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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some people are always afraid of the dark. A mother, whose 5 year-old son was particularly afraid, told her little boy to go out to the back porch and bring in the broom. The boy turned to his mother and said, her, “But Mommy, I don’t want to go out there. It’s dark.” The mother smiled reassuringly and said, “You don’t have to be afraid. Jesus is out there. He’ll look after you.” The little boy looked at his mother real hard again and said, “Are you sure he’s out there?” She nodded emphatically, “Yes, and he is always ready to help you when you need him.” The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it open a little. Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus? If you’re out there, would you please hand me the broom?” Even with Jesus’ assurance, we can still be afraid of the dark.
There is no greater compliment to you or to the Christian Church, than Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount that, “You are the salt of the earth and the Light of the World.” But there is also no greater challenge. In Scripture, Jesus describes himself to others as “the light of the world.” It is a noble title, and to believe that Jesus is the light of the world gives me no trouble, but when he says to me, that “I too am to be a light in the world,” I get a bit uneasy. Of course I know I can’t match up to his brilliance. I may be bright, and my parents did call me “son, ” but I am not a blazing light.
Jesus understood the significance and weight of his invitation. He was expecting great things of his followers his 2000 years ago, and the crowds surrounding him understood this as well. In the ancient Mediterranean world there was a familiar Latin saying, “Nil u-til-ius sole et sale,” which roughly translates, “There’s nothing more useful than the sun and salt.” Salt and light were the two great elements. Salt was used for preserving food, giving taste, and serving as financial collateral, and the sun was the powerful source of seasons and the marker of time, both day and night. There was nothing more useful and necessary in the ancient world, and it is just as true today.
My friends, this morning let us meditate on Jesus’ great invitation, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the World for all to see.” And let us consider as well the challenge. For if salt has lost its taste, it is no longer good for anything, and if a lamp is lit, and then put under a bushel basket, what useful purpose does it offer? You see, Jesus is not calling you to be salt and light for yourself alone. He is inviting you to make a difference.
There is a legend first told by the Christians in Rome which pictured the day when Jesus went back to glory after finishing all his work on earth. The angel Gabriel met Jesus in heaven and welcomed Him home. “Lord,” he said, “Who have you left behind to carry on your work?” Jesus told him about the disciples, the little band of fishermen and peasant farmers he had called to follow him. “But Lord,” Gabriel said, “what if they fail you? What if they lose heart, or drop out? What if things get too rough for them, and they let you down?” Jesus answered, “Well, then all I’ve done will come to nothing!” Gabriel was shocked, “But don’t you have a backup plan? Isn’t there something else to keep it going, to finish your work?” Jesus shook his head, “No, the Church is it. There’s nothing else.” Gabriel questioned, “But what if they fail?” The early Christians knew Jesus’ answer. “They won’t fail, Gabriel. They won’t fail!” They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world! They will make a difference in this world.
It is often joked by scientists, that Jesus was a better preacher than chemist, but maybe that’s point. Salt doesn’t ever lose its saltiness. Sodium chloride is one of the most stable compounds in the whole universe. It doesn’t change or lose its character, unless it diluted or mixed with water. Much of the salt used in Jesus’ time came from the Dead Sea the lowest land area in the world. The waters of the Sea of Galilee flowed into the Jordan River and then ran down to the Dead Sea where the hot desert sun evaporated the water, and left behind a chunky white powder made up of a combination of salts and minerals. Even that powder contained enough salt to season meat or to add a little flavor to soup. But it was not pure sodium chloride. Indeed, it was possible with a little dampness in the air, for the salts to be dissolved first and leached away.
The comparison that Jesus is making, however, is this. There is a strength to be found in a pure, undiluted community of faith. A single grain of salt can make a slight difference, but it takes the concentration of salt to make a real impact. One disciple with a sense of purpose may make a statement in the world, but it’s when the whole community of faith gathers together, that the church can make a real difference and turn the world upside down.
