Friday, June 10, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 5: Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 5:13-16)

So many sermons have been preached on these verses.  We like these verses.  The metaphors are cool, aren't they?  I mean, who doesn't want to be "salt" and "light"?  Well, okay, in our culture, "salt" has become a bad word, but "light" is still good, right?  (Why am I suddenly thinking about potato chips?)

In the ancient world (or any culture which, unlike ours, eats real food rather than processed "food"), salt is a good thing.  It is something without which a human being cannot live ... a true salt-free diet is actually fatal!  Salt not only keeps a body functioning properly, but
it has healing properties (which is why the dentist tells you to gargle with salt water after oral surgery) and acts as a preservative (which is why Columbus and his men were able to reach America).  On top of that, salt adds flavor by making everything taste more like what it is (which is why salting watermelon makes it sweeter instead of making it taste like potato chips).

Here's the thing: Jesus is not commanding his followers to become salt.  He is simply stating that we are salt.  This is good news for those who are trying their hardest to be like Jesus.  Go back and re-read one of the earlier messages in this series about the process outlined in the Beatitudes. Here is the end result.  After crying out to Jesus because we realize we can't do it ourselves, and after suffering for His sake, we are salt.

Not only that, but we are light.  Think about the function of light, and how hard light works to put out darkness.  Why, it labors and sweats and has to try real hard ... not.  I can almost hear Jesus saying "duh" in this passage.  "Hey, guys, nobody lights a lamp and sticks it under a bowl.  Duh!"  We don't light the lamp, by the way ... Jesus does.  He is the Light of the World (John 8:12); He is the Light of Men (John 1:4-9).  He lights us with His Spirit, and then all we have to do is shine.  A light can't help shining any more than salt can help being salty.  These aren't burdensome commands; they are simple descriptions of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

It is possible for salt to lose its saltiness, but there are only two ways for this to happen.  The first is for salt to interact with another chemical and undergo a chemical change, in which case it is no longer salt at all.  (Technically, the salt hasn't lost its has stopped being salt.)  The second way is for salt to become so diluted that its saltiness can no longer be perceived.  A tablespoon of salt in a cup of water is salty.  A tablespoon of salt in a 50-gallon barrel of water is easily missed.  There is a lesson in this: stick together, Christ-followers.  One grain of salt by itself is too easily lost in the shuffle, but there's strength--and saltiness--in numbers.

A little reverse-engineering on the translation of "you are the salt of the earth" is also in order here.  This phrase has come to mean a person who is what he is ... no frills, no pretense.  What you see is what you get, and what you see is someone who sticks to the basics.  Think Mayberry rather than Hollywood, NYC, or DC; a good old cup of coffee rather than a double-mocha-iced-latte-frappuchino; plain potato chips rather than the preflavored sour-cream-and-onion-powdered fakes.  Followers of Jesus Christ, be yourselves.  Otherwise you are good for nothing.  The last thing the Church needs is another hypocrite.

As for being light, you are light; you don't really have a choice about that.  You've been put up on the stand, and you can't be missed. Your presence in a place reveals truth ... and it isn't just revealing the truth about others.  Have you ever tried to plug in a lamp in a dark room?  Pretty darn frustrating when you can't see the outlet.  I love those nightlight switches, the ones that glow so I can find them in the dark.  A lamp that is lit reveals its own location even if it isn't bright enough to reveal anything else.  We love to sing "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," as if we had a choice in the matter.  There are days when I wish I could hide, because what the light reveals is not something I want others to see, but there you have it.

The question is not whether or not I will shine, but how I will shine.  "In the same way..." Jesus said.  Don't walk up to people and shine a spotlight on their zits.  No one will praise God for that!  Picture yourself in the woods at night, with a single flashlight and a dozen friends.  There's a path and you all need to walk down it without getting a face full of spider.  So where are you going to shine the light?  On yourself?  On your friends? Or on the path?  (Okay, it's time for another "Duh!")  Welcome to life.  We are all walking down a dark path full of spiders.  God has handed flashlights to a few of us.  Want the rest to thank Him for that?  Then use yours the way God intended.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analogy (even if it does contain spiders)! We, as the Christian body, need to stop highlighting ourselves and each other, and rather focus our beam on what truly matters- Christ!
    You are truly a blessing to me, Dee.