Salt and Light

Epiphany 5A (as delivered at Historic St. Paul’s in Pendleton at 5PM)

Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus said to his disciples: All y’all are the salt of the earth. All y’all are the light of the world. It is a little known fact that Jesus was the first Southern preacher.  He regularly uses the collective all y’all when he teaches his disciples.  It’s right there in the Greek!

The Message, which is a popular paraphrase of the Bible, does a really good job of these first verses of today’s Gospel:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You are here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth….You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.”

We heard last week that Jesus comes to bless those whom the world would just as soon not be bothered by: the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted.  And the disciples of Jesus–remember? Again, I’m borrowing from the Message:

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

You can be glad when that happens, for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Being salt and light can get us into trouble when the light of Christ shines in us and through us.  That light brings knowledge of God’s particular care for the poor, the sick, the prisoners, those who come to us from other lands.  

Jesus says, don’t hide that light, let it shine like a city on a hill.  As he often does, Jesus is speaking from his Jewish tradition–hear the echoes from Isaiah’s Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

We’re just getting started on the Sermon on the Mount–this is where the rubber hits the road. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll hear Jesus give us marching orders: if you’re forced to go one mile, walk on another mile for the sake of someone else.  Love and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus isn’t teaching his disciples how to act, he’s  teaching his disciples how to be the kind of people who put their whole selves into following him. Jesus says–all y’all are salt–and sometimes salt stings as it purifies.  All y’all are light–and sometimes light exposes things we’d rather not see.

You see, Jesus knows that our default setting as human beings is to settle into comfortable conformity with the world as we encounter it–it’s so easy to just sit back and say that the world is a mess and what can we do to make any difference?

Apparently Jesus intends that we live as though we believe we can make a difference in the kind of world we live in. Apparently, being a disciple of Jesus, rather than merely an admirer, means letting the Holy Spirit strengthen our will to action beyond our default settings.

Being a disciple means letting the Holy Spirit stretch our imaginations to see the possibilities that lie beyond doing what we’ve always done in exactly the way that we’ve always done it.  

It’s been said, “Discipleship is not just a certain way of being in the world. Discipleship is the ultimate way of being in the world. Jesus has high standards for discipleship. The sooner we realize this, the better.”

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness isn’t easy.  And I don’t think Jesus is talking about hungering and thirsting for righteousness for our own sakes–he’s talking about the fast that God calls for in Isaiah:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and welcome the stranger in distress.

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees means sharing your bread with the hungry, and bringing the homeless poor into your house (or your country); Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, Then shall you be the salt for the world!

In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that he expects a certain faithfulness that rises above comfortable conformity with a dark, bland world of selfish concerns.

Just taking care of our own doesn’t cut it. Jesus has called us to go to ALL the nations to be salt and light. Jesus makes it clear that he’s asking us to actually believe in the vision of the city on a hill.  Jesus has in mind a shining destination for those who are poor, for those who mourn, for the meek, the oppressed, the peacemakers.

Being a disciple is not for the faint of heart–being a disciple requires the strength that comes only from being willing to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. Would you be willing to ask the Holy Spirit to stretch your imagination to envision the ways we could use this holy space as a home for new outreach and mission here in Pendleton? Are you willing to live as though we believe we can make a difference in the kind of world we live in?  Are you able to be salt and light?

It’s what we’re here for, in this historic place of such significance to the community of Pendleton and to Clemson.  St. Paul’s sits in the middle of a community that has great needs. I believe we’re called to imagine ways to reach beyond thrift shop and historic district tours to find ways to interact with the community.  We are here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth….we’re here to be light, bringing out all that glorious rainbow of  God-colors in the world.

Your vestry and I met this weekend on retreat to begin our work together. We discerned that all y’all together have gifts that enable us collectively to be salt and light.  Gifts like openness, warmth, care for providing a safe space for all to worship  and serve the Lord. Gifts for uncovering the love of God for each one of us and sharing it with others.

These are gifts we see in you.  Gifts we see in all of us.

I have faith that we can be salt and light in our community.  And God expects that we WILL put our whole selves into following Jesus. So why don’t we go and do just that?