Salt and Light

This morning, we seem an awfully long ways from the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday – eight years to the day since we sent forces to Iraq, we began bombing in Libya.

Unrest in Bahrain, Yemen, and other countries in the middle east is being showed on our airwaves.

Earthquakes.

Tsunamis

Nuclear reactors having problems.

Where is the Kingdom of God?!

It doesn’t matter if they are man-made problems, or natural disasters… it is hard to look outside and not tremble a little.

So, what do we do on a morning like this?

What is the church’s role?

This morning we look at the second section of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.

In “The Message” translation, Eugene Peterson, starts off these verses with these words:

Let me tell you why you are here…

You see, this whole sermon is full of instructions for the people of God. It reminds us of the attitudes we are supposed to carry with us into the world, like Charlotte shared with us last week. And it tells us what we are supposed to do – how we are supposed to live.

Today’s passage is all about our witness in the world.

We are here – the church is here – to season this world… to be salt.

I know that some of us here can’t always have salt, because of dietary restrictions, and perhaps you know better than all the rest of us about how useful salt is!

When you sprinkle salt on watermelon or on tomatoes – the flavor of those fruits become brighter and more crisp! When salt is added to soup, it becomes rich and deep. When we sprinkle salt onto roasted vegetables, or French fries…. Mmmm…

Salt takes what is already there and it brings out the flavors. It helps us to taste what was hidden.

That is our job as the church. We are supposed to point to the hidden work of God in this world and bring it out. We are supposed to help the world see and taste and experience God – even though they can’t always see him.

So, with all of the difficult and troubling things happening in our world today – how can we, as the church, help people to experience God?

First, we can point to the good news in each of these situations. We can lift up the stories of hope and life.

This morning, for example, two people were pulled out of the rubble in Japan. An 80 year old woman and her 16 year old grandson had been trapped under her house for nine days following the earthquake and tsunami. According to CNN, the boy had crawled through portions of the rubble and made it on to the roof where rescuers finally saw him.

Nine days they had been trapped… but they survived. That is a story of life in the midst of destruction. And remembering those stories, pointing to those stories, telling those stories to our friends and our neighbors help us to remember that there is hope even in desperate situations. And as we tell that story, we can share the source of our hope – Jesus Christ.

Second, salt only works if it is actually being used… if it makes contact with its food… and so as people of faith, we need to be out in the world, helping folks, praying with them, listening to their stories.
In Japan, United Methodists had eight missionaries, six full-time mission volunteers and several retired missionaries on the ground when the earthquake first struck. But our United Methodist Committee on Relief also was quick to the scene to provide health kits, food, shelter and other necessities. The Wesley Center, affiliated with the United Methodist Women, is housing fifty displaced people in its guest rooms and meeting rooms.

All of that on the ground work there is possible only because we take seriously our call to be out in the world.

But it doesn’t just happen half way across the world through the work of missionaries. It also happens in our backyard. Every time you attend a youth sporting event or concert… Every time you mow your neighbors lawn, every time you sit down and have coffee with someone in town, you are like salt, bringing out the God flavor in this community. You are letting people know they are important, that they matter, and that you – and God – are there.

Jesus continues on in his sermon by putting this message another way – you are here in this world to be light – to help the world see God. This faith of ours is not a secret to be kept locked up – its meant to be made public – its meant to shine out wide and far.

So the third thing we need to do is to point to God not just in our personal and private relationships, but in public as well.

We can’t keep the good news hidden away. We can’t keep the power of God’s transformative love under a basket. We have to let it shine.

Sometimes, that light shines in the darkness and we help the world to see where people are broken and hurting. When we do this, we are public prophets, reminding people of God’s intention for our lives together.

A deacon in our United Methodist Church has heard this calling and uses music to raise awareness about the realities of human trafficking and slavery in our modern times.  Carl Thomas Gladstone’s Abolitionist Hymnal helps to shed light on some very dark realities in our world.  Through music, the light of Christ is shining so that others might be moved to action.

Sometimes, we are bring words of hope and comfort on a much larger scale, like when people gather together in a prayer vigil – their candles lighting up the darkness.

And sometimes that happens in political advocacy as well. This week, Utah passed some rather startling immigration reform. Although Utah is a conservative state, they have passed a law that creates a new guest-worker program. Anyone who has worked in Utah and their immediate family can receive documents if they pass a background check and pay a fine for entering the country illegally. But this law would never have passed if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not speak up. There are a large number of mormons in Utah, and as they have done missions work, they believed there was another way to respond to strangers and foreigners in our midst. Another way that was biblical and based in love. As one state senator said – “If the church had been silent, the bill wouldn’t have passed.”

Protesting, bumper stickers, the clothes you wear, the places you visit, the types of people you eat with in public… all of these things tell the world something about you… AND the God who you claim to follow.

Lastly, this whole message about salt and light is a reminder that we need to stand together as people of faith and be a witness in this world.

A few Sundays ago, we had a translation lesson. I reminded all of you about how poorly the English language handles second person plural words.

Well, that same problem comes up again today in the sermon on the mount.

Jesus isn’t just talking to you… or you… or you. Jesus is talking to all of us together.

Ya’ll are the salt of the earth. Ya’ll are the light of the world.

You together, all of you, working with one another, standing with one another, Ya’ll are my witness.

Whether it is on the streets of Libya or the countrysides in Japan, the alleys in Marengo or the farmland by Kostza… we are called to be salt and light. We are called to point to God.

It doesn’t matter if everything in the world is alright or everything is falling to pieces… that is our calling.

To pray, to work, to serve, to love, to listen, to speak… out there… in the world… on behalf of God.

May we be salt. May we be light.

Amen.

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