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 under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Abba in heaven.
If you know Eric Stecyk, a wonderful spirit who often hangs around Haywood, my guess is that you have been what I call “You ared”. It looks something like this. Eric will show you one of the walking sticks he carved and you might say something like, “Wow Eric, that is beautiful” and without missing a beat he will fire back, “You’re beautiful”. Or he might be telling you a story about how much he has overcome in the last few years, which is true, and you might say, “That’s incredible”, and just as the last syllable leaves your mouth, he responds, “You’re incredible”. I think you get the idea. It’s an example of one of the ways that Eric is salt and light in a world that is more prone to “You are not” instead of “You are”.
In our text today, Jesus also “You ares” us. He says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the Light of the world.” It happens in the next section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew. It follows the opening that we talked about last week, The Beatitudes, those forms of being human, including grief, peacemaking, a poverty of spirit, that seem to allow participation in the movement of God. It’s important to remember who the audience is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s the very people who have been told they don’t belong, who are told that they are on the outs because of things like illness and the families they are born into and economic oppression and a religious sanctioned segregation. In this grand sermon Jesus is telling the very ones who have been pushed away, that it’s the opposite. Actually, you are the instruments of God’s revelation, of God’s liberation. You, the unseen, are not only the ones who God sees but who God needs. As we hear the reading, our question seems obvious, “What does Jesus mean when he tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world?”
- Salt was valuable in Jesus’ day. Jesus is telling people who thought they had no value that they are invaluable.
- We lose our saltiness and our light when we don’t offer out gifts, our love.
- None of us are here to be trampled upon.
- Something powerful happens when we gather together the salt and the light that it is in each of us.
There is an old story called “The Rabbi’s Gift” that goes something like this. During a time in Europe when monasteries were beginning to fade away, there was one that went from a brotherhood of over 100 monks to only 4. Their names were James, Peter, Bernard and Abbott Thomas. As you would imagine, the future looked bleak to them. They were waiting for some sign to know when to close their doors. Truth is, they did not get along too well anyway and they all carried their own version of resentment towards the others. James did not help with the prayers and worship. He always wanted to be in the garden and with the farm animals. Peter, on the other hand, rarely contributed to the day in and day out caretaking of the monastery. He was an amazing artist and wanted to focus on his biblical illustrations. As for Bernard, he was hardly around. He spent most of his time in the nearby village visiting and caring for the elderly who lived alone. And then there was their leader, Abbott Thomas. He had a hard time relating to and communicating with the younger monks. He was most at home and alive in his rhythm of prayer, something he fervently practiced throughout the day and night.
During one of their many meetings about what they should do, Peter reminded everyone about the local Rabbi who spent his Sabbath in a simple hermitage not far from the monastery. Peter wondered if he might have some advice for them. All agreed that it was worth a shot. So, the next Saturday, Abbott Thomas set out to speak with the Rabbi. The Rabbi greeted him warmly and listened. When Abbott Thomas asked him for advice, the Rabbi confessed that he was in the same boat, participation in the synagogue was also declining. They spent time in prayer and in silence, quietly comforting and encouraging each other. Finally, as Abbott Thomas was leaving, he turned to the Rabbi and said, “Surely you have something I can tell the brothers when I return.” After a pause he said, “Well, I think a Messiah, an anointed one, is among you.” Somewhat confused, Abbott Thomas thanked him and returned to the monastery. The others greeted him expectantly. Abbott Thomas told them about their tender time together and then, somewhat hesitantly, shared his parting words. He said, “The Rabbi told me that a Messiah, an anointed one, is among us.”
At first, they did not give it much thought, but the Rabbi’s words began to linger in their minds and hearts. Sure, James was not helpful with the daily prayers and worship, but his ability to join with the earth and grow food along with his deep love of God’s creatures, maybe he was the one the Rabbi was talking about. And what about Peter? It was true that he was not much help with all the necessary tasks, but what an artist. What a gift he had to make the biblical stories come so alive. Or could it be Bernard? Of course, Bernard! He cared so deeply for those who were alone and hurting. Yes, he must be the one. But then, we can’t forget Abbott Thomas. Though he can be difficult, his devotion to prayer, his intimacy with God, his deep faith was unparalleled. Perhaps it is him. As the story goes, things slowly began to shift. Those who visited the monastery started to feel something different, something powerful, something true. Within a few years, a couple of young men expressed interest in joining the community. Over time, this monastery became one of the few in Europe that not only stayed open but grew.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world”, but in Matthew Jesus is telling us that so are we. You are the light. You are the salt. What if our common understanding of the 2nd coming of Christ is all wrong? Just like the first coming of Christ, maybe we are looking for and expecting the wrong kind of Messiah, and so we miss it. What if the 2nd coming of Christ takes place when we stop looking for Christ to come from outside of us and discover the Christ trying to come through us? What if Christ returns more and more when we recognize and offer our particular light and our particular saltiness to God’s big Light, to God’s big banquet? Maybe our primary purpose as a community of faith is to help each other figure out that essential light, that essential flavor that each of us has to give and without which heaven on earth cannot fully take shape, without which Christ cannot fully return. After all, Jesus did say, you will do greater works than me. I think the Rabbi is right. There are Messiahs, anointed ones, among us. O God, help us recognize them and become them. Help us be the light and the salt that, apparently, we already are.