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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 2/9/2014

If I was doing your funeral and described you as someone who was “salt of the earth” that would be a good thing wouldn’t it?  I think so.  When I think of “salt of the earth” I think, decent, dependable, good to be around, someone who adds something positive to life, especially to the life of others.  So if I said that about you, you’d be as happy as you could be under the circumstances, your loved ones would be happy, the funeral lunch would taste better.  Well, this isn’t your funeral, but in today’s gospel someone is calling you “salt of the earth” and note that in this part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus doesn’t say, “Here’s what you have to do to be the salt of the earth,” he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” 

It’s another case where Jesus doesn’t give us how to manual.  So often we want to turn the things he says into law, you have to do this or that or the other thing, but Jesus really didn’t do that very often; he was more subtle, more indirect in how he got his points across.  With this statement, he makes a declaration, “you are,” and then leaves it for us to figure out what that means.  The temptation for people like me is to think that I have to tell you what it means, to tell you the different ways salt can be used and the different things salt does and then what you have to do to be a salty disciple, a salty Christian; but that turns it into law and as I said last week, the Sermon on the Mount is closer to wisdom material than it is to law.  More and more I think what all of us are supposed to do is to play around with the image and the possibilities that come with it, not just in general but specifically for you.

We are talking about discipleship here; this is an image that Jesus uses in getting at what being a disciple is all about but it is a declarative statement; we are already what we’re supposed to be not because of the potential Jesus sees in us but simply because he says so.  It’s not a challenge to try harder; it’s more of a challenge to believe we are what Jesus says we are, that we are the salt of the earth.  That’s kind of interesting though.  Most often we think about Christian faith as believing that Jesus is who he and others say that he is, especially believing that he is the Christ, the Messiah.  Here though, faith and being a disciple is believing that we are who Jesus says we are.

The God of the Bible, the God that Christians describe as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a God in relationship with humanity.  Both the Old Testament and the New bear witness to the relationship.  God is not fully who God is supposed to be without us and we’re not fully who we’re supposed to be without God.  When we talk about God then, we’re also talking about ourselves because the God we worship is not just aloof and other and out there; the relationship matters. In the case of Jesus and the incarnation, it’s a God with us and for us, a God who, among other things, declares us to be the salt of the earth.  Being a disciple of Jesus includes believing that about ourselves. 

With that statement though, in calling us the salt of the earth, potential does work into it because Jesus is saying that we do have the potential to change things because that’s what salt does.  The chances are that it won’t be in dramatic, attention getting ways but just as the person described as salt of the earth at a funeral has made a difference in the lives of others, so can we make a difference as salt of the earth followers of Jesus.  Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus offers ideas and images intended to help us figure out what that difference looks like.  It’s not law though, it’s wisdom, it’s prophetic wisdom intended to help us be who Jesus says we already are.

Jesus also says that we are the light of the world.  Light is a familiar image and symbol for us.  We light candles in church at every worship service to represent the presence of Christ.  Light always plays a significant role during the season of Advent as the light from the candles on the Advent wreath increases each week while the December light outside decreases.  Then at Christmas you get Jesus as the light shining in the darkness with the lights on trees and wreaths in and around the church and our homes acting as a reminder of that.  Then, during the season of Epiphany light continues to be a symbol starting with the star that led the Wise Men and also as light is shed on the identity of Jesus. 

But that’s all about Jesus.  We’re familiar with Jesus as the light of the world but in this reading today Jesus says, “YOU are the light of the world.”  It’s another declarative statement applied to us, one that we’re probably more comfortable having applied to Jesus.  Like the salt of the earth statement though, this is about discipleship.  It’s another image that helps us figure out what it means to be a disciple and it includes the admonition to let our light shine.  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

Maybe you’re thinking though, isn’t there someplace where Jesus says not to attract attention to ourselves, to give alms in secret, to pray in secret, to fast in secret so as not to be seen by others?  The answer would be yes, Jesus does say all that, in fact it’s in the very next chapter of Matthew, another part of the Sermon on the Mount and it doesn’t sound like letting your light shine.  What it is though, is further evidence that this is prophetic wisdom rather than law.

“Let your light shine” and “don’t do things to be seen by others” do seem to contradict each other, but think about some other familiar pearls of wisdom.  When gorgeous Penny and nerdy Leonard are romantically involved on the Big Bang Theory we say that “opposites attract.”  When the brilliant but socially inept Sheldon and the equally brilliant and socially inept Amy are a couple we say “birds of feather flock together.”  So which saying is true?  Likewise, is it “Look before you leap” or “He who hesitates is lost?”  “Only fools rush in” or “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead?”  You get the idea.

Both of the statements in these pairs are true depending on the situation and that’s also true with these sayings of Jesus that seem to contradict each other.  Depending on the circumstance both can be true because again, this is wisdom, not law.  Today though we focus on being light and letting our light shine as we hear these words that are always said at the time of a baptism and the call is to make these words our own.

Individually and as the church we are to be what we are intended to be.  We are to be what Jesus has declared us to be, the salt of the earth and light for the world, doing the good works that reveal us as such.  Jesus does provide direction on what he means “good works”, but still, like the prophets before him, he doesn’t provide a laundry list of specifics.  He leaves it for each of us to determine the specifics, which in the long run is more meaningful anyway.

What these verses bring out though is that being disciples includes believing in ourselves.  Christian faith isn’t just faith in God it’s faith in ourselves, believing that we are the salt of the earth, that we are the light of the world, believing that we do make a positive difference not by virtue of our own goodness, but because Jesus says so.  In that respect faith is about us, but it also isn’t about us, because in being salt and light we don’t glorify ourselves, we glorify God.  That’s what we do when we are who Jesus declares us to be.  We are the salt of the earth.  We are the light that shines into a broken world.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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