“Let Your Light Shine”
by Jack Crandall
Delivered at North Anderson Community Church, Presbyterian and Portman Shoals Marina, “Ship’s Store” summer Congregation, June 26, 1993
“You have heard that it was said, `you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But i say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.
Forget everything you have ever heard about this passage. Forget the sermons on the flatness of food without salt. Forget that salt was used as money in many parts of the world. Forget that the ovens in which bread was baked were lined with salt, and that when enough grease had dripped on it to prevent it from flavoring the food, this salt was thrown out to keep the paths free from weeds, to be trampled underfoot. Forget that salt cures meat, heals wounds, removes bitterness from wine. Forget that according to health officials, most of us these days need to cut down on our salt consumption. We need to pay attention to those products that say “low salt. . . or low sodium. That too much salt is bad for our health. Being one who takes medication for high blood pressure, the words “you are salt” does not sound very inviting.
Let’s try to wipe all of this out of our minds, and hear a new thing about salt. This may have been closer to the image Jesus was meaning for us to hear when he employed this metaphor for his disciples. In ancient times, salt was considered to be the one thing that could not be denatured, that is its unique qualities and nature could not be altered. Mix it with water, and you get salty water. Put it in soup and you get salty soup. Add it to other ingredients as you might, salt is incorruptible. It was seen, in other words, as a gift from heaven to humankind as a sign of the holy in the world.
Therefore, salt became the medium by which things were dedicated to God. To purify an offering, one rubbed it with salt. To sanctify an altar, one sprinkled it with salt. Salt was the sign of the holy, the purifier. It was the universally understood symbol for the work of God in the world. The use of salt transcended cultural boundaries. Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Assyrians, and Hebrews, all understood -that salt sanctifies.
Now listen to Jesus words again: You are the salt of the earth. You are sanctifiers of the earth. You are to affirm the holiness of All That Is. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” In Jesus day, salt could never lose its saltiness; but people could. Someone said a dog can never be more or less than a dog, but a human being can indeed be less than human. Perhaps Jesus is saying that people are not worth their salt when they ignore the call to sanctify the life around them. . with something of the love, justice, mercy and grace of God all working through them.
Someone has written: “Just one man, Lord, that’s all it took. One man! Your man, of course. Telemachus. For all those centuries the Caesars had it all their own way. One jerk of the thumb and a gladiator died. Or a Christian.
Telemahus didn’t even live in Rome. Why should he care? But he did. He ran into the arena with his cross shouting: “Stop in the name of the Lord!” The crowd got mad. Mad, mad, MAD! They took sticks and stones and beat him to death. MAD!!!! But it stopped. One look at that mangled body and it stopped! No more gladiators. No more thumbs jerking. No more dying for sport. It stopped! Because of Telemachus and his cross.
But our saltiness may not be called upon to affect such a dramatic change. There’s a Roman Catholic magazine published in Chicago called “Salt”, and it’s devoted to the sort of folks that you wouldn’t expect to find on a magazine cover: sixty-six year old Joe Felice, who runs a lunch program in Geneva New York; Thelma “Granny” Buchner, a huggable Minneapolis foster mother; Bernard Klein, a small-town Illinois agitator working for fair housing. Such are the galleries of “nobody” featured in “Salt” – persons who though they may not make the evening news by leading some demonstration or risking martyrdom by speaking out against unjust inhumane governments, they are salt just the same. They are all Heroes in the struggle to sanctify all of life as the arena where the love, mercy, peace and justice of God is to be felt. You, I, we are the means by which God seeks to make the world holy. But if we cannot–will not accomplish this- if we become unholy-then what? If not through us, by what means will God sanctify this world, created to be good but fallen into pollution and desecration? If we, who call ourselves “children of God” will not be holy, not be salt, will not be used to sanctify, will not allow ourselves to be purified, with what. shall God’s will be done? How will the salt be made salty again?
To be salt, as in the parable, to truly be an influence of life-enhancement in the world, we must be in touch with the Source of salt, the source who empowers us to be salty. At the same time we must be in touch with the persons and situations where God’s sanctifying love, mercy, peace or justice are so desperately needed.
Jesus also says to us, “you are the light of the world.” The utter darkness of night before electrification is unknown to most of us. In Jesus day, light was necessary to get around in the interior rooms of houses even in the daytime. The way to spread more light in a room was to put the lamp on a stand that would elevate it and thus spread its dim glow across a larger space. To cover a lamp not only blocked its light, it took away its source of oxygen which put out the light altogether.
In Jesus’ day, the rabbis used to refer to God as the “light of the world”, and Jesus used this phrase to describe for those listening to him on the mountainside. The phrase “light of the world” is found only in one other place in Scripture- in the Gospel of John. There Jesus says, “I am the light: of the world. So, if we take these two texts together, we hear Jesus describing both himself and his disciples with the same metaphor They were clearly invited to share in his purpose . To bring about the reign of God.
For the ordinary people who were following Jesus that day, these words seemed high and magnificent. It was comparable to Jesus saying, “You sit with me on the right hand of God.”. We too are called the light of the world.
We are light not for our own personal comfort, security and insight; we are light in order that the darkness of others may be illuminated to the extent they are able to see their incomparable worth to the heart of God. Whenever, wherever we are confronted by a human being or a system with need, there is an opportunity for the Light to shine through us .. by a word or gesture of affirmation, by listening, by giving money and time, or by speaking the truth, in love, as Margaret reminds us. Such good works are a kind of epiphany in themselves, revealing God’s presence to those around us
Zona Gale writes: “He understood what is that we are trying to work out. He was very old, and from the secret swing of planets to the secret decencies in human hearts, he understood. I used to watch him watering his lawn, scattering food for the woodpecker, sweeping the crossing before his house. It was not that there was light about him, visible to the eye as in old paintings. Rather, an influence came from him in little breaths. When we were with him we became other. He saw us all as if we were that which we dreamed ourselves. He saw the town already clothed on for its tomorrow” He saw the world, beating like a heart, beating like a heart. “And how is it with you? “ But he answered both questions by the look in his eyes. For he had come to quietness. He had come to the place where sun and moon meet and where the spaces of the heavens open their doors. He was understanding and love and silence He was the voice of these, as he fed the woodpecker
You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world!
Lois Duffield, A/N, M/A ’83, p.36
Zona Gale, A/N, J/A