Hide it Under a Bushel? No! A sermon about Salt and Light
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lifted people with his words—the same people that other religious leaders put down. Jesus looked over the rag-tag lot of people who were poor and grieving and disparaged and said, “Blessed are you.” And then he doubled down in Matthew 5:13-16 by saying, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.”
As my friend, the Rev. Bill Steward, asked, “Has anyone ever received such a high compliment from such an unimpeachable source?” Let me explain. Although salt and light are the most ordinary things in the world to us, they were precious in Jesus’ day. So the crowd would have heard these words differently than we do.
Salt was a precious commodity.
In his book Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky argues that without salt, we would not have civilization as we know it. Once people figured out that salt could be used as a preservative, it made cities possible, and soldiers could take food with them on campaigns. Although commonplace today, he argues that until about 100 years ago, salt was one of the most prized commodities in the world.
- In Jesus’ day, soldiers were paid in salt. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Are you worth your salt?” Our words for salary and soldier come from the same word as salt.
- Beyond its preservative qualities, salt was used as a purifying/cleansing agent. It was used to clean everything from clothes to chimneys. It was considered so pure it was used in sacrifices to the gods. Got a toothache? Rub salt on your gums.
- And it was a seasoning. Everything touched by salt made it less bland. Because people put it on their greens, salt is also the root word for the word salad. The Romans had a saying that there isn’t anything that salt doesn’t make better.
Because salt was astonishingly valuable, you can see the impact of Jesus’ compliment. You are the salt of the earth. He was telling them that even if they don’t feel that way right now, the truth of their life is they are astonishingly valuable. He didn’t tell them, you will be the salt of the earth as soon as you get your act together. He didn’t say as soon as you get your dysfunctions functional again. He said right now, you are the salt of the earth.
How you are the salt of the earth.
The words Jesus spoke to those followers so long ago apply to you. You are the salt of the earth because:
- You help preserve the values of hard work and faith.
- You are purifying agents, helping to clean up the corruption and feeling that no one is trying to do the right things anymore.
- You are agents of healing to a broken and fragmented world.
- Your joy and gratitude for life and the people around you flavor the world.
The followers of Jesus give some flavor to a bland world. Now that we have lots of spices and flavors, Jesus might say, “You are the red-hot chili peppers of the world.” You are meant to spice it up, give it some depth, and a better flavor profile. You accomplish this by living a life where you make things better through your efforts and generosity and modeling a life that asks questions and seeks the good.
You are the salt of the earth. Have you ever received such a high compliment from such an unimpeachable source?
You are the light of the world.
Not only are you the blessed of God and the salt of the earth, but you are also the light of the world. Later Jesus called himself the light of the world. The same title he gave to himself, he provides to you. But it’s not so much a title as a job description. In Jesus’ day, the light at night was hard to come by. No easy switch flipping. You had to prepare lanterns.
Have you ever thought about making a job description for your role as a Christian? Right there at the top. Be the light of the world; be an inspiration. Use your God-given talents and abilities for the purpose of good. Make the world more user-friendly. Echoing Robert Louis Stevenson’s phrase, our call is to punch holes in the darkness of this world.
You may not know this, but you’ve got a good string going for you. Blessed. Salt of the earth. Light of the World.
Use it, don’t lose it.
And Jesus encourages you to keep it going. With the salt metaphor, he warns against losing saltiness. It’s curious because salt can’t really lose its saltiness, its essence. But it can be diluted, and back in Jesus’ day, unscrupulous merchants frequently cut in other white substances. Maybe he’s reminding us not to let those impurities cut into our role. Beware of the impurities of negative thoughts, and try too hard to blend into what other people do that doesn’t fit you.
Similarly, Jesus warns against putting a bushel basket over our lanterns. You are meant to shine, not play it small, not hide and think you’ve got nothing to offer. Whatever you have, abilities, kindnesses, and volunteerism you can produce is your light. Don’t hide it. If anything, amplify it.
One of the ways we amplify the shine is to come together as the church. When you bring your light near others, it transforms from a bunch of little flickering flames into a beacon of hope diffused over the whole city. We call that beacon church.
Bay Shore Church is the best-kept secret in Long Beach (but it shouldn’t be).
A while back, I heard someone say Bay Shore Church is the best-kept secret in Long Beach.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She said we’ve got the kind of church people can’t believe exists. We’ve got a positive message about accepting everyone, encouraging questioning, and helping people in need, but it feels like a best-kept secret. Someone might say, “Bay Shore Church? Isn’t that the church across the street from St. Bart’s? I vote there, but I don’t know much about it.”
I wonder if it isn’t time to let the secret out and amplify the light, so we become that beacon of hope to our region. The most fun part of singing “This Little Light of Mine” is when we ask, “Hide it under a bushel?” and everyone shouts, “No! I’m gonna let it shine.”
Hide it under a bushel? No!
We’ve got a great message here. The message of Jesus who loves people as they are and says they are as valuable as salt and light. What are we going to do? Hide it under a bushel? No!
We stand on the side of fairness and peace and justice and equality, seeing the dignity of all people as created in the image of God. We don’t condemn people who believe differently than we do but pray that they find a path that works for them. We care about protecting vulnerable people and our vulnerable planet. Are we going to hide this under a bushel? No!
We have an exceptional music program with many talented musicians who put their heart and soul into creating a context for worship that stirs our souls. When we have a special music Sunday like today, will you hide it under a basket by not inviting anyone to enjoy it with you? No!
Many people looking for a church go to Google and look at Yelp or the business profile page that is the first thing you see. Are you going to let a couple of negative and dubious comments on those pages put a bushel over our light when you could write something more positive yourself? Let it shine. (Click here for Google review, click here for Yelp review).
Look at all the things we do in this community. From the Christmas Families project to preparing and serving the monthly meal at COA to partnering with a dozen non-profits to help people worldwide. Are you going to let someone put a bushel over our mission because we can’t seem to raise enough volunteers to bring a casserole or serve someone once a month?
Look at all the things that happen in this church. This place is in use morning to night every day. We have 12-step groups, art groups, scouts, yoga, meditation, book groups, voting, and even a woman who teaches French to preschoolers. Will we let the bushel basket of deferred maintenance dim our shine, or will we get after it and make it a site of hope for the next 100 years?
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
I could go on. But know that when you volunteer. When you give. You let your light shine when you put yourself out there to meet new people who might be feeling like they are on the outside looking in. When you are generous with your time and resources, your light shines.
Please accept the good news of today. Jesus said you are the earth’s salt, the world’s light. Have you ever received such a high compliment from such an unimpeachable source? Amen.