The scripture for this sermon is Matthew 5:13-16.
I heard a number of years ago about a man that died of a heart attack on an airplane flight. Everyone on board was in a panic. Some were trying to help the guy, but one man that did not enter the mayhem turned out to be a doctor. When asked why, he said that malpractice suits being the way they are, he just didn’t think it was worth the risk.
A friend of mine told me this story. Former college friends in their mid twenties had a big summer cookout. The kids of these couples were all under five and they were running around playing drinking kool-aid, while the grownups ran around playing drinking alcohol. A father, pretty soused by this time, started rough housing with his son. He dropped his three year old, so that he landed on his head and lay in a little crooked ball. The party stopped. Everyone ran to the little boy. Thankfully after seconds that seemed like hours, he looked up, crying, but okay. The father confessed to my friend he just wanted a day when he could be carefree again like in college.
Final story, another friend of mine was on a flight home and a pretty, woman and her daughter sat next to him on the plane. They got to talking and she got excited when she heard he was a pastor. Her boyfriend was too and she was headed to meet his parents. He asked how they met, and she said at her work. Oh, what do you do? I am a stripper. My boyfriend was one of my best customers for years. We are getting married in the fall.
All three men were trying to pretend to be someone they were not any longer. Once you are a medical doctor, you can’t sit by while a man dies of a heart attack, regardless of the potential legal penalty. Once you are a father, you can’t pretend, not even for one sunny day in July that you are not responsible for another life. Once you are a pastor, you can’t pretend every Friday night at the Kitty Kat Lounge that you are just another travelling salesman. You have a new identity, doctor, father, pastor, and that identity stays with you always.
On that day on the mount, when Jesus gathered to teach his disciples he was telling the same thing. Once you become my disciple, you are always my disciple. Being baptized changes us. We become salt and light for the world. Jesus is not telling us to work hard at being better salt or light. He is not saying, some day after a faithful life we will become salt and light. He is telling us, from the moment of our baptism we are salt and light.
Salt’s sole purpose is to exist for something else. Disciples exist for God’s Kingdom. We use salt to make stuff better. Disciples are called to make stuff better, too, God’s world. Salt can’t lose its saltiness, but it can be diluted, too little added to too much. We lose our saltiness when we serve God’s world alone, outside of the church. Together, our best works are amplified. Together we season God’s creation just right.
Light exists solely to reveal something else. As disciples, we exist solely to reveal God to the world. Light works best when placed in center of the room. It is worthless when hid under something. Our actions reveal God best, when they are done clearly, intentionally and honestly. We are not to draw attention to ourselves, but we aren’t Secret Santas, either. Like salt, light has the greatest impact when it is gathered together. The more light in one spot, the brighter, the greater the illumination will be. When disciples gather as church they reveal God most clearly to the world in darkness.
Disciples of Christ are salt and light. We are not becoming salt and light. We are not salt and light some days and not others. We are always salt and light. We are always Christ’s disciples. This is a blessing. We have a great role to play. We exist to reveal God to the world. This isn’t about doing good works. This is about being Christ in every moment, accepting our role to heal God’s world.
We can take our grain of salt and live away from the church and lose our saltiness. We can take our light and hide it. We can deny the name child of God we were given. But like the doctor, the father and the pastor, when we deny who we have become, God’s world is hurt. When disciples deny their identity, people are left in darkness; their lives are lived without the seasoning God had hoped.
I sent out a number of emails last week to members of our church asking them how God has used them for His purposes. What I was asking was how have you been salt and light in your life last week? I got a flood of responses.
Many talked about their jobs. Three nurses shared how daily they are called to care for those who are hurting, scared and alone. One nurse told me she feels a special call to bear hope to families when a life of someone they love ends. Three teachers responded with stories of compassion for their students, knowing they have full and difficult lives they are dealing with beyond their classrooms. One talked of her encouragement to younger teachers afraid of cuts in their district. A secretary told me she tries to make her desk a safe place for people to be heard and encouraged. A salesman shares that more important than selling things is that people trust that he is honest and dedicated to their interests. A doctor told a story of giving a ride home to a young patient who had walked three miles to see him. Several told me when they are doing the best they can at their job with the gifts they have been given, they feel confident they are being used for God’s purposes.
Many responded to my email with stories of helping strangers and neighbors in the last few days. One member helped push a woman’s stalled car out of an intersection in rush hour. Another in the midst of very difficult personal circumstances was uplifted when she gave to a charity for homeless people outside a Wal-Mart. One couple for the last few months has been helping a neighbor with cancer move to an apartment. Another member stayed with a friend who lives alone for the last few days as she recovers from surgery. One gave encouragement to a guy who felt like he failed and wondered whether to continue.
One husband responded by saying how his wife revealed God to him, by caring for their household in a difficult two week stretch at his office. He was humbled and appreciative of her sacrifice. Another spends hours weekly helping the homeless find new life and cries at the opportunities she is given. Several detailed how they have helped our ministries here in a good and appreciated ways.
Finally, one man wrote that he feels empty and lost and not a part of God’s plan. He is having financial problems even though they have tried so hard. It feels as though he is being punished and he doesn’t know why. I know and love this man. He and his family come to worship every Sunday and serve with us in many valuable public ministries throughout the week. They are a source of joy, laughter and encouragement for all of us. They are important to our ministry together.
Even though he doesn’t feel like salt and light, by being true to his identity, his salt and light cannot be diluted or hidden. God is revealed for us, by his light, and he doesn’t even realize it. Even when we feel we have lost our saltiness or our light is extinguished, if we stay in the community of Christ, it simply is not possible.
We are salt and light. Our sole purpose as disciples is to reveal God to a world hungry for salt and struggling in the darkness. Accept this. Live this. Be blessed by this gift and bless God’s world with this gift. Amen.