Being the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World


A sermon preached on February 6th, 2011 based upon Matthew 5:13 – 16

I am reminded again of the precariousness of life as our friend Al battles for life in a hospital in Philadelphia.    The question is once more raised, What does our brief span we’ve been given to walk upon this earth mean?  Why are we here?  What is the purpose of it all?

Jesus provides a simple and succinct answer in our Gospel lesson this morning.

We are here to be “the salt of the earth;” “the light of the world.”

Salt has a variety of uses.  It preserves food from decaying.  It gives flavor to food.  And a use we’re particularly familiar with this month:  It melts ice.  The one commonality in all of its uses is that it doesn’t exist for itself. 

Similarly, the primary function of light is not to be seen but to let things be seen as they are.  

As disciples of Jesus we are to live our lives for the sake of the world, even when the world persecutes us – just like it did to our master.   To follow Jesus is to be engaged in helping to preserve the world from falling apart, to call attention to beauty and to truth. 

Regarding salt, I found this in my files: 

“Sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is the poisonous gas that gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine are combined, the result is sodium chloride. What is sodium Chloride?  Salt.  Common table salt. The substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor. Love and truth can be like sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken without love, it can turn people away from the gospel. When truth and love are combined in an individual or a church, however, then we have what Jesus called ‘the salt of the earth,’ and we’re able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith.”

The salt of the earth speak the truth with love. 

Inside all of us there is light and there is darkness.  There is the potential for great good and for great harm.   Anybody who honestly examines their heart will see this; the truly scary people are the ones who don’t recognize their potential for harm. 

Where is the way of hope found?  It’s pretty simple, really. In the awareness of the presence of both light and darkness inside ourselves and in the world, we consciously choose to reach out towards the light.

We’ve all been following the news of the social and political upheaval taking place in Egypt.  No one knows for sure how it will all turn out.  There is the possibility that something very, very good could will come out of this:  the end of an oppressive dictatorship, the formation of new democracy, and the renewal of a nation where the freedom to reach people’s potential is embraced.  And even more:  the transformation of Egypt can be a catalyst for positive change throughout the Middle East and the world.  

But the possibility also exists that the outcome can be very bad:  endless bloodshed and violence, a protracted civil war, and new forms of tyranny and oppression. 

Which way will it go?  The answer will be found quite simply in the extent to which there are people willing to be salt of the earth – the light of the world in this crisis.  How many people  will find the courage to stand up for freedom and dignity without succumbing to the temptations of violence and revenge.   How many people will embrace a vision of a new nation where all are included in the political process.    

Closer to home, we find ourselves struggling through this seemingly endless winter, we have been pummeled time and again by snow and ice and that lovely euphemism, “wintry mix.”  You can sense a collective depression and isolation and frustration.   You also sense the potential in such a time for people to do things we will later regret:  to lash out, to harm ourselves and others in all manner of destructive behaviors. 

Recognizing this possibility, there is a need for people to find the courage to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, to keep things from falling completely apart. 

My son Andrew sent me the link to this story from NPR which gives a concrete example of what being the salt of the earth and the light of the world looks like. 

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.  But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn. He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go, Diaz says. As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”  The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says.

“He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'” Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”  The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Most of us have come across this quote from Mother Teresa: 

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

In a few minutes we will be coming forward to share holy communion with Jesus.  When you receive the bread and cup, I invite you to receive it as a call to follow Jesus in being the salt of the earth – the light of the world.

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