February 5, 2017
Matthew 5: 13-16
Light and salt are both in great abundance in our culture.
Go to Home Depot; there is a whole aisle of many different types of light bulbs.
LEDs, CFLs, incandescent, fluorescent.
Go to Woodman’s; salt comes in many sizes and colors and flavors.
There is even low sodium salt!
This abundance and variety remind me of how many different Christian denominations there are.
Consider the Mennonites: there are over 100 different Mennonite association of churches. Many of them are splinter groups. Paradoxically or shamefully, a core value of Mennonites is peacemaking.
I pick on the Mennonites because I am one of them, ordained by the Mennonite Church, USA.
Let’s reflect on light and go back in time:
Perhaps you have been to Hearthstone Historic House in Appleton.
It is the first house in the world lit with an Edison hydroelectric station. The date was 1882, 135 years ago.
Perhaps you have visited some of the Midwestern log cabins from the mid 1800’s:
I stand in those places and wonder how folks kept warm in the deep winter and how they could see with so few windows and so few lamps.
Let’s go way back to Jesus’ time.
There is very little night time activity in the gospels:
Jesus praying in a lonely place before sunrise.
Before the feeding of the 5000, the disciples are concerned because it is evening, “send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves”. (Matthew 14.15)
Judas led a detachment of soldiers with lanterns and torches to the Garden of Gethsemane.
There are no flashlights or streetlamps. There is only the light of the moon. People stayed home!
Small wicker oil lamps gave little light in the average home which had few windows.
These lamps would be most effective if they were placed on a lampstand. Something large placed over them would extinguish the light.
Today we have light pollution, too much light.
Simply stated, light pollution is too much artificial light in the environment. Light pollution competes with starlight, disrupts ecosystems and has adverse health effects.
Let’s taste salt and go back in time:
Without salt humans and animals cannot live.
The demand for salt established the earliest trade routes.
Almost ten thousand years ago the city of Jericho was founded as a salt trading center.
Historically, salt had political power:
It was strategic in the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Perhaps you remember the Salt March in the movie, Gandhi.
The British controlled salt production in India. The locals were not even allowed to touch the salt that piled up on the beaches. Gandhi and the crowds who joined his campaign peacefully challenged that.
A great read is Salt: a world history by Mark Kurlansky.
Today salt is practically synonymous with processed foods.
According to the American Heart Association 75% of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed foods.
We only need 500 mg of sodium daily but the average is 3,400 mg daily.
Could we call it salt pollution?
Salt and light.
Both so mundane and yet so essential for life.
You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.
Lynn Bauman translates it:
You light the world. You salt the earth.
The Beatitudes tell who is salt and light.
The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.3)
If you are full of yourself and your gifts and accomplishments, you are rich in spirit,
The poor in spirit are those who don’t identify with their own righteousness or ego, it is non-identifying (Maurice Nicoll, The Psychological Commentaries, vol. 2)
The identity of the poor in spirit is rooted in their journey of faith and their powerlessness.
“If anyone wishes to be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up their cross and follow me”
As Paul remarks in I Corinthians, this is very different from the wisdom of this age.
There is a German word, “Gelassenheit” used by Jacob Boehme, a 17th c. German mystic.
Gelassenheit is yielding, letting go, surrendered will. It is not so much the diminishment of self. It is a vastly expanded inner spaciousness which true self can at last come to birth.
The poor in spirit are really not poor at all but truly alive!
In contrast to the poor in spirit are the religious folk of Isaiah 55.
They go through the motions of fasting and praying while serving their own self-interests. Their religiosity is not pleasing to God.
The poor in spirit, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, are not solitaries but part of a community. You is plural.
Matthew’s audience is people who gathered in house churches for table fellowship.
These groups are small, probably no more than 40 people.
These groups are on a shared journey of faith. They struggle together and they rejoice together.
They live on the threshold between the now and the not yet.
These groups are the salt of the earth and the light of earth.
This is truly remarkable.
These groups existed in a society shaped by Roman oppression, harsh temple rules, shame and honor. A society where a house church could feel powerless.
Today we would pay no heed to a church or group this size. We would think it inconsequential.
Many of us have had experiences of house churches or small groups.
These groups are intimate, organic, real. They are fertile ground for spiritual growth and transformative relationships, I met my husband, Dave in one!
These groups are not institutions. They come and go.
They are salt and light.
Jesus gives a warning:
Salt that is no longer good is thrown out, a light with a basket over it is worthless.
If you no longer have faith and no longer believe the gospel, you are good for nothing. You are like tasteless salt or an extinguished lamp.
If you have become an institution, be aware of the peril!
What Christ taught and what Christianity teaches are quite different things.
Martin Niemoller, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, was part of the Confessing Church in Germany. The Confessing Church stated that the church must be independent of political authority. The Confessing Church protested Hitler’s anti-Christian and anti-Semitic tendencies.
In a sermon preached in Berlin, 1936, Niemoller proclaimed:
The problem with which we have to deal is how to save Christian community at this moment from the danger of being thrown into the same pot as the world: that is to say: it must keep itself distinct from the rest of the world by virtue of its “saltiness”.
Shortly after this sermon, Pastor Niemoller was a sent to a concentration camp where he remained until 1945. He narrowly escaped execution.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.10).
The inner journey and outer witness are intertwined.
We become the poor in spirit as we do our inner work and are faithful to our spiritual disciplines.
Then we salt the earth and light the world.
A collective ethical action emerges
Our being and our action reflect the heart of God.
Logion 24 of the Gospel of Thomas states:
Whoever has an ear for this
should listen carefully!
Light shines out from the center of a being of light
and illuminates the whole cosmos.
Whoever fails to become light
is a source of darkness.
In the words of Isaiah 58:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
And your healing shall spring up quickly;
Your vindicator will go before you,
The glory of the Most High shall be your rear guard.
Then you will call and God will answer;
You will cry for help,And God will say, Here I am.
I close with a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, written in 2001 but prophetic for these times:
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire….. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.