Jesus then moved to the image of light. To be the light of the world begins by developing a self-awareness. As God’s Light you have to be willing to be a public witness. Your light has to shine for all to see. There is no such thing as a joyfully warm, “secret Christian” hiding under a bushel basket.” Either the secrecy destroys the joyful warmth and excitement of the faith, or the warmth and excitement of the faith destroys the secret of the bushel basket. Your Christian faith should be visible for all to see, and more importantly, your faith should be visible for all to see beyond the walls of the Church. After all, you have been called to be the Light of the World and not simply the Light of the Church. For those who extinguish their light as they leave the doors on a Sunday morning, they are often likened to the hypocrites who make a public confession of repentance for what they did on Saturday evening and are planning on doing it again on Monday morning. Such a narrow expression of faith and light was not what Jesus was calling his disciples to be.
A significant part of serving as light in the world is knowing your source of fuel. You may be the constant, visible light that God has called to shine for your family, friends, and workplace, but without a reliable source of fuel, you will not burn long. Daily prayer and a time of worship are important to your effectiveness. So much so that when you miss it others can tell. Such was the case when a little four year-old accidentally spilled milk at the table. His mother responded in a screaming tirade. The young psychologist made an astute observation: “Mommy, you forgot to ask Jesus to help you to be nice today, didn’t you?”
In order to find that source of fuel, we need to turn to the community of faith. For without out it the source of energy and inspiration is quickly tapped. It’s hard sometimes for Christians to realize just how important a community of faith is. We like to think of ourselves as independent and strong, full of personal vitality enough. And yet when things go wrong, we’re often the first to feel that brothers and sisters have abandoned us. How many times have I visited with once loyal church members, who have been confused by the lack of empathy they received from the former church friends. They were once the strongest, most committed church members you could meet. But they are now hurting and confused. Their congregation has been torn apart. The people they sat once sat next to in church were fighting one another. The community bonds are gone, and with it, the power to do great things has disappeared. They can’t be the salt of the earth nor the light of the world anymore.
Unfortunately, at that moment, it is often a greater temptation to curse the darkness than for the disciples of Christ to join together, to forgive one another, to lay down their disagreements and to bear the light of Christ into the world. Yet, over and over again the Scriptures call us to build one another up in Christian love, instead of tearing one another down. Jesus says, you can make a difference but you can’t do it alone. You can do it best together, as a community. After all, it takes a flicker of a 1000 lights in the city on the hill to be seen, or the powerful taste of a spoonful of salt to make a difference.
Now, how do you work to bring out the best in yourself and others to shine together? Certainly, we need to work together to be of one mind with Christ. That’s hard. Often times, we refuse to work or play with others until they agree with us. But Jesus doesn’t ask that of us. Instead, he asks that you find your common identity in him. And he offers it to you. You are the salt of the earth and light of the world. You are my witnesses for all to see and hear.
Along the way, we need cheerleaders to encourage us to strive to be all that God created us to be. They are men and women who encourage us to deny ourselves, and to look to the needs and gifts of our neighbors. And we all need them at different points in our lives. A fidgety seven-year-old boy was sitting in church and who wouldn’t l and be quiet. His mother tried every trick she knew to keep her son quiet. About halfway through the sermon, she leaned over and whispered, ‘If you don’t be quiet, and stop fidgeting the pastor is going to lose his place and will have to start his sermon all over again!’ It worked. The boy became instantly quiet. We all need the positive words that challenge us to dare to be more.
My friends, it may seem to be enough for a church to be socially active, spiritually responsible, morally concerned. But Jesus has one more task and challenge for his disciples. He says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven!” That is ultimately, the task that God has set before his followers. Turn people’s thoughts toward God, Jesus says. No mind is truly enlightened until it is flooded with the glory of heaven. No person if truly healed and whole until they have been touched by the power of the Creator. And no one is truly free until there is freedom in Christ.
My friends, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But you cannot do God’s work alone. By yourself, you may not shine brightly, and sometimes “this little light of mine” may only be a glimmer of what God intended you to be, but together with the company of the saints, your light will shine for all the world to see. And it will make a difference. So do not be afraid of the darkness, Jesus knows that you will not fail. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.