“Matthew 5:13-16, February 5, 2023
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us continue our lessons from the Sermon on the Mount, as we read from the gospel of Matthew, chapter five, verses thirteen thru sixteen.”
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 underfoot. 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. 16 In 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.”
“Having listen to this short parable with our ears, let us now open our hearts to what our lesson is for this day.”
History has credited the man named Jesus, born of a woman named Mary, to be the long-awaited Messiah. This is great news, but what is so significant or what does this scripture have for us now? What does today’s scripture have to do with today? In our lesson for this day, Jesus is still sitting with the crowd. Jesus is with the gathered, teaching yet another lesson which is attributed to his sermon series called the sermon on the mount. Better referred to as his multiple Sermons on the Mount. Our reading this morning is a beautiful parable speaking about our being the “Salt of the Earth” and “The Light of the world.” Yet, why are these lessons so important? How is it meant to be relevant in the Twenty-First Century? We have for our discussion today, these two short – yet powerful parables.
As we begin let us ask ourselves, what does it mean, to be relevant? How are these words connected with, and to, the matters at hand in this time and space in history? What bearing, what influence do they have on matters in the Twenty-First Century? How are they meaningful or purposeful in our current society or culture? B.W. Johnson, back in 1891 wrote about this passage. He tells us that “Salt preserves from corruption.” Well, we do know that salt has been used as a preservative throughout the ages. Surely that is why he used the reference to salt to make his point. Johnson goes us saying: “The disciples of Christ preserve the world from general corruption. Whatever becomes utterly corrupted is doomed to be destroyed.” Clearly Jesus is using his salt connection in his parable to be sure we get the point! We, his disciples are to carry the torch of Christ forward, preserving, saving the world from widespread corruption. With that said many would infer, rightly perhaps, that we still got a lot of discipling left to do!
Let us examine verse thirteen once more. “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 underfoot.” /Matthew five: 13/ Ok. We have heard that it is our responsibility to preserve the message and the teachings of Jesus, and surely, he is telling us we need to work ‘in order’ to accomplish something and thus be counted as relevant in this discussion. This is surely one clear interpretation of our being the “salt” of the Earth. Yet Jesus takes it one step further. As he usually or at least often does. “But if salt has lost its taste,” Salt does not loss its taste… does it? But if it does, it becomes worthless. If salt no longer is effective in preserving foods, then it is worthless. Does this mean that if we become worthless, in our effectiveness to do God’s work, we are no longer of worth. If that is the case, then the last phrase of this sentence is troubling indeed! But wait! There is hope! The last phrase is a question! “How can its saltiness be restored?” Wow! Let’s give this some thought! Because we surely do not want to be “thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Janet H. Hunt, way back in 2014 wrote about the salt meaning in our scripture for today. “Perhaps it is so that to be called ‘salt of the earth’ meant more in the time of Jesus than it does today. Can you think of another metaphor which would speak better today?” Challenging question. When was the last time someone challenged you to come up with a metaphor, a figure of speech meaning you are the ‘saving grace’ which is meant to propel the growth of Christianity ever forward. The thing I have learned about salt is that it is the added ingredient… to a vast multitude of food products we eat every day. Therefore, most of us have a nodding acquaintance of its effect on our foods, and our bodies. It can add flavor, or better said brings the flavor of the food to the surface. I am not much of a cook, but many good cooks will tell you how important that ‘pinch’ of salt is to the stew or whatever is on the menu. Yes, I know. Understanding what a pinch of salt is in grams or any type of measurement is a challenge.
Being a good cook is a suitable metaphor. Jesus wants us to be relevant as we work to being and becoming ‘good stewards’ of his ministry, which he entrusted to us, his followers. My grandmother Dixon and my grandmother Woodard and my dear Mother as well as my wife and oh so many of the other matriarchs of my family were great cooks. They carried their skills forward to the next generations going forward. If we follow this metaphor, and look to all the good cooks we know, we shall also become aware of a line of Patriarchs, men who have passed their cooking skills ever forward also, as well as our matriarchs. My grandson lost his father a year ago today. His father was an excellent chef. Our grandson can cook up a great many good dishes. All kinds of good things. But not all of us have passed the art of cooking forward. I can scramble eggs and make toast. At best I can burn some chicken on a grill, or over cook or under-cook a great steak or roast. You get the idea. Some of us either didn’t have good teachers or we simply did not carry the torch forward.
Isn’t this what Jesus was talking about? He wanted us to carry the message of who he was and what he did and said here on earth. When we do so – we are being the salt of the Earth! We are relevant and worthy in his sight. We are making a difference. Remember always – Jesus had a street ministry. He got run out of his hometown for his outspoken sermonettes! Being a salty individual… that truly makes a difference, does not always make you the best loved guy or gal in town! Emerson Powery, while writing back in 2011 asked the who question. “Who are ‘salt’ of the earth?” Then he goes on to answer the question. “They are the humble, the ones who mourn, the meek, and those who thirst after doing what is right in the world.” Wait, he is referring ‘back’ to the Beatitudes we spoke about last week. What a great connection. Apply everything we learned and talked about last week to this new lesson! And of course, we remember how the blessed ones, were the ones learning how to be closer to God. They were humble enough to ask God to help them become more like Jesus. They were the ones that reached out with love to those around them… like Jesus did. They were the ones who were willing to cry in front others, because they truly cared for one another. Just like Jesus cared and cares for each one of us today. No matter what life situations we find ourselves in.
When, where and how do we move to the second Parable and become the “Light of the world? Alan Brehm, author of the “The Waking Dreamer,” back in 2016, said it this way. “When we demonstrate the difference God’s grace makes in real human life on a daily basis, we are living as light for the world.” Let’s unpack that powerful statement. How do we demonstrate God’s grace? Saying the answer – is easy. Living it is the harder part of this. All we need do is show kindness, and mercy which includes forgiveness and charity. We offer thanks for the love, help and support of others. We get involved in the common good philosophy. Which means we care for the wellbeing of others. David Lose, eight nine ago, in 2014, was telling us be aware of the ‘subtle’ and ‘dangerous’ temptations to beat ourselves and others up as we dissect the teachings of Jesus. David puts it this way. “…we are again faced with the insidious temptation to hear Jesus’ words as requirement rather than blessing, as command rather than commissioning.” In the Beatitudes that we spoke of and to last week, we learned that Jesus was lifting-up the characteristics of those who were surely on the right path to move closer to God’s will and were blessed for their humble efforts. He went on to say that those who do so would inherit the kingdom of God! We are not being given commands by the words of Jesus. No, we are being blessed and commissioned to do his work! As disciples and ministers of God, we are being appointed and authorized to do God’s work. We are custom-made, by the very hands of our Creator!
William Loader, as always, says it so distinctly. “God is light. Jesus is light. And, says Matthew’s Jesus, so are you! But not as an elite, as a group of privileged people, be it Israel or Christians, who once, perhaps, were good salt, but as people living the kind of life called for in the challenge of the beatitudes.” Once I read his words, I had to quote him. For I surely would have subliminally. Every Christmas Eve we have shared together, I have always, as any capable pastor on Christmas Eve during a candle lighting service would say: “Let us hold up our candles, which were lit from the Christ candle, and witness to our individual lights that can and do light up our sanctuary this very day, this very night. Together, we can let our light shine throughout the world; lighting up the whole wide world; with the Light of Christ!
We are now the voices “crying out in the wilderness”, as John the Baptist did. However, and forever more, we shall light up the world and allow our tenacity, our saltiness, to do God’s will, the work that Jesus first began so long ago.