A sermon on Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 preached on February 9th, 2014
Jesus continues his sermon on the mount with these words. Last week, we looked at the beatitudes where Jesus pours blessings upon those who are most likely not to receive the blessing of the world. The poor in spirit, the meek, and the oppressed among us.
Through his first sermon, Jesus is setting up the scaffolding for his entire ministry. It’s a ministry based on going out to where the people are and blessing them. Jesus will live his life traveling from place to place to be where the people are. Throughout the gospels Jesus and his disciples traveled from village to village, healing those who were outcasts. Offering a word of invitation and welcome to those who had been cast out because they were too sick to be welcomed in by others. Jesus spent his life connecting with whoever would listen—whoever had ears and hearts open wide enough to hear and obey.
Being a disciple of Jesus is a field trip. Life as followers of Jesus calls us to engage the world with good news—to go out and make Christ known to others simply by sharing ourselves with others and letting others know that God’s blessings are still plentiful
We live the life that Jesus calls us to when we immerse ourselves into the life of our neighbors, our community, and our world.
After Jesus pours out blessings upon those who are not blessed by the world, Jesus gives us a unique calling with these worlds from the sermon on the mount: you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
These days when we use the phrase “salt of the earth” we mean something different that what Jesus meant it by it. When we describe someone as “salt of the earth” these days, we’re saying that we think he or she is an unblemished example of what God intends for a person to be—they might live an ethical life, they’re nice to everyone, they’re annoyingly flawless—the always cheerful ones, the ones who brush their teeth three times a day and floss too, the ones who always make it to church no matter what.
We’ve co-opted the phrase to mean someone who’s as close to perfect as any human being can be. But when Jesus uses the phrase, he’s saying something entirely different. Jesus isn’t describing status or even behavior, but function. We are to function in the world as salt functions when you use it in a recipe. What Jesus is saying is that we should add a kick of flavor to a decisively bland world.
So, in order to understand Jesus better, let’s leave salt behind and let’s substitute another seasoning into this recipe that Jesus is conjuring up. Instead of salt, let’s be cilantro.
Jesus says, “You are the cilantro of the earth.”
We’re seasoning that this world needs, and a dash of us sprinkled on top of and then stirred into the world gives it the kick it’s missing. What does Emeril Lagasse say? “Bam!”
See, when Jesus calls us “cilantro”, he’s saying we’re here to save a world from becoming too ordinary, dull even. Jesus is saying we live to add zest to life.
Notice the way Jesus says we are cilantro. He doesn’t say we can be cilantro or he’s making us into cilantro. We don’t hope to become cilantro. Jesus says we already are cilantro. That is how we live in the world as disciples of Jesus. We’re here to kick everything up a notch.
Cilantro and salt are no good on their own. I figured that out the hard way back in high school when a couple of friends and I played truth or dare, and someone dared me to eat a heaping teaspoon of salt. It was terrible. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.
That night I found out that salt is no good on its own. Salt has to be used on or in something to find its purpose. A little cilantro in a bowl of salsa and you have an excellent way to use tortilla chips, but no one’s ever had a plate of cilantro for dinner. Neither salt nor cilantro are any good on their own. They are intended to be used as a part of a bigger recipe. Jesus wants us out there mixing ourselves into the world. Jesus is out there calling us to be fully immersed in our community so we can add some flavor to it. Jesus is telling us that we serve our best purpose as his disciples when we mix ourselves up and blend ourselves into the recipe of the world.
I’m no scientist, but as I understand it, light works in the same way. In order for light to work, it has to reflect off of something. Until light bounces off a wall or anything at all for that matter, it isn’t yet light. Light to needs something to shine onto before it serves a purpose. We are the light of the world: no matter where we are, we reflect off of everything around us so that others may see things more clearly.
As Christ’s disciples, we shed light in dark places, we illuminate dim corners, we lend radiance to the world’s gloominess. And remember, Jesus isn’t saying we can be light if we feel like it or try hard enough. Jesus isn’t saying that we can be light when we want to, Jesus is saying we already are the light of the world. We are the one’s who shine God’s light so that no one needs to stumble their way through the darkness. We are light so that others can find their way.
Jesus wants us out in the world shining brightly, sharing our light with others, reflecting off of something. Just like light itself, we are only useful when we immerse ourselves into the world so that others may see again. This is our calling as disciples of Jesus. To be salt and light. We are called to plunge ourselves into the world. To give the world taste and texture, definition and shape.
Many of us in Barboursville met in the basement of First United Methodist Church last Tuesday evening. A couple of early birds showed up and gathered around 6 tables, and by the time 7 o’clock came around we had 8 or 10 tables gathered in a much larger shape—and even then there wasn’t enough room for everybody around those tables. And it’s good that we all seemed to agree that we as a Christian community here in Barboursville need to begin some sort of outreach program to take care of those in our community who need extra help and resources.
We decided to start off by scheduling a monthly soup kitchen at 1st UMC, with the meal provided by a specific church each month. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also discussed the idea of providing kids with tutoring, visiting the area guidance counselors and teachers to find out from them what the specific needs of our community really are. And it sounds like the Barboursville Police Department will be a very helpful partner in this task, providing us with their expertise and insight into who needs our help. People are thinking three dimensionally to help alleviate both the causes and the results of poverty in Barboursville.
It is when we extend ourselves outward into our own neighborhood and answer the call of those who are suffering, that we serve Christ—that we act as salt for the earth and as light for the world.
How else can we be salt and light for the world? Is there something burning inside of you that the world needs to see? What gifts have you been given that would add flavor to either this church or to our community? Is it painting or singing? Playing an instrument during a worship service? Could it be tutoring a child across town on a Tuesday afternoon or spending an hour or two being a listening presence to a person who’s hurting? It is making art? Swinging a hammer? Reading to a child? Teaching an adult in our community to read?
You are salt. You are light. Jesus calls us out into the world to make it more vibrant and zesty—to share a bit of the good news of the life and light that we find in Jesus Christ.
Now might be an important time to say that we do none of these things because we think it will earn our salvation. If we live our lives trying to earn our way onto God’s good side, then we’re not doing what we do for a good reason. We don’t earn God’s favor. It is only God’s grace through Jesus Christ that has earned us anything. All of our efforts to make the world a better place, everything we do to share ourselves with others as salt and light, should not be seen as our way of gaining our salvation, but as our grateful and joyful response for what has already and freely been given to us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The love that God has for us is so great that we cannot help but share it with others.
This is how we should live and serve—in grateful response to God’s amazing and gracious love for us. This is how we should live—immersed in the world, infusing it with flavor and brightness.
We are salt for the earth and light for the world.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.