On Being Salt and Light
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Sermon Text: Matthew 5:13-20
If your congregation is a part of the Moravian Church, you are, in fact, part of an organization that has been in existence for the better part of 2,000 years. While we, as a Moravian Church, are working on 570 years of existence, the Christian church, our most important affiliation, is working on more like 2,000. Yes, we are part of the very same church that the followers of Jesus formed through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, as it is recorded in the book of Acts. We will celebrate the start of that church on Pentecost Sunday in June.
That church, which at its start numbered less than two dozen, has grown to just over 2 billion people today. Amazing! And all the people who first heard Jesus preach the sermon in this week’s Gospel lesson were a dynamic part of that first Christian church. They were just starting their relationship with Jesus when they heard him say, “You are the salt of the earth…. you are the light of the world.”
Jesus didn’t say, “I created salt and light. Aren’t you happy that I did?” Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
These bold statements come as part of the sermon on the mount, which can be found in chapters 5,6 and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel. They are Jesus’ instructions to his new disciples. They are Jesus’ instructions to each of us today as we seek to be disciples in our world.
In Jesus’ day, salt was essential for preserving food since they had no refrigeration. It was essential to help rotting food taste better. When salt was used, there was no doubt that it was present. It changed everything about the food that it was used with.
The presence of light also changes everything. Today we are used to having an abundance of light. In our homes, we have light at the touch of a switch. Our towns and cities have streetlights every 25 yards or so. But in Jesus’ day, each home had a lamp that burned constantly, and at night it was the only thing that helped them to see. The presence of that lamp changed a dark room into a place where you could see to read or write; it allowed you to see the people with whom you might hold a conversation. Light changed everything about the room in which it was present. One would never light the lamp and hide it. What good would that do?
When Jesus first spoke these words, I think he was giving these disciples their first mission statement: “you are salt, and you are light. You are the ones that will make all the difference in the world by how you share my love.”
In the May 2016 Christianity Today Article, Mark Woods writes about why we are to be salt and light: “That’s who Christians are called to be. That sort of person is attractive to others because they look like Jesus. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American judge and writer, once said: ‘I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.’ The English poet, AC Swinburne, was reflecting on the victory of Christianity over paganism in the ancient world. He wrote: ‘Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean, the world has grown grey from thy breath.’ But Christians who are salt and light aren’t gloomy and grey. They are the most alive people of all.”
I read an article in the NY Times this past week about a farmer named Hody Childress from the small town of Geraldine, Alabama, who, every month for more than a decade, made anonymous cash donations to the town’s pharmacy, Geraldine Drugs, to help neighbors struggling to pay for prescription medication. The article goes on to say that Mr. Childress grew up poor with his family, who were subsistence farmers. He joined the Air Force and then got a job with Lockheed Martin for 20 years before retiring. His wife died from the complications of Multiple Sclerosis, and he knew well the stress of paying for medications even with his job. He knew those who were presently suffering in the poverty with which he grew up would be hard-pressed to afford any of the medicines they might need. So, every month he would secretly give the pharmacist at least a hundred dollars to pay for the medication someone might need. The pharmacist reported that it routinely paid for the medicines of at least two families per month.
Mr. Hody died just a few weeks ago, and only then did the wider community learn who was paying for the medicine. Now, his family and donors from across the United States have vowed to continue his legacy. Last week, the pharmacist received a check from someone in Tennessee. On Monday, a person called from Miami who told her that unless she needed the money, he was going to approach his local pharmacy and start his own Hody Childress account.
When Mr. Hody’s daughter was asked what motivated his generosity, she simply said: “Giving that way, that just got on his heart and he felt like he needed to do it.”
In a world awash with a me-first attitude, we can live by the values of God’s kingdom of being salt and light and making a difference in Jesus’ name. We can be the one who is willing to initiate reconciliation rather than division. One who is willing to work for the good of others.
Seeking to be the salt and light of the world can help us define a mission for our lives that finds its meaning in serving others. Thanks be to God.