light we risk hiding, like Martin Niemoller wrote, to keep it safe from the storm. “We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is God’s concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away. Let your light shine.”
I’ve spent a lot of time on light, but I want to say a little something about salt. Too much salt in one place is a bad thing. If it’s a pile of salt meant for keeping the roads clear of ice, that pile of salt is good for nothing when it’s in a pile. It’s only good when it is spread out on the roads. If you’ve ever been stuck on the highway when the plow trucks didn’t have a chance to put the salt down first, then you know how important that salt is. When it is spread out all over, it works for the good of everyone. Clustered together in a pile, it helps no one.
Having slipped and fallen twice this winter (which is partly because I’m clutzy and partly because of the ice), I can say without a doubt that a bag of salt sitting inside did me no good. It only works when it’s out in the places it’s needed.
When we see a storm brewing, I think our instinct can be to cluster together, to gather within “safe” walls and stay there – like a big old pile of salt. But, then we are useless.
It was brought to my attention, through twitter, that one of the new ways around Jesus’ teaching is to assert that “when Jesus talks about caring for “the least of these’, he isn’t talking about the poor in general, but just fellow Christians.” That sounds to me like a good for nothing pile of salt.
We are salt! We only help, we only work, when we are spread out all over the place, working for the good of everyone.
You ARE the salt of the earth. You ARE the light of the world. Be salt. Be light.
[ii] Rockwell, Nancy, www.patheos.com
[iii] Social Principles, The United Methodist Church, ¶162.V
[iv] 2016 Book of Resolutions, #3281 “Welcoming the Migrant to the United States”
[v] Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society.