New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
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 People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it 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.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Salt is part of our life, especially this time of year (well, in most years when there is snow). It is used on roads to melt the snow and ice and then ends up on our cars. Did you know that the U.S. uses 40.3 million tons of salt per year for roads, water softeners, and seasoning purposes? Where does all this salt come from? Evaporation ponds that convert sea water into salt. Mining of sedimentary rocks, particularly in arid climates and around lakes in these areas.
What is salt? Its chemical symbol is NaCl (sodium chloride). It is known as the mineral halite and is cubic in shape (take a look at a grain of salt or rock salt). The molar mass is 58.443 grams per mole. Salt’s density is 2.17 grams per cm3. Its melting point is 1,474o Fahrenheit with a boiling point of 2,669o Fahrenheit. The solubility of salt is 359 grams per liter.
Salt brings flavor to food. Salt preserves food – before refrigeration salt was used on meat to keep it from rotting. Salt stimulates thirst.
You have probably heard a sermon on this text, on being the salt of the earth, before. You may know, then, that salt is a reminder of God’s covenant with God’s people – in Judaism, salt is a symbol of the covenant. A preacher may have pointed out that salt add flavor to the world and preserves the message of Jesus. The cup of salvation we take in communion reminds us that our spiritual thirst is quenched by Jesus.
Light is necessary for plants to grow and to illuminate the world around us. What is light? Visible light is the result of electromagnetic radiation. Its wavelength is in the range of 400 nanometers. Other types of light we are familiar with are infrared and ultraviolet (don’t forget those sunglasses!). I could go into the properties of light such as the speed of light, optics, and historical theories about it. I won’t!
You have probably heard a sermon on this text, on being the light of the world, before. Jesus tells his followers that they are to be that light of the world. Light that is not hidden but is seen. Often, this is interpreted as not hiding one’s gifts and talents under a basket, but to step forward, come out of hiding, and serve.
Today I want us to consider another perspective.
Do you see yourself as a pastor? Not a seminary trained preacher who is a jack of all trades and is responsible for running a church, but as one who builds relationships with others. Pastors to one another.
1 Peter describes the community of faith as a holy priesthood. A group of people who serve as priests to one another. A community where everyone is on equal footing, none is greater or less than another. This description of being a holy priesthood, of being pastors to one another applies both inside and outside the church. Pastor relationships are built with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with those who aren’t part of our community of faith.
Think about this for a few minutes. Pastoral ministry is one of support and affirmation. We listen to one another and encourage one another. It also has an edge to it. Pastoral ministry can be confrontational in a good way. Telling someone the truth in love about their behavior or utilizing tough love may be appropriate at times. The apostle Paul provides direction in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” The goal is correction of behavior.
One example of this type of pastoral care is the parable of the Rich Ruler. In this parable, a man asks Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus first refers him to the commandments which the man affirms he has kept since he was young. Jesus tells him he lacks one thing: to sell all that he owns and distribute the money to the poor then he will have treasure in heaven. Finally, Jesus tells the man to come follow him. Unfortunately, the man was saddened and, it is implied, that he could not bring himself to let go of his riches.
Strong relationships require two primary things: affirmation that upholds the other person’s dignity and challenge that invites behavioral change when needed. Both are needed to foster solid relationships that grow rather than become stagnant. Both are aspects of pastoral ministry between one another.
Saltiness is necessary. It is a challenge for change. In cooking it is a key ingredient that gives food flavor. Without salt, food is bland. If you have ever watched “Chopped” on the Food Network, you hear this need for salt as a constant refrain. The judges are always telling one or more chefs that their food needs salt.
Light is also important in relationships. Being light is not only taking the bushel basket off so one’s gifts and talents can shine. Light, itself, shines. It shines in the darkness. A small light, like a night light, can make one able to see in what otherwise is pitch black. Light becomes a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark and broken world. Light brings warmth and radiance that draws people to it. It offers what nothing else can: a way to see in the darkness of the world and a means to experience God’s love.
Our mission is to be the light that shines, and our ministry is to add salt to relationships. Although both sound simple enough, we know they aren’t.
Archbishop William Temple says: “The church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not its members.” For our light to be seen, we must be willing to go where darkness exists. To engage it, walk in its midst, and allow time for the light to spread and take hold.
In his book “In His Steps,” Charles Sheldon tells the story of a church in the railroad town of Raymond. One day, a man out of work appears asking for help at the pastor’s home who is preparing for his Sunday sermon. The pastor tells the man he is busy and sends him away. The next Sunday, the same man appears at church and, after the sermon, walks to the front to talk to the congregation about their lack of interest in helping those in need. At the end of his address he collapses and later dies.
The pastor, deeply moved by what had happened, presents a challenge to his congregation: “Don’t do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’” The congregation accepts the challenge. Soon, the editor of the newspaper decides not to print an article about a prize fight and discontinues the Sunday edition even though the result is a drop in subscriptions. A man meets with railroad workers and discovers the railroad’s fraud which he then works to make this known. Two women decide to help with revival meetings in the darkest part of town. Others make similar choices. None were easy choices to make, and each had consequences.
Author Annie Dillard writes: “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.” We must go into dark places to see what the light can do.
The salt and light Jesus speaks about are meant to be shared, not hoarded. Jesus sends his followers out to bring the message of God’s love to a hurting world by being salt and light. It is a message of support, affirmation, and a challenge for change. God’s ministry of pastoral care, the building of relationships and to be salt and light is meant to be shared. Jesus’ command to his followers to go and make disciples requires us to leave our comfort zones and to take risks we would rather not.
You and I are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are pastors together in all of our relationships. Jesus sends us out to be these in and for our world.