Matthew 5:13-16 (5th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 6, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson for today recorded in Matthew 5:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Last Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Among the recommendations, “Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.” Interpretation: Americans eat too much salt! Americans take into their bodies too much sodium and it’s not good for us. So once again today we find Jesus out of step with modern culture when He says, “You are the salt of the earth!” Jesus, we need less salt, not more salt! Or do we?
Salt has literally hundreds of uses. Like other natural compounds, salt can be used negatively or positively. The Bible references salts positive qualities like its seasoning, preserving, and purifying properties. The Bible also uses salt with powerful images of death, desolation, and curse. The Salt Sea (the Dead Sea), the Valley of Salt and the City of Salt all suggest death, desolation, despair, and deserts. Think about Lot’s wife and what happened to her as she fled the destruction of Sodom, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26) How ironic that Jesus would call His disciples that which salts the earth!
What is clear is that the earth is evil, corrupt, and deficient, just like the city of Sodom in the Old Testament. What is clear is that the earth is tasteless. Earth here means not the soil, good old terra firma, but the people of the earth. Sexual images run rampant not only visually but verbally among people. People speak with tasteless words that are unwholesome and unbecoming. People commit tasteless acts of violence and greed, selfishness and lust. We live in a world of moral and ethical decay, a world where it is acceptable to take and destroy human life—the embryo, a child in the womb, the sick and aged.
What kind of salt can season a tasteless world? What kind of salt can preserve a world from such wicked decay? What kind of salt can bring light to a world sitting in darkness and under the shadow of death?
But Salt doesn’t give off light. Light is its own thing. Light is a great benefit to both plants and animals (and people!) Green plants need sunlight. Green plants are the only plants that produce oxygen and make food, which is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis means “putting together with light.” This takes place in chloroplasts, which have chlorophyll in them. Chlorophyll absorbs the sunlight. From sunlight, green plants combine carbon dioxide and water to make sugar and oxygen. And you and I need that oxygen! We also need the sun’s light for our own bodies. It helps produce Vitamin D and reverses seasonal affective disorder caused by lack of sunlight, especially in these winter months.
Light drives away the darkness. Darkness is associated with evil, with danger, and with the condition of being lost and unable to find your way. Darkness and sin are closely linked together. A few Sundays ago we had the reading from Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” It takes light to get rid of the darkness. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
Something happened to you and me that transformed us from saltless, tasteless people who were in the darkness of sin and evil and death into the salt of the earth and the light of world. Something happened to cause you and me to become salt that brings light to a world of darkness. That something was the call of Jesus to be His disciples.
Jesus called us with authority to be His followers. Jesus was the one who walked through the valley of the shadow of death on our behalf. Jesus endured the darkness of sin and hell as He suffered and died on the cross in our place. Jesus, the Light of the world, which enlightens everyone, came into this tasteless and dark world of evil and redeemed it. His death purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. In Holy Baptism, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit “salted” us with the seasoning of forgiveness and eternal life, sprinkling us clean with the water and the Word of God in and with the water. In Baptism, our heavenly Father made you His son or daughter. In your Baptism, the authoritative voice of the Lord Jesus called you as His disciple. Through the Gospel Word read and proclaimed in your hearing, Jesus has taught you. He has blessed you and strengthened you by the Good News of His life, death, and resurrection so that in Him, by faith, you have received your calling and identity. You are that which salts the earth. You are that which gives light to the world.
Through Word and Sacrament, to be the disciples of Jesus and to receive His present and future blessing is at the same time to have become the salt of the earth and the light of world. Jesus has called you with authority and Jesus has decided the nature and character of His called to you. You are, as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, the people who salt the earth and who light the world. No one else has this calling, only disciples of Jesus.
This puts you and me into a unique group, doesn’t it? Only you and I and our fellow Christian believers in Jesus by virtue of our faith-relationship with Him can do for the tasteless, dark world what it needs. How essential you and I are for the work of calling people to repentance and faith, announcing the Good News that in Jesus Christ alone the reign of heaven stands near. Just think of this horrible situation. If Jesus’ disciples were to turn away from and reject His calling, they would become tasteless like the rest of the world. If Jesus’ disciples were to turn away from and reject His calling, they would be darkened like a lamp put underneath a basket. And if this were to happen, then no means would be available for the earth to receive the necessary blessing of Christ.
There is an old legend which says when Jesus had ascended into heaven, the angel Gabriel asked him, “Lord what plans have you made for carrying on your ministry in the world? How will people learn of what you have done for them when you died on the cross and rose again winning their forgiveness and eternal life?” Jesus responded, “I left that to Peter, James and John, Martha and Mary, and the rest of my disciples. They are to tell their friends and their friends will tell other friends until the whole world hears the Good News.” Gabriel was worried. He then asked, “What if Peter is so busy with his nets and Martha so full of her housework and the friends so preoccupied that they all forget to tell their friends? Don’t you think you should make some other plans?” Jesus answered, “I have made no other plan. I am counting on my disciples to spread the Gospel.”
You are that which salts the earth and lights the world! You live out Jesus’ calling in your own vocation as you are God’s means for blessing the world around you. You are called in your baptism to be extraordinary husbands and wives, parents and children. You are called to be remarkable neighbors and employees. Jesus has called you to be powerful friends and citizens. Your deeds and your words, in the power of faith and the Holy Spirit, will be like salt and light in the darkness. You season the tasteless world with love and grace and peace that can only be found in Jesus. You bring the light of eternal life and the hope of salvation in Christ to people who are surrounded by death and hopelessness. You salt the earth and light the world with your words and your actions in Jesus’ name, giving glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Each believing man, woman, child, layperson, and pastor stands as a disciple because of Jesus’ forgiveness and blessing received in Holy Baptism. We each receive Jesus’ calling to be salt and light and the power of His Holy Spirit to be what He has called us to be. So rather than less salt we pray, “Jesus, we need MORE salt and more light in our world.” Ask the Lord to open up opportunities for you to share the Good News of Jesus in word and action. Pray God to enable you to offer hope and peace and love to others—the love, peace, and hope of Jesus who died and rose again to save the world. Go this day empowered by Word and Sacrament to continue to be beneficial blessings to people as the salty light that you are. Amen.