Sermon from February 9th, 2014. The text for this passage is Matthew 5:13-20.
I have this new app on my phone to help me practice and get better at Spanish, and I’ve been having trouble with prepositions. For the non-English teachers among us, prepositions are words like in, of, for, after, along, that explain the relationships between nouns. The reason is that prepositions never quite line up right between languages. While gato means cat, pretty much every time and in every situation, prepositions don’t line up quite so easily. The preposition “a” in Spanish means “at” except when it means “to”, and “for” in English is translated as por sometimes and para others, and don’t get them mixed up. I bring all this up to tell you that I spent this entire week trying to figure out if we’re supposed to be the salt of the earth, or the salt for the earth. Spoiler alert, I’m still not sure.
But what does it mean to be “salty” anyway? When I was growing up, my Mom would put salt on her food, and my Dad would put pepper on his. So I grew up thinking that salt and pepper were an either or kind of thing. Either you ate salt, or you ate pepper, but you didn’t eat both. And up until about a year ago, I was a just pepper kind of guy. Then I learned that salt is something you can add to anything, and all it does is bring out the flavor in whatever that thing is. And so for the last year, everything I’ve cooked has suddenly tasted amazing.
Salt isn’t something that works all by itself. Salt takes regular things and makes them better, whether it’s used to add flavor, or as a preservative, or to protect roads from ice and snow. But for salt to work, it has to be used with something. So when Jesus tells us that we are salt for the earth, that involves remembering that each one of us has some flavor that we can add to the world around us. Each one of us has the ability to make the things around us better.
Now light, the next metaphor Jesus uses, is pretty similar. Light is like salt in that it also acts on other things. Light reveals what is shrouded in darkness. Light shows us things. Light brings things to life, without light, very few things can grow. But if you’ve ever been outside at night with a flashlight, and pointed it up at the sky, you’ll know that light needs to be pointed at something for it to be of any use. So when Jesus talks about us being light for the world, he’s talking about the power we have to illumine our world. To reveal what is difficult to see, to point ourselves towards that which needs to be seen.
I think of this in two ways. I think of those prophetic lights in our history that have called attention to the plights of those in need, who have refused to let us go about our lives and not see the needy among us. And I think of the folks in our lives who have been lights for us, who have shown us beauty, love, and charity. Saints who have helped us see in times of darkness, whose very existence points to something beyond themselves and makes us yearn for something more.
And what’s incredible thing is that Jesus says, “You are the salt for the earth.” “You are the light for the world.” He doesn’t say you should be salt, or you should be light, he says you are. He doesn’t say you need to be saltier, or you need to brighter, he says you are salt and you are light. Do not hide your light. Shine it. Do not lose your flavor, spread it.
There’s this guy Richard Beck, that I really like. He’s a Psychology professor at Abilene Christian University, and he writes a blog about faith stuff. And he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Christian writers. I’ve put up a link on the church’s facebook page to one of my favorite posts of his so you can check him out if you’re interested. And a couple of weeks ago he wrote an article about how to live our lives in a social media saturated world.
See, in the age of the internet, we have all sorts of information right at our fingertips. We can learn everything there is to know about snowmobile racing, or kumquats, or business administration, and some of it will even be true. But another thing that the internet has made remarkably easy is arguing with strangers. At any given moment there area wide variety of arguments going on, and it is really easy to get sucked in.
It happens to me all the time. Hannah catches me up late, furiously staring at my computer screen, typing away, maybe doing research to back up my points, and she looks at me, and goes, “Oh, is someone on the internet wrong again?” And the thing about internet stranger arguments (and a lot of other arguments too, if we’re going to be honest) is that nobody ever wins the argument. The more time you spend defending your position, the deeper entrenched you get in that position.
As Philip Yancey says, “No one ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument.” And Richard Beck points this out in his article, and he says what if we tried something different. What if, instead of trying to go out argue everyone into our point of view, we did something else. What if we tried to live our lives sacramentally.
A sacrament is a sign, it’s a real thing, that exists, but that points to something beyond itself. The sacraments, they’re more than just metaphors or symbols, they don’t just tell us about God’s grace, they show us God’s grace, they embody God’s grace. The sacraments are real things, things we can touch and taste and feel, but they point us towards something beyond.
I think that’s what Jesus is talking about here. You are the salt for the earth. You are the light for the world. Salt and light are all about pointing to something beyond themselves. Salt brings out the greatness of other things, light reveals and illumines the world around us. Being salt and light is about living in such a way that our lives point to something beyond us. It’s about living in such a way that our lives point to the grace of God, the wondrous love that we’ve been given.
When we forgive someone else, we are pointing towards God’s forgiveness. When we express our love, we are pointing toward God’s love. When we teach a child, or make someone laugh, or help a neighbor we are being salt and light for the world by being living sacraments, not telling but showing people who God is for the world.
 Howard, Ann. “Be Salt and Light” A Word in Time. beatitudessociety.org. Published February 4th, 2014. http://www.beatitudessociety.org/blog/195-be_salt_and_light. Accessed February 8th, 2014.
 Beck, Richard. “Social Media as Sacrament: A Thought for Rachel” Experimental Theology. Posted 24 Jan 2014. http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/01/social-media-as-sacrament-thought-for.html. Accessed 8 Feb 2014