Salt and Light - A Sermon for Pentecost 24 B (Matthew 5)
Our stewardship theme this year asks the question: What Shall We Bring? The sermon text for next Sunday is Micah 6:8, which asks this very question: “What does the Lord require?” As we think about these questions, I can share this word from the introductory material that guides our season: “Stewardship is about more than money. It is a whole life response to the abundant generosity of God.” Of course, money is part of the equation, but stewardship is about more than that, as we see in today’s scripture.
The word of the Lord for us today comes from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is sitting on a hillside, somewhere in Galilee. He’s delivering what we call the Sermon on the Mount. When we hear these words about Salt and Light, it’s good to know that Jesus has just finished revealing the Beatitudes. He tells the people what it means to be blessed. There are different blessings accorded to different kinds of people, ranging from the poor to the peacemakers. Then we hear Jesus tell the crowd that they are salt and light, and that they should act accordingly. So, be salty and let your light shine. You might even try singing, as you do so, “This little mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”
When it comes to being salty and letting our light shine, it’s good to remember that the God who calls us to be salt and light is by definition love, which makes Jesus love incarnate.
Last Sunday Tom Oord opened his sermon by revealing his desire to live each day a life of love. But what does it mean to live a life of love? As we seek to answer that question, we can think back to last weekend, when Tom Oord defined love as being intentional, self-giving, and others empowering. He also reminded us that God is spirit, and as spirit, God lacks a corporeal body. Therefore, if God is going to express this intentional, self-giving, others-empowering love, then God will need partners to put this love into action. Perhaps no one has better defined what this means than St. Teresa of Avila.
"Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world."
This is what it means to be salt and light.
The question of the day is: What shall we bring? The answer is this: We bring our bodies and put them in service to Jesus, so that we might be the salt that flavors the life of the community, and the light shining into the darkness, revealing areas of injustice, oppression, and marginalization, so that transformation can take place. This has stewardship implications. Being salt and light includes our financial giving, but it includes much more. Stewardship is a “whole-life response to the generosity of God” by bearing witness to God’s grace and love, which God is continually creating for us to share in as we live our lives in the world. It takes many forms.
Whatever form it takes, Jesus said this about being a light. He told the crowd that when you light a lamp, you don’t put it under a bushel basket. No, you put it on a lamp stand, so it can do its job of shining light into the world. When we do this, when we let our light shine, God is glorified. This is what we call evangelism, which is the act of sharing God’s good news with the world in word and in deeds.
Perhaps there is no better example of being this light that shines in the darkness than Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. We’ve been working through the Book of Daniel in the Wednesday afternoon Bible study. The first six chapters tell stories about four Jewish exiles living in Babylon. All four find themselves in positions of leadership in the kingdom, but not everyone appreciates this fact. Some are bothered because they’re foreigners, but mostly it’s because of the God they worshiped. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego are thrown into a fiery furnace, while Daniel is thrown into a den of lions, all because they won’t deny their God. It’s in these dangerous situations they become salt and light. They bear witness to a greater allegiance than to the empire that employed them. They demonstrate through their faithfulness that faith in God transcends nation and culture. In each case they’re delivered, and praise is given to the God of Israel by the kings involved. While things seem to end well for Daniel and his friends, I realize not everyone experiences deliverance. Nevertheless, I think the stories of Daniel and his friends demonstrate what it means to be salt and light by being a faithful witness even in challenging times.
Next Sunday we will observe Commitment Sunday. We’ll give thanks for the pledges of money, time, and talents that are being made by members and friends of this congregation. Then we’ll have a meal of Thanksgiving, both at the Table of the Lord and then at the Tables in the Fellowship Hall. These commitments that we make to the ministry of this church are themselves expressions of our faith in God, and encourage opportunities to be salt and light.
I could put this a bit differently. Stewardship involves being salt and light by sharing in the mission of God in the world. It’s a mission, in which we join with God expressing God’s love and grace in the world, beginning with the communities we inhabit. In my mind, for the congregation, this means the city of Troy. While we might not all live in Troy, the building lives in Troy, which means we have a special calling to be salt and light in this community.
With regard to this community, we can start by praying for the residents, the workers, the leaders. I know at least some of these leaders. I respect some of them, and have less respect for others. Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn into the life of the community, both as a citizen and as a pastor. In these roles, I’ve tried to be salt and light. One of the ways I’ve been doing this in recent years is by serving as a chaplain for the Troy Police Department. In this capacity, I had the privilege of offering the benediction at the retirement ceremony for Gary Mayer, who until Thursday, served as the Chief of Police. Some of you have met him, since Gary spoke from this pulpit last February when we honored First Responders. Before I gave my prayer, I told the gathering why I became a chaplain. I told them that I chose to answer the call to be a chaplain because of Gary’s integrity, compassion, and humility. In other words, I knew him to be salt and light, especially in times of crisis in our community. For that reason, I am a chaplain. It is a place where I can give of myself as salt and light in this community.
Each of us will find ways of being salt and light. We may be tempted to let the saltiness of our lives lose its flavor. We might be tempted to hide our light under a bushel. My prayer is that we will heed the call by being salty and shining our light into a world in turmoil. All around us we see and hear voices raised in fear and anger. Sometimes these voices erupt into violence, like when an armed man entered a synagogue and killed eleven worshipers. By being salt and light we can offer the world a different way of living, one that brings healing and wholeness. It’s not an easy path, but it is the path of stewardship. That is, it is our response to God’s generosity.
While this might not sound like an act of stewardship, I do believe it is an act of being salt and light in our community. That act involves voting this coming Tuesday. As your pastor I can’t and won’t tell you how to vote, but I can both encourage you to vote and to do so with being salt and light in mind. In other words, vote as one who loves your neighbor as yourself. You might also want to pray for the people who will be coming through our doors on Tuesday to vote here.
It’s easy to equate stewardship with budgeting. After all, we take into account the financial commitments of the congregation when we make our budget, which supports staff, the building, programs, and mission. Nonetheless, stewardship is about more than the budget. It’s about being salt and light, so that in the end we might give glory to God.
Stewardship is an answer to the question: What shall we bring? We are gifted in many ways, so let’s not hide our gifts. Instead, let’s make good use of what God provides so that our saltiness might flavor the world and our lights might shine into the darkness of a broken world, so that the world might experience God’s love and find wholeness. Or as Amy Oden puts it: “neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out.”
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
November 4, 2018