Anne Currie
9th February 2014
Salt and Light

Close your eyes and let the church walls fall away… no buildings, no busy A25 with Sunday cars and motorbikes, no aeroplanes leaving trails in the sky. We’re walking along a track to the foot of a hill.

And we’re going to join that crowd of people just up ahead. We know why we’re here, we’re all waiting eagerly for that man, the new preacher called Jesus. News of his movements and his speeches and his miracles have spread rapidly throughout the region. Everybody wants to go and hear him, and if we’re lucky we’ll see him perform some sort of miracle!

It’s a mixed crowd, some are quietly waiting, some jigging about, some impatient… a few are sitting and eating and children run all around. Then there’s a flurry at one end… this must be him! Everyone’s jostling to see… but just as he arrives… he takes one look at the crowd and strides off up the mountain accompanied only by his close companions. Well what would you do? Go home in disappointment…. you’d walked for hours to get there. or you could stand still and hope that he would come back down. But you see that he’s settled down with his friends and is talking to them.

There’s just one thing to do…. move ever closer until you can hear what’s being said…

…and you arrive just in time to hear Jesus’ words, ”You are the salt of the earth.”

Matthew begins his narrative of the sermon on the mount in Chapter 5 with the words, “When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain, and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught them…….” The implication being that the group consisted of Just Jesus and the twelve…

But by the time we get to the end of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ discourse in chapter 7 we hear that… “the crowds are astounded at his teaching.” So has Matthew lost the plot somewhere in these three chapters? Or is it as I imagined earlier, that the people have made their way up the mountain to sit and to listen.

Our gospel reading this morning sits in a point near the beginning of the sermon on the mount, just after the Beatitudes…. the bit where it talks of blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the meek etc.

If you were one of those people on the hillside hearing these words for the first time… I wonder what you would make of them… You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world.

Salt had many uses in the ancient world… if I asked you what salt is used for today I wonder what you would come up with… cooking, seasoning, putting in the dishwasher, or preventing ice forming on the highway…

Back in the times of Jesus there were numerous uses, symbolically it was a sign of purity, and physically, an element in sacrifices, a purifier, a condiment, a preservative… Roman soldiers were paid either an allowance to purchase salt or were paid for guarding the salt roads to Rome… scholars vary on this but either way they received a salary. and it was even used as a weapon of war. In the book of Judges Abimelech razed the city of Shechem and then sowed it with salt (Judges 9.45) so that nothing would grow there.

In fact for humans salt is a two edged sword you must have some in order to survive, but too much is lethal.

And light too… where would we be without light! The writers of Genesis knew just how important light was… for them it was the first thing that God created. God said Let there be light, and there was light.

Our modern towns and cities are full of light… we talk endlessly of light pollution. Going back to the olden days of getting up and going to bed with the sun would not suit our modern way of 24 hour living at all!

Light. Almost nothing could survive without it… there are a few creatures who live in the deepest part of the ocean or in caves… but most life on earth would perish with our one source of light… the sun.

Salt and light are essential to life on earth

But what does Jesus mean by using them in this context?

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church which seems to have a number of problems with what to believe and how to behave… some of the better off and better educated were claiming superior wisdom and despising the less-sophisticated as foolish and weak in faith. They were in danger of forgetting why they were members of the body of Christ.

If we think about the reason why we come to church, what are our hopes from being a member of this congregation? Peace with ourselves, God on our side, fellowship, great worship, a feeling of security, or a warm glow from knowing that we’re good and religious… most of us have probably come with one of those at one time or another…. but if we are not careful it can tip over into something a little more sinister.. having God as a status symbol, being part of a religion that’s more powerful that anyone else’s, being so superior in religious knowledge that you can put others in their place.

I think this is what Paul was getting at, that his concern was that for the Corinthians was that it was becoming all about them, and not about God.

And in following Jesus we can’t let ourselves be satisfied with just having our own needs met. We need to be part of the whole world not just on it in our own little walled off area.

Jesus said you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He didn’t say you can be salt and light if you do this, he didn’t say you need to become. He said YOU ARE salt and light. For his close and true disciples and friends they were that very thing.

As a disciple of Jesus you are salt and light… you are something essential to life on earth, you are something that is needed.. not simply as an optional seasoning or an atmospheric enhancement.

But, before we fall into the trap of thinking ourselves something better than we are… let’s remember that our faith is not just, or even primarily about ourselves. It’s about our participation in God’s work in the world. It’s not about standing on our superior knowledge of scripture and doctrine, but going out into the world, being disciples in Jesus’ name.

I think what Jesus is saying and what Paul means, by the Gifts of God’s Spirit is to be able to put others before ourselves. To do God’s work, and to spot God’s work happening around us and to share it with those we meet.

Jesus began his discourse by speaking just to his disciples… but by the end the whole crowd had crept up to hear. They became disciples by the hearing of the word.

Each week we come into this building and we hear the word of the gospel.. each week we come back and sit on the hillside to listen. We come as disciples. We come for forgiveness, to hear, to be affirmed, to worship to share with God, to be uplifted, filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to be God’s salt and light upon the earth.

You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.

1 Corinthians 2.1-16
Matthew 5.13-20