Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”  Words that leave all who hear them with work to do.  On the earth; for the world.  These words, coming as they do within that great teaching moment – Jesus on the hillside; he’s laying out the framework for faith – building a platform on which the promised kingdom of God might rest.  “Blessed are they…blessed are they…”; Jesus urges his hearers to faithfulness, compassion, humility and the peaceful pursuit of justice.  And then this – Salt of the earth; light of the world.  This is the only mission statement the church needs, and we don’t really know what to make of it.

Oh, we know about mission, all right – mission is that thing that the church supports, isn’t it?  That overseas work that we entrust to missionaries and Presbyterian World Service & Development – and this is certainly one aspect of “mission”.  But THE MISSION of the church – the reason we gather, the reason we organize ourselves, the reason we exist is to be Salt and Light.

The knowledge of God to which Jesus calls us – the work of God in which we are welcome to participate – the promises of Scripture and our identification as a covenant people; all these things mark us as different, and Jesus description reminds us just how different.  We are to be salty – brilliant; we are called to be like those two elemental things which are most often noticeable by their absence.

On those Thursdays when we gather to make soup, our ‘chief taster’ (aka Gerald) will let us know when our offering of the day ‘needs salt!’  Most of us can tell pretty quickly when the salt shaker has been stowed away – it’s the first thing we reach for when at the dinner table.

Likewise, the first thing some of us do when entering a dark room, is…stub our toe.  THEN we turn on a light.

Salt gives flavour to things by enhancing the flavour of all the other things we cook with; it is versatile and plentiful – so valuable in the ancient world  that it supported the economy for empires – much as oil does now.  Light shows us things that would otherwise be hidden from our sight, and then helps us chart our path through even the most familiar spaces.  For many, light is the thing that quenches fear, and salt is the purifying element that lets healing begin – and in the work of the church; in every mission project taken on by the AMS, or PWS&D, where ever the people of God are gathered or sent, we too must be salt and light.

It is with this hope that every missionary journey begins – from John and Charlotte Geddie in the New Hebrides, to Donald Walker and Marion  in Ghana – each and every person called to overseas work is aware that the gift of the Gospel of Christ has the potential to reveal things that may have been hidden; to lift he veil of darkness and fear, and to bring cleansing and healing to those who have been broken by oppression and injustice.  And while our understanding for mission work may be the liberation of lives half a world away, it is clear that Jesus meant much more than that.

Jesus mission never took him beyond the borders of his own country.  His call to be ‘salt and light’ was local and immediate.  His teaching would have a global impact only after his followers accepted the challenge for their own lives, in their own communities.  And Jesus’ example gave them a pattern to follow.

You don’t think Jesus was ‘salty’?  (a term that has come to have negative implications, as in “his language is a little salty”)  You don’t think having Jesus in their midst didn’t spice up the ordinary lives of the people of Galilee?  Think again.

Calling God by name – using terms of endearment (Abba = Daddy); taking principled positions on current events and in religious debates that aligned him with God’s definitions of mercy and justice – positions that were often contrary to the prevailing civil and religious authority.  Jesus revealed the promised safety and certainty of those powerful people as a sham, and offered the promises of God for the healing of all.

Jesus shed light on those who had been thrust into the dark corners of his society – and that light revealed those outcasts and strangers as children of God.  He loved the loveless and touched the untouchable; Jesus reached out to those whom religion and culture had abandoned, and redefined the ‘kingdom of God’.

Through Scripture and the present, powerful work of the Spirit, Jesus still calls us; challenging all who would follow him to share in the task of revealing the things of God and reviving God’s broken world.

The call to be salt and light is a call to action.  Beyond worship, beyond an historical appreciation for “the role of the church in our lives”, beyond any sense of eternal security that comes with faith, we are called to live as Jesus lived.  To speak the truth to power; to ‘spice things up’ by offering friendship and courtesy where none was expected; to offer the light of hope – the hope of death defeated, and robbed of its power – to those caught in the deep gloom of hopelessness; and we are called to do that here, and now.  The opportunity to live out our calling – to engage in the mission of Christ – is always at hand.  The work of the church, even when it seems to have little effect, is indispensable.  It is, as salt and light, most noticeable when it is absent and the good news is that by the grace of God, we are still here.  Thanks be to God that we are – even now – living out that call to be salt and light, for Jesus’ sake – to God’s glory.  Amen


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