Continuing with our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount, this weeks sermon focused on the passage where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.” I had a really great idea to do a children’s sermon where we all tried salt-free popcorn and then added salt to see the difference in taste but apparently salt-free microwave popcorn is not a thing? At least it wasn’t at Stop & Shop. The “healthy” ones all have sea salt. I suppose I could have used a popcorn maker, but that wasn’t going to happen on a Sunday morning, ha!
Anyway, this is a text that is kind of hard to preach because it’s fairly straightforward. But there were three things jumped out at me that I thought were worth reinforcing, so I just did a sermon in kind of a bullet-point format instead of just making one point (if that makes sense?). I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my congregation, so I hope you get something out of it, too!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 15, 2019
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
This passage has always kind of perplexed me, and maybe someone can answer my question: Does salt go bad?
Maybe it is just that I was raised in a household with a mother who really did not believe in expiration dates …
… who, in fairness, was raised by a mother who believed that everything stayed fresh as long as you put it in the freezer – taco shells, cooked rice, bananas, milk …
… but I always thought salt was just … salty. Does salt actually lose its taste?
Maybe someone can give me a science lesson after worship.
Alas, I do not think Jesus is talking about cleaning out the pantry as he continues his Sermon on the Mount, but he is, in fact, talking about who we are, as our very core.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
We are preaching our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this fall and we began last week with The Beatitudes, which were, comparative to this week’s text, noticeably in the third person until the very end, where Jesus switches from the third person – blessed are thepoor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, etc. – to the first person in the very last Beatitude – blessed are youwhen people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
I think this is an intentional switch from the third person to the first person because, remember, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples – and this makes it more personal. Jesus is not speaking broadly about just anybody, but intimately, directly to the people who are gathered around him.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
But this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, right? It is not about blindly following the person who is one rung higher than you on the religious ladder, but rather it is about having this personal relationship – or connection – with God; to be a Christian means that we not only affirm who Jesus is but also Jesus is affirming who weare and what God is calling usto do in this world.
This is a really great passage, because it is one that is really easy to visualize (even if you are not sure that salt can actually lose its flavor), it is straightforward, it is quick to memorize, it turns into great music and it is pretty simple and tangible to demonstrate to children. In fact, when I was looking at the passage this week, I actually wondered if I even had to preach a sermon on it, because it really is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself.
And sorry to disappoint anyone who might now be excited at the prospect of a really short service, but there are three things that I think are really important to highlight when we think about this passage and these metaphors and what they mean for our lives today.
The first thing I want to talk about it the way Jesus is, sort of, inadvertently laying the foundation for the conversation that is going to begin decades later in Paul’s letters about being the Body of Christ.
So the Apostle Paul talks about the church as if it is a body; and, in the same way that all of the parts of our human bodies perform different functions so the body can function as one body, everyone in the church performs different functions so the church can function as one church.
And this is not something that Jesus talks about directly in the Gospels, but he is kind of setting Paul up here, because things like salt and light are not just used for one thing – they have many functions.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about salt and its practical purposes – it was used for preserving, seasoning, fertilizing soil, sacrificing, covenanting, purifying, cleansing and signifying loyalty. Even today, salt is not just used for cooking; it still has many different functions.
Light, too, does not just have one function – it is illumination in an otherwise dark space, it is a critical component in the growth of plants, it kills mold, dries things out and acts as a natural bleach and exposure to certain light (sunlight) triggers our human brains to release serotonin, which can boost our moods.
If we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, this does not mean we are all called to do the same thing, this means different things for different people. It means that we all have a job to do and that our roles are unique to who we are and who God created us to be.
I believe these metaphors of salt and light are not just about something have one function and performing that function, but about something having many functions, in the same way that we all have a different function in this world, in this bodyof Christ.
The second thing I want to talk about is the way that this passage reminds us that we are who God says we are.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and, “You are the light of the world.” He does not say, “You shall bethe salt of the earth” or, “You will bethe light of the world” or, “You can bethe salt of the earth” or, “You might bethe light of the world.” Jesus is not saying that this is going to happen eventually or that this is some kind of capability that the disciples have, but he is saying that this is already who they are.
And so when we read this passage today, “We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world,” we should not think that this is something we are merely capable of doing, but this is who we already are. The salt of the earth, the light of the world – these are not adjectives or verbs, these are nouns; this is who we already are.
The last thing I want to mention is the fact that these metaphors are not reserved for a certain class of people – and I think this is what speaks to me today as a Christian, as a small town pastor and as a mom who is just trying to figure everything out.
The disciples were not powerful men, they were Galilean fisherman. At the time, Rome and the emperor were proclaimed as the light of the entire world, which means – particularly with this metaphor about light – Jesus is changing the rules and saying you do not have to be rich or powerful to be the light of this world. You – you, the disciples, you who choose to follow me – are the light of the world; you are fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament where light overcomes darkness.
This means to me today that I do not have to achieve some sort of level of wealth or power or education to contribute something to the Kingdom of God, that being who God created me to be in this moment is enough.
Salt and light are not rare commodities; they are ordinary and easily accessible.
But they are also life-giving.
We need both of these things to survive.
And so think about it – you, as ordinary people, can also be life-giving. You can be critical to the survival and the thriving of others. You can give people hope and work in very small and grassroots, but also very meaningful, ways to change people’s lives for the better. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.
Just as you are.
As I close out my thoughts this morning, I want to remind you of the last verse of this passage:
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.
So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Remember to give the glory to God. First of all, this is not about us, this is about God. So as soon as we start taking credit for things or get overly controlling about things (preaching to myself here), we miss the point that this really is not about us, at all.
And furthermore, sharing with others that we are doing what we are doing – loving one another and serving others – for the glory of God is the most powerful kind of evangelism, because it shows the world that our faith is not just about empty words, but about powerful action, action that changes lives.
This is when people outside the church start to say, I wonder what that church thing is all about.
So remember that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
I do not think there is an expiration date on either one of these things.
Go, therefore, and season the earth and shine light into the world. You are who God says that you are.
Thanks be to God!