Fifth Sunday after Epiphany A 2011
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
Holy Child and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
777 Southgate avenue Daly City, CA 94015
Matthew 5:13-20 “You are the salt and light of the earth”
Good Morning!! I can see a sea of lights present in every pew today!! Your presence gave brightness to our coming together to worship God.
Allow me to be your teacher in Christianity this morning. The first lesson today is; “You are the salt of the earth.”
Now I don’t know about you but I like salty foods. I love Binagoongang rice, adobo and kilawin and anything that has salt on it (Although I prefer now low salt diet to control my blood pressure). When you hear the word “salt” the first thing the comes to mind is the flavor. And to relate that to the words of Jesus, we immediately say he is saying that Christians should give flavor to life.
But there is more to Jesus’ statement than just flavor. While Jesus and his hearers might have thought of the flavoring aspect of salt, that probably was not their first thought. You see in Jesus’ day, they didn’t have ways of preserving food like we do. And one of the major sources of protein in Israel was fish. Most of the fish that I have in my house is either frozen Bangus or canned Sardines. I would be lucky if we have a left over canned Igat or eel from Apayao. You know they do that now and you must be clever enough to escape the strict inspectors at the airport customs.
Back in Jesus’ day they didn’t have freezers or, to my knowledge, canning. They used salt to preserve their fish. And the salt preserved the fish by killing bacteria. This we do also back in the Philippines when we dry and preserve our food meat by spreading salt to prevent the germination of bacteria. Hence we have etag or salted meat.
So Jesus and his followers probably thought about the preservative qualities of salt. Jesus is saying that it is our job to preserve people. It is our job to put them in touch with God, so that they can live forever and not rot with the Devil. Some would even say that we preserve the world because only our presence prevents God from destroying this sinful place. But it is more than just preserving. Here is where the flavor comes in. When someone comes to Christ, they not only are cleansed of their sins and preserved for eternal life; they are also given an eternal quality of life. Jesus spices up their life as well as preserving it. So like salt we should preserve and spice up people’s lives. That we always do when we come together to renew our relationship with God and each other and when we meet new friends at church and everywhere.
Salt was also an important part of sacrifices in the Old Testament. So when they heard “salt” they probably thought of the salt added to sacrifices. This was the “salt of the covenant” and represented holiness. So just as the priests salt sacrifices to make them holy, we are to spread holiness and salt the world.
What is the next thing Jesus says? Look back in verse 13 again: “if the salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?”
While it may be hard for us to imagine, salt can lose its taste. It can become contaminated so that it is no longer of any use for flavoring or preserving food. Have any of you seen road quality salt? That is, salt that is not good for human consumption. It looks like granite. It is gray with white streaks. Because it has other minerals in it, it lacks flavor and would probably make you sick. It’s only use is to throw in the road to melt snow. In one sense such salt is no longer salt. It’s just sand.
In Israel it wouldn’t even be good for that because they don’t get much snow in the holy land. You wouldn’t want to throw it away in your garden so you would throw it on the road and use it like sand. That’s what a Christian is who has lost his or her flavor for life. If they are no longer doing their job they are useless. They are like salt without any salt in it. Do you think you are likened to that kind of salt?
So Jesus’ first lesson in being a Christian is that we are like salt. We are supposed to be holy so that we can spread holiness. And by spreading holiness we purify and preserve the world. And if we aren’t doing that, then we are good for nothing. In a sense, a Christian who no longer lives Christ is no longer a Christian, at least not in the way they live their life. They are no longer Christians in the same way that salt which has lost its flavor is no longer salt.
The second point in Jesus’ opening lecture on Christianity is, “You are the light of the world.”
Many people, including myself, look at this and think it is saying the same thing as the first lecture. And it is close, but there is more emphasis here on doing.
Jesus goes on to say that you don’t light a candle to cover it up but to place it high so that many can see. In the book of Revelation the churches are symbolized as lamp stands. The church holds up the light of Christ just as a lamp stand holds up a lamp. Some people use a lighthouse as a symbol or metaphor for the church. The purpose of the lighthouse is to shine a light in the darkness so that ships don’t hit a reef or rocky shore.
Jesus says that like a lamp we must shine our light before people so that they see our good works and glorify God. Jesus is not talking about showing off. He deals with that kind of false piety later in the course. Here he is talking about true acts of love and mercy and justice. As Christians, we should live so that others see what we do and give glory to God.
There’s a story of a church that was built way in the highest mountains of Switzerland. It was a beautiful church that had been built with great care by the villagers who lived nearby. But there was one thing that the church didn’t have. It didn’t have any lights. You couldn’t just go into the church and switch on the lights like we do here. Yet every Sunday evening the people who lived on the mountain side opposite the tiny church saw something magic happen. The church bell would ring and worshippers would wend their way up the mountainside towards the church. They would enter the church and then all of a sudden the church would light up brightly. Yes – you see, the people had to bring light with them – so they brought lanterns. When they arrived at church they would light their lanterns and hang them around the church on pegs set in the walls, so the light would spread all around. If only a few people came to church the light would be very dim because there would only be a few lanterns. But when lots of people came to church there would be plenty of light. After the service the villagers would take their lanterns home. At this time, to those who watched from a distance, it was as if a stream of light poured out of the church and over the mountainside. For many it was a sign that all was well. God’s light was with them and in them. The only time the little church lit up was when people were there. That’s when it truly became a church. That’s when the light shown most brightly. So it is here today – we carry in us the light of God – and we gather here – this place truly becomes a church – a place in which God’s light is seen. Jesus says that we are the light of the world – and he asks us to show his love to everyone when we leave here so that his light might give hope to those who see us.
The points therefore to remember are these: #1 You are the salt of the earth. It is your purpose in life to be a holy influence in the society at large and bring others to eternal life in Christ. If you don’t, you are like salt that has lost its flavor. #2 You are the light of the world. You are supposed to shine God’s light through your good deeds. That way people can see them and be saved from destruction.
I was told to shorten my sermon today due to the superbowl event, but I think I covered so far what you need to know and do for the rest of the week. So, thank you for your time, class. I will see you next week. Don’t forget to read your textbook in the mean time. Oh, by the way, there will be a test on the contents of today’s lecture. It begins right now and lasts for the rest of your life. Your next assignment is to read Matthew 5:21-37.
Happy Superbowl to everyone, Please take low salt diet and be a bright shining light among others, even when your football team losses.