Salt and Light
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 5:13–5:20
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 8-9, 2014
“Salt and Light”
The winter Olympics have begun, and the snow-laden landscape around Sochi reminds us of the snow and ice we’ve had here at home. Actually, we’ve gotten off pretty easy compared with other places. Have you tried to get your car washed lately? If you have, then you know what the lines have been like with cars, trucks and vans backed up around the block and beyond with people lined up to do the drive-through car wash thing. If you haven’t, then either you washed your vehicle yourself (good for you!) or you’re driving around with all that de-icer and salt still caked onto your car. With the snow, ice and cold we’ve had lately, our roads, as well as our vehicles, have changed color into a dingy gray-white. So I did a little checking into what Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) uses to treat snowy and slick winter roads. There are anti-icing, pre-treatment, de-icing, and pre-wetting as part of this process – each a distinct treatment. “Sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate are chemicals used to prevent and remove snow and ice from roadways. VDOT uses liquid magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and sodium chloride for anti-icing and pre-treatment. Sodium chloride and calcium chloride in dry form are used for de-icing but can be used in some cases for anti-icing” (http://www.virginiadot.org/travel/resources/snow/Road_antiicing_pretreatment.pdf). And guess what? Dry sodium chloride – good old salt – is “VDOT’s primary snow-removal and ice-control chemical” (Ibid). We hear about salt as well as light from Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, a portion of his Sermon on the Mount. The Lord Jesus tells us that we, as his redeemed people, are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is the focus for the message today under the theme “Salt and Light.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In ancient Rome, attorneys would often ask this question in Latin: Cui bono?, that is, “Who benefits?” As they deliberated on legal proceedings inside and outside of the courts, they returned again and again to this central question: “Who benefits?” Who would benefit, who would be helped, who would receive value, through the decisions rendered under the law? And that is a very good question for each one of us to consider in our own lives today as well. Salt and light do not exist for their own benefit, but all of creation benefits through their existence. Our world would be a pretty bland and dark place without these things. But who benefits through our existence as God’s people who are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Just like salt and light do not exist for their own benefit, neither can we who are called by the Name of Christ exist for our own benefit. That is always the temptation before us: to see only a narrow swath within our individual lives or within this congregation, and not see beyond this into the wider world – the world dearly loved by God and for which Christ shed his blood on the cross. Today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 58:3-9a) reminds us that the Lord calls us to be salt and light to address real-life problems, the effects of sin that we continue to grapple with in the world: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps 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 him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am” (Isaiah 58:6-9a).
If we are going to be salt and light for the world, we have to get at the source of the problem. We have to look at what’s beneath the bonds of wickedness. We have to dig down below the straps and yokes that enslave people. We have to understand what is behind issues like hunger and homelessness. And when we do this, what we find is that our depraved human nature is at the cause of the problem. In short, it is sin – that twisting and perversion of God’s will that focuses on self rather than others; that is more concerned with going through the motions of outward religion than seeking the Lord’s face in humility and repentance. In short, whatever shred of self-righteousness that we may be clinging to must first get blasted away. Self-righteousness will get us nowhere with God. Jesus says as much at the close of today’s Gospel lesson. The Pharisees tried this, and countless others have as well, and it just does not work; in fact, it pushes us further away from God. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). How will we know when we’ve been righteous enough, or done enough or been good enough to hold this up before God and be declared righteous, acceptable, and pleasing to the Lord? The Word of God tells us that “… all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag” (Isaiah 64:6). Our only hope is the One who did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but who came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness, our hope, and our salvation. His blood alone cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7), and his blood alone makes us righteous, acceptable and pleasing to God. And the net effect and outcome of this? It’s what Paul describes in today’s Epistle lesson: “What no eye has seen, nor hear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
It is this righteousness of God in Jesus that flows out from thankful and humble hearts into the world around us, seeking to do good in Jesus’ Name; not because we “have to,” but because we “want to.” The motivation is changed because the heart itself is changed. The good we do in Jesus’ Name is isn’t done for show or praise, but because it is the right thing to do; it is the God-pleasing thing to do. And through this, people are pointed away from us and pointed to the Lord who loves them and gave his life for them, too. This is how we season and illuminate the world around us as Christ’s salt-of-the-earth and light-of-the-world people. It happens through things like our recent Stop Hunger Now meal packaging event where 32,000 meals were put together to help the hungry. It happens through the work that our Haiti Servant Team will do when they are on the ground in Haiti next week. It happens whenever and wherever we see a need and minister to that need as Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth. This, my friends, is the answer to that ancient question of Cui bono? Who benefits? By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we all do – those who give and those who receive the salt and light.
“So how savory are you these days? How is light finding its way into you and through you? Is there anything – or anyone – that is working against this, that is tipping a bushel over your shining? Might there be some part of you that needs revealing, needs to unhide itself in this Epiphany season?” (Jan Richardson from her blog, www.PaintedPrayerbook.com). Hear again Jesus’ words and know that He speaks them to each one of us: “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 who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). May God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.