“The Salt and The Light”
Matthew 5: 1&2, 13-16
by Pastor Tim Woodard, February 9th, 2014
Back in the late 1980s, I think it was 1989 actually, there was a company called Wang Laboratories, located in Lowell Massachusetts. They were selling a personal computer that was of the highest quality and functionality available in the marketplace. The problem was the consumer, the end user; their potential customer base was unaware of this fact. It was as if it were all a secret. In an effort to fix this the company hired thirty seasoned salespeople and brought them together to be the driving force in a new sales effort to get this product out into the market. These sales people were put through an extensive training program to reach into corporate American via telemarketing, at great expense to the company.
Based on the effort put forth one would simply have assumed that Wang Laboratories would have seen a substantial increase in their sales of personal computers. This was not the case. Actually, the marketing effort that I speak of was never allowed to move forward. Soon after the sales team was put into place, days actually, it was closed down. Internal politics was the culprit. The entire effort was unsanctioned by the larger corporate sales force and thus was forced to shut down. Everyone involved was laid off. But that was only the beginning. Soon after that it was announced that they were selling off their personal computer line to a competitor and even more personnel were laid off. The company, having missed the whole impact of the revolution of personal computing ultimately went out of business.
Why have I told you about this marketing failure of a computer company? The answer is simple. It is because this is what has happened and is happening within the Christian Church across the land. Churches, like computer companies, can not effectively operate if they keep secret the product that they handle! In our scripture this morning Jesus was preaching precisely this point to those who had ears to hear his message! The challenge is to grasp and clarify his message and see how it applies to our community as a church.
Chapters five thru seven in the gospel according to Matthew are referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It is believed that the location that Jesus actually preached from was a hillside in the vicinity of Capernaum. The full context of these teachings called the “Sermon on the Mount” most likely occurred over a period of time. The key to our lesson today is for us to understand that it is a teaching of Jesus that he personally delivered. Also, that his reference to “you” is directed to us as a community.
Putting his message in a more direct or personal form ought to help here. Jesus taught them saying: You, the Riviera United Church of Christ, you are the salt for the greater Palm Bay area of Brevard County. You, the Riviera United Church of Christ, you are the light for this region of Florida. Now, as you, the members and friends of this local church, as you start to consider this teaching, in this context, you start to grasp that we are to be the ‘salt’ and the ‘light’ for a lot more than just for ourselves and we can not hide what we have from others! As we get into discussing how we are the salt and what constitutes our light we will begin to realize what a solid and challenging charge Jesus has given us to not only ponder, but to act upon!
Let us consider this term salt. Knowing a bit about how Jesus taught we can safely assume he wants us to consider how salt is used and what effects it has upon that which it interacts with and then find a parallel meaning to how something we posses (our product line if you will) can be used upon the community we are a part of using the same active verbs and actions! Put some salt on your tongue and you will quickly realize that salt is not something that can be ignored. It catches your attention! When used in cooking it brings out the flavor of the food being prepared. Salt, is a mainstay in our food supply. It was first used as a preservative before we had refrigeration. If your doctor has told you to cut down on your salt consumption you have begun to realize how extensively we use salt in our culture. It is not something that can be easily set aside or ignored.
We as a church are united based on the teachings of Jesus whom we have come to know as the long expected Messiah of the Israelites. We have come to believe in the saving grace of God’s love shown through the life and ministry of Jesus, the man from Nazareth. As part of the United Church of Christ, founded in the roots of Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church we represent a segment of Christianity that is unique. As such we bring a special flavor to the entire discussion of the modern Christian Church. This is a core element of our salt. As we define and become aware of what our ‘salt’ is, that is what flavor of Christianity we are, we must realize as a community this uniqueness is meant to be shared and offered up to the community we live in and are a part of. It is not meant just for ourselves.
As we turn to the light it is easy to see what is implied here. Light of course contrasts the darkness and without it we can not see the truth of what is and what is not. Jesus was and is often referred to as bringing light into the darkness. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross gives us this thought to consider: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the [night] sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” Stay with this as we look to the first chapter of the gospel according to John, which parallels the first verse of Genesis in that it starts with “In the Beginning.” In the first four verses John’s gospel speaks of Jesus as the “Word” of God and implies how the “Word” in the man Jesus came into the world. The passage clearly points to this “life” that Jesus brought to us was and is to be the “light” of all people; concluding with verse five saying: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
We, you and I, are a unique part of the body of Christ. We have our truth that we have received through the living Spirit of Christ. We speak of it when we say that ‘all’ of God’s people, ‘all’ of God’s children are welcome here no matter ‘where they have been’ ‘what race they were born into’ and no matter ‘what their politic persuasion’ or even ‘their sexual orientation’. We as a church stand together in our compassion for the plight of others. We reach out to feed the needy and to cloth the naked. We believe strongly in the power of prayer and the healing power of God in the lives of people caught up in the twists and turns of humanity! These are a few of our truths and we can not hide them in the solitude of this sanctuary! If we truly embrace the teachings of Christ and follow the “Word” of God as contained in scripture than we have become the light that shines in the darkness! Jesus tells us clearly that our ‘light’ is meant for everyone and that we are to proudly display it and ‘market it’ in our community.
Listen to this reflection by Kate Huey: “Jesus tells us, right from the beginning, the church is no secret society!” Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message: “We are going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep an open house, and be generous with your lives.’”
When we look back to the case study of Wang Laboratories and consider how their undoing was in not being able to embrace the truth surrounding the ‘revolution’ of the onset of the personal computer and how it would radically change the marketplace for computers. Instead they allowed their petty concerns about ‘turf’ and ‘power’ within their organization to keep their superb entry into the personal computer market a secret. Their ‘light’ never shinned in the darkness, it was locked in a corporate board room. They did not become the ‘salt’ that would keep their competitors honest and help enhance the onset of a new age in computing. Instead they self destructed and become obsolete and had to close their doors.
Churches represent God’s presence in the midst of a changing world. Churches need to change in order to reach the people of the world. Yet, they can not give up their ‘saltiness’ nor can they hide their ‘light’! Change the flavor of our music to reach a new generation of worshipers… sure. Change the dress code so that a less formal environment will be more inviting to a more relaxed people living in a casual community… sure. Break down our approach to the scriptures so that more listeners will be able to identify with the teachings and lessons contained in them – without backing away from the truth – absolutely! There are a lot of new ideas that we can embrace: just as long as we do not forget who and what we are and whom we follow. Let us be crystal clear about this point: we follow the teachings of Jesus and we turn to Holy Scripture for our guidance. We rely on the living presence of the “Living God” to show us the way, so that we may be true Disciples of Christ and come to know and trust God.
Last Sunday as we turned to our communion table we were reminded that in so doing we become part of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ we need to be diligent about how we conduct our day to day activities. We need to be conscious of the needs of others sitting next to us as we worship and praise God. We need to remember what we are as a church and to whom we are to serve as we sit on councils and committees and interact with one another. If we carry the salt of our ministry together and share it with others, if we speak the truth and allow that truth to light up the lives of others, then we will be here serving God’s people for a long, long time.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “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. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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. 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.