Matthew 5:13-16
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 26, 2024

Today we arrive at the third sermon in this series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You may be surprised to realize that Jesus has so far given but one command in the Sermon – and that is to “rejoice and be glad” even in trying times!

In this new section of His Sermon He gives one more command; but it is not a command to do something but rather one to just let something happen – specifically, to “let your light shine”.

This section of the Sermon continues to do what the Beatitudes did. It states facts about Jesus’ followers, telling us not so much how they act as who they are. They are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” – salty characters who are also pretty darn bright!

Jesus’ salt metaphor is subject to a variety of interpretations.

One is that salt heals, and so Christians are to heal their world. Just as salt water gargled helps cure a sore throat, Christians help cure a self-centered, self-destructive culture as they embody caring compassion and a devotion to fairness.

Second, salt preserves, and so Christians are to preserve what the bacteria of evil rots. Just as salting meat keeps it from going rancid, Christians keep society from being ruined by self-absorbed indifference to the welfare of others as they inject into it the warm, all embracing love of Jesus.

Third, salt stimulates physical hunger and thirst, and so Christians are to stimulate spiritual hunger and thirst. Just as the seductive saltiness of a single potato chip makes you want many more than just one, the godliness of Christians makes folks want more than the merely material. A Texas rancher observed, “Folks say, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’; but it ain’t so: You can put a salt lick in its stable.”

Fourth and finally, salt brings out the flavor in food, and so Christians are to bring out the best flavors of life, making it more savory for all. Just as salt makes fries or salsas tastier, Christians make life more delectable and delightful as they add joy, hope and gratitude to it.

But please note: Salt draws no attention to itself. It just quietly enhances the glory of the food it flavors. In the same way, Christians are not to get folks to notice them, but just to get others to fully enjoy God’s gracious, luscious gifts.

Though each of the four takes on the salt metaphor makes a good point, the one that seems most likely to have been on Jesus’ mind is this last one. For Jesus goes on immediately to talk about salt that loses its “flavor”, something He knew about from the nearby Dead Sea whose waters, saturated with many minerals, wash out and negate the taste in its salt, rendering it unable to flavor things. Jesus describes such salt as “no longer good for anything”. So too, by the analogy, are Christians who don’t give others any of the flavor of God’s delicious love.

By the way, wouldn’t Christians who still have in them some of the flavor of God’s love, but who don’t share it, also be “no longer good for anything”? After all, doesn’t Jesus make His followers the salt of the earth so that they might be salt for the earth? Thus, just as salt at the table is no good unless it gets out of the saltshaker, so Christians are, unless they get out of their comfortable cocoon to reach out and benefit others.

Now, those Jesus calls the salt of the earth, He also calls “the light of the world”. Like a city built on a hill or a lamp put on a stand, their light is readily visible to others and makes great things visible for others. They are to reveal something, and the Someone behind it! They are to provide the illumination by which others can see God’s glory and the good He can put in people.

Their challenge is to shine God’s light in a world benighted by the darkness of selfishness, apathy, cruelty, dishonesty and immorality.

We are tempted to blame the culture for this darkness. But, as John Stott wondered, whose fault is it really? If a house is dark at night, there’s no sense in blaming the house. Houses just go dark when the sun sets. The question is, “Where is the light?” And if meat goes bad, there’s no sense in blaming the meat. Meat just goes bad when bacteria are left to breed unchecked. The question is, “Where is the salt?” Darkness descends when folks lose sight of God and those who are supposed to be their light don’t shine in their midst. The fundamental question then is, “Where are the followers of Jesus, those salty characters meant to bring God’s light?”

Jesus wants His followers to engage with the world beyond the church, and there be the light folks need. We cannot generate much light on our own, but we can absorb light from Jesus, like glow sticks set out under the sun to soak up its rays and later radiate their brightness in the darkness. We absorb Jesus’ light as we keep close to Him; and we keep close to Him by a) times alone with Him in prayer and biblical reflection, b) times with other followers in worship, fellowship and discipleship and c) times of community service doing the work of love, justice and witness. Following Jesus by walking beside Him throughout our day is the way we become light for the world, and bring within sight God’s righteousness, grace and truth.

Our deeds may be as small as a warm smile, a respectful word, a listening ear, an errand run for a neighbor, a prayer prayed for a co-worker, a letter for the poor sent to Congress, a welcome of a shy newcomer into our circle of friends. It’s not all that hard to begin to bring the best flavors of life to light and to illumine the way for others to enjoy them. We just have to be ourselves: salty characters who are pretty darn bright – thanks to Jesus!

Write a comment:

© 2015 Covenant Presbyterian Church
Follow us: