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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Salt and Light

First off--an apology. The sermon I heard last Sunday didn't get onto the blog until today because I've been unable to connect to the internet since Saturday.
Second--I attended a different church last week, Mission Bell Methodist on West Bell Road in Phoenix, AZ. The following sermon is by The Rev. Paul Self-Price, who is the pastor there.
Matthew 5:13-20
I like to read the newspaper. I do the crossword puzzles and I read the editorials and the letters to the editor. I listen to a radio station that is pretty much all news, one that seems to me to be less biased than some of the others but I’m sure it too has its slant on what is happening in the world today. One thing I like about is that it’s vitriol free. I don’t care for vitriol all that much. There was a time when it sort of appealed to me but no more.
Strange things are happening in our world. Things are changing, and they have been changing for some time now and there really is no end in sight. It is just one of those times in history where the old settled way of doing things gives way to new methods; the tried and true seems less so; that which could be counted on ceases to be.
Take Fels Naptha Soap for instance. My mother would not be caught without at least one bar of Fels Naptha Soap in the house. She used it to scrub nearly everything. She even washed the floors with it. I saw one for the first time in I don’t know long in a hardware store the other day. I picked up one of the bars just to smell it. I put it back. I didn’t buy it. There are so many better things on the market today.
The whole world seems to be in flux right now. No one knows what will happen in the Middle East. It’s not just Egypt that’s in play, it’s Tunisia and Yemen and Jordan, too. The rest of those nations are nervous, scared that it’s going to spread their way and I’m not so sure it shouldn’t. If prosperity came to all the people of those countries, I don’t think Muslim radicals would have much of an audience or pool from which to recruit suicide bombers.
I kind of get the idea that we are stumbling around in the dark in this new world trying to look as normal as possible while we’re doing it. There’s plenty more that could be said and maybe I’ll get around to it another time. This morning I want to talk about how what Jesus says to those folks who are still at the bottom of the hill can impact us.
You see, they aren’t in that much of a different situation. Their world was in worse shape than ours as far as uncertainty went. They were at the bottom of the scheme of things. If they had jobs, they worked all days except one for wages that allowed them to barely survive. Some were slaves who lived solely at the mercy of their owners. Neither group had prospects for better futures. Jesus told them that regardless of how things seemed, how they appeared, they were actually better off than they knew. They had a purpose and meaning that transcended earthly considerations.
13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Jesus told them, “You are the salt of the earth.” He doesn’t say, “You ought to be.” He says, “You are.” They have come to follow Jesus and spread the word about Jesus and perform his healing ministries in his name.
The other night in our New Testament Class were looking at Mark’s Gospel where Jesus told a scribe the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The question in this is what is the love the commandment talks about? It’s not emotional love because you can’t command someone to emotionally love another. It’s not possible. The kind of love contained in the Great Commandment is more along the lines of action, of deeds performed for the benefit of others, for their betterment.
When Jesus called those people the salt of the earth, he was saying that they make things better than before. Salt was used for all sorts of things and it was very important in peoples’ lives. Life would have been harder and less interesting without it. Being the salt of the earth meant that people worked for the betterment of others, did things on their behalf, made their lives better. He said, “You are the light of the world.” If you’ll recall, that was to have been Israel’s role, a light unto the nations. The nations were to have viewed Israel and seen what God was like–but that didn’t work out. Now, Jesus is giving that role to the church. The church is to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth.
When I think of this passage I don’t think of renting one of those Hollywood searchlights they have at premiers. What comes to mind is that admonition, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
There is too much cursing of the darkness right now, and too few candles are being lit. This is true not only in politics but in the church as well. We have hidden our light; our salt loses its saltiness when we engage in cursing the darkness by worrying about what we don’t like instead of using our time and talents, our gifts and graces to be the salt and light we are called to be.
As I said before, I like to read the newspaper in the morning. It’s mostly darkness, I know. Every now and then I see some light, however. I see a candle in the dark. Friday morning I found this little spark. “A neighborhood group in Spokane plans to hold a fundraiser to help children pay off overdue book fines so they can resume using the library. The Spokane Spokesman-Review reports 2,3oo library cards are blocked. A card is blocked if there’s more than a $10 fine.
It’s small, and seemingly insignificant especially when earth shattering events like those taking place in Egypt are occurring. But nothing can be done about Egypt right now. Something can be done here and now. Salt can be sprinkled on some lives that have gone bland, and there is always a need for light in the darkness.
This world gets a little crazier all of the time. There’s no doubt about that. But we can’t worry about the whole world–and we don’t have to. We’ll leave that in God’s hands. And we won’t concern ourselves with people who aren’t doing things right, or the way we think is right. We’ll turn them over to God as well. God is more than up to the task. We need to concentrate on being salt and light, loving others by working for their betterment, acting on their behalf. Doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be grand. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You really are, you know. Keep it up. Amen.
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