“Salt and Light”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20


If you like to cook—or eat—then you know how essential salt is.  Without it, food seems bland and flavorless.  Without it, muffins and cakes and biscuits don’t rise properly.  Without it, pickles wouldn’t pickle, and preserved meat would spoil.  Without it, french fries wouldn’t be nearly as delicious as they are…  Salt is an essential, life-enhancing thing.

If you are a farmer, especially in a drought-stricken area of the world, then you know how dangerous salt can be.  As land is irrigated for agriculture, the irrigation water leaves behind the dissolved salts it carried when it was applied.  Over time, these salts accumulate in the soil and make it harder for the plants to absorb the water they need.  So the farmer has to apply more water, which leaves behind more salt, until eventually the soil becomes uninhabitable entirely.  Salt can be a dangerous, life-threatening thing.

In the ancient world, salt was a precious commodity.  Cities and trade routes were built around it; wars were fought over it; it was even used as currency in some settings.  And it was also used as a punishment, as a weapon.  When a city or a territory was conquered, the invaders are said to have poured salt on the fields, destroying the local people’s ability to grow food for themselves and making them dependent on the occupying forces for their very survival.  Salt can give life or kill it, give flavor or destroy.


If you have ever tried to navigate in the dark, then you know how essential light is.  Without headlights, we could not find our way down winding country roads.  Without streetlights, pedestrians at intersections would be in serious danger.  Without the lights that line airport runways, planes could not land safely after sundown.  Without nightlights, our toes would be stubbed much more often on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Light is an essential, life-enhancing thing.

If you have ever been dazzled by a too-bright light, then you know how dangerous light can be.  When an oncoming car fails to dim its high beams, and you are temporarily blinded as you hurtle down the road…  When you are driving east at sunrise or west at sunset, and the angle is just wrong, and you cannot see anything for the glare…  When a deer leaps onto the road and freezes in your headlights instead of moving out of the way…  Light can be a dangerous, life-threatening thing.

Before the advent of electricity, people used candles and lanterns for light, which illuminated their houses but resulted in more than a few fires.  Now that we have electricity everywhere, with the safe and easy illumination it provides, we suffer from light pollution, which disrupts ecosystems and inhibits both amateur stargazers and professional astronomers alike.  Light can illuminate or blind, protect or endanger.


Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.”  It was an affirmative declaration—you ARE the salt of the earth; you ARE the light of the world.  It was a statement of identity—not something you have to strive for, not something you have to earn, not something awarded to you like good grades or a job promotion.  “You simply ARE,” he said.  Already and always, just by virtue of being God’s children, you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

You are salt and you are light—which means this:  like salt, like light, you have the potential to give life or kill it, to give flavor or destroy, to illuminate or blind, to protect or endanger.  You are salt and you are light—which means this:  as children of God, you have the power to influence this world by building up or by breaking down, by putting things together or tearing them apart.  You are salt and you are light—which means this:  as magnificent creations of the divine, formed in the very image of God, you have a part to play in the ongoing unfolding of God’s realm of love, coming into being even now.


So, then, the question is this:  what will you do with your saltiness?  How will you let your light shine?  Will you be seasoning to bring out the best flavors of life for those around you, or will you overdo it and cause elevated blood pressure, or will you poison the soil in the fields and the water in the wells?  Will you glow like a nightlight that keeps the monsters at bay, or will you shine like a porch light that guides people home, or will you blaze like a careless flashlight into the eyes of those trying to find their way?

You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  How will you season?  How will you shine?


In a moment, we will create together a symbol to remind us of who we are:  the light of the world.  In the racks in front of you, you will find these yellow slips of paper.  I invite you to take one and write on it one thing you will do to live as the light of the world—to use your light well, to illuminate instead of blind, to guide instead of misdirect, to shine the love and light of Christ into the world.

It might be something like smiling at the person stocking shelves in the grocery store.  It might be something like donating soup for the Daily Bread Food Pantry.  It might be something like sitting with the kid who is always alone at lunch.  It might be something like visiting a friend or relative who is sick or elderly.  It might be something like calling your elected officials to express your opinion about an issue at hand.  It might be something like attending a vigil or a rally or a march.  It might be something like forgiving someone who has hurt you.  There are many ways to let our light shine, many ways to choose to use our power for the building-up of God’s realm.  What will you choose to do?

light of the world            We’ll need a few helpers to make this work, so I invite any children who would like to help to come forward now.  When you have finished writing down one thing you will do to live as the light of the world, please hold it up in the air, and the children will come around to collect them and bring them up here to the front.  And together, we will let our light shine.

Here we go.


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