On Friday I went to the beach to officiate a funeral of a man who was an amazing blessing to so many people, including my dear friend Gianni. I know it will sound crazy, but I love doing funerals. They give me an opportunity to offer hope in situations that often feel hopeless. If done right, funerals can allow a minister to shine, to really live into their calling and purpose.
This ceremony was extra special because it was a “paddled out” service, where we gathered in the ocean and made a circle with our surfboards to say our goodbyes. If you know me, you know that I love the ocean as much as I love God. In fact, as a kid that was where I would go to be with God.
That was certainly the case on Saturday, when we all went to Topanga Beach to escape the heat, and to just relax. While there was some resistance in going, I think we call came back a little more refreshed, and some a little more sunburnt. There’s nothing else like the beach, and the salt air to cure whatever is ailing you. It’s a sanctuary for me. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or lost, I go to the beach knowing the ocean has the power to heal.
When we lived in Michigan, we’d go to Lake Michigan which for the most part could easily pass for an ocean. Except for one thing. The locals often brag about it, they sell t-shirts that say “Salt and Shark Free.” But every time I went in, something was missing. And it wasn’t the sharks. Salt might not be essential to enjoy a good swim, but it does define the uniqueness of an ocean. It also defines our uniqueness as followers of Christ.
Today, I want to return to the mountain side, on the heels of Jesus blessing the crowd. The disciples listen carefully, ready to learn what it means to be a blessing in the world. And it’s here the Word of God uses these two analogies to enlighten them: Salt and light.
READ: Matthew 5:13-16.
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. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.
You are the salt. You are the light. Every time I read this passage, I think about one thing: my wife’s salt addiction. Those of you who have ever opened a cupboard in our home would know what I mean. We do have your basic table salt. In fact, she carries some in her purse. But our everyday salt is imported from Australia. We also have red Spanish salt, blue Persian salt, two kinds of black salt from Hawaii, three different salts from Peru, and one from the Himalayan mountains. We also have lava salt, smoked salt, kosher salt, wine salt, and about a dozen more I know I’m forgetting. Each one of these salts are unique, but each one also has the distinct flavor – salt.
If you were to call my wife salty, she’d take it as a complement. She knows its a good thing. After all, Jesus says salt is good, “but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” It never dawned on me that all our salts could one day stop being salty.
All I know about salt is that it’s essential to human life. It is the only trace mineral that’s found in every cell in the human body. Without it, we’d cease to function. If you don’t get enough, you increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. And too much can be toxic or lead to high blood pressure. Salt is good as long as it’s being used wisely. Maybe Jesus trying to tell us to not just sit there in the cupboard but go out and do what you’re supposed to do. Be the visible presence of God’s love in the world. Go spice it up with love.
I also know that whenever I have a sore throat, I gargle with saltwater because it helps to reduce inflammation. If you have sore muscles or tired feet, nothing is more restorative than a good soak in a salt bath. Whenever I swim or surf in the ocean, the stress in my body just seems to disappear.
Is Jesus using this analogy to remind us to go heal and restore the world? Is that what we’re supposed to do? If you think about it, love has that power, doesn’t it? Showing kindness to someone who is scared, or anxious, or lost can go a long way to healing them and restoring one’s soul and faith.
Now couple of years ago my brother took me to a restaurant called “Salt” where each item on the menu was pared with a particular salt to enhanced the flavor of whatever you were eating. There was a different one for beef, and one for chicken, and different ones for specific vegetables. And even desserts. Maybe Jesus is comparing us to salt because he’s asking us to bring out the best in ourselves and the best in other people.
There are all different kinds of Christians – from fine to flakey – yet we all have a distinct, common purpose. That is to shake out the Good News of God’s redemptive love on everything. To love liberally to enhance the goodness of God in others. Too much of this is good for humans and the world. That is why it needs to be sprinkled over everything.
But what good is our faith if we refuse to live it out like Jesus did? What good is love if we stop showing it to others?
Fun fact: in 1st century Palestine once salt lost its flavor, it was then used as a weapon. Troops would spread on an enemy’s crops and ground to make the land barren. If there is no Christ in your Christianity, you run the risk doing more harm than good. We lose our saltiness every time we cheat a business partner, or refuse to forgive someone who has hurt us, or denied dignity to a stranger. We cannot lose our capacity to love. We must constantly be shaking it out by speaking up and standing up for what is right even if those in power crucify us for doing so.
We cannot risk being losing our flavor, our faith and the love that it enhances. The best way to ensure that never happens is to constantly keep God’s love alive in us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular old table salt, or some exotic smoky sea salt, or even salt of a different color, the world needs to hear God’s Words because there is still so much darkness around us. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” But you are also the light that shines in the darkest of places.
One of the only things I remember from high school biology class besides needing salt to live is that we also need light. Light is the main source of energy for all living organisms. Without it we would literally be nothing. Maybe mushrooms, or mold, but yuck! What then are we without God’s light? How well will we live if we remain only in the darkness? What would grow in us without God’s love filling us? We need light. God’s light.
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Not only does this mean that we will grow well with him, but we will thrive. Through Christ, we become light bearers, illuminating God’s presence in the darkest of places every time we love another, especially those who do not know love or have not felt it for a very long time.
When our kids were little, we had night lights throughout our house to give them comfort and to help them see their way in the night. But what good is a night light if it’s not plugged in? We are called to be the light of the world. Our light needs to cut through the darkness and guides people to God’s loving arms. But how?
Just as the moon which has no light of its own but reflects what it receives from the sun, we receive our light from Jesus. And are called to reflect his light upon the world. To love as he loved, forgive as he forgave, care and heal and serve, as he did. Jesus didn’t discriminate, neither shall we. Jesus didn’t say because you are this way or that way, I won’t love you and care for your needs. He loved and cared for all. And he died for all.
If there is no Christ in your Christianity, then you are only adding to the darkness that hangs over this world. To follow him is to reflect his light. And to shine brightly. Jesus says it’s imperative that we don’t hide our faith or spiritual gifts but to put them in the center of life – drawing people to its warmth and radiance.
By being salt and light, we can live within our own Christ likeness without fearing how others might retaliate. We can enhance God’s goodness and illuminate God’s blessings in those dark places where love is lacking, forgiveness is needed, and where mercy and justice are missing.
Salt and light. This is how we share the good news of our faith…by being faithful to it. This might require to be vulnerable and open to hurt. Which is never easy. Letting go of our power and hard exterior is difficult for many of us. But it’s how we take off the baskets that hide our light and we allow our goodness to be released.
The hard ground cannot bear good fruit. Only when it is cracked open can the seed enter the expose, soft dirt and take root. God is calling you to go and be the salt and light of Christ in the world, to produce the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven…be it at the beach, a lake, or wherever you are. To be like Christ is to let Christ shine through us so others can see their goodness in God’s glory and shine themselves.
This is how Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness and blessed the world and produced the good fruits of God’s love and grace. And this is how we, his followers, are to abide the same – loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul; and our neighbor as ourselves.
We are his salt. Full of flavor and full of life. We carry his light that destroys the darkness. Let us go forth and shine brightly. Leading people safely home to the open arms of God’s unfailing love.
Let us pray:
God, you have enlightened us with your Word today, and illuminated us with your Spirit. Send us now out into the world to bring out the best in others by being our best. Help us to shine brightly, not for our glory but for yours. As our individual lights come together to form this church, we pray that you will draw others to it’s warmth and radiance. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year A, Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 332-337.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963) pp. 146-147.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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