Salt & Light - Written by Guest Preacher Susan Mather
- Sunday, February 5, 2017
- By Sarah S
Matthew 5, 13-20
Let us pray: Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light. Amen
May I say that you are looking like a very salty group of Christians here today! You may like to consider how an hour glass symbolizes the salt mentioned in this scripture. “You are the salt of the earth.” We’ll come back to this. If we were to go back to Jesus’ time, calling you “salty” would be a very great compliment. Today being called “salty” would probably not be taken as such positive remark. In ancient times, salt was very precious. It was used to preserve food before the time of refrigeration, a healer, an antiseptic, a cleanser and was traded as a commodity of great value. In the Old Testament God used a Covenant of Salt as a symbol of a perpetual promise between himself and David. In fact, salt was as valuable then as gold is today. Jesus tells the disciples that they must be the “salt of the earth”. What does this mean? Jesus is using salt, as a metaphor for Christ and if people are to represent Christ, we must allow ourselves, our own egos to diminish, to take second place to the Christ within. Like salt, the Christ within is precious; it is a preserver; it is a healer. It can heal us and save us as we heal and save others.
Christians today, we who are Jesus’ disciples in the 21st c, must first look within to find and identify the salt that is Christ. But, how can we do this? The answer can be found in the Beatitudes just before this scripture about Salt and Light, which are both parts of Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount. Robin talked to us about this last week. Jesus explains that the disciples needed to have certain traits in order to represent God in the world. The traits he describes are an enigma to us because we don’t understand how we can make a difference in the world if we are poor in spirit or meek or persecuted for example. Yet if one thinks of the opposite trait in each of the Beatitudes, one finds self interest. The antithesis of poor in spirit and meek: arrogant, the opposite of peacemaker: conflict inciter, the converse of persecuted: bully. Surely these describe some of the most sinful of human behaviours, traits that are only concerned with self Interest and not God interest…traits that do not emanate from the Christ within but are rather the self serving, ego parts of ourselves. So the Beatitudes explain that when we are meek, and humble peacemakers and not arrogant bullies, Christ can find a way to reach us. He can find an opening to get inside and fill us, as an hour glass is filled. He is the precious, saving, healer, who if we allow Him, can heal us and save us and then send us out into the world to heal and save others. And as we heal others, God heals us and we are refilled with His love.
This is the Covenant He makes with us. In aiding others, we lessen ourselves in order to strengthen Him within us. As Christ states in the Beatitudes: then we will be Blessed. In some translations, this word blessed means full of joy. Surely some of the most joyless people we encounter are the arrogant bullies who argue incessantly, who incite conflict, those who are the opposite of the Christ’s blessed and joyous disciples. Think of a person filled with road rage. Do they seem blessed to you? Contrast that image with the face of someone doing a kindness for another. I am reminded of Princess Diana’s expression and demeanor as she cradled a child with Aids. Joy and peace radiated from her. Some of the greatest peace makers of our times: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandala all cited using Christ’s principles from the Sermon on the Mount to change the world from hate to love. So the salt is our Christ identity. Christ asks us to find Him within ourselves and act in all our ways from that place: peace making, pure of heart, concerned for others, and not self concerned. I’m sure we’ve all met a few people like that.
I had a friend several years ago who was dying of cancer. He was only 65, considered by many today to be in the prime of life. But instead of complaining, or being sad or letting bitterness set in, he decided to spend the last of his days doing good to others. But he told no one about his plan. He made all the nurses at the hospital laugh every time he went for treatment. He encouraged a neighbour who also had cancer and gave her hope. He played his guitar often and invited friends over to his house where he entertained them and brought them joy and friendship. He gave his most treasured possessions to his friends. He passed peacefully with a smile on his face. Can you think of a time when you acted entirely in self interest?
When I asked myself this question I remembered back to a time when I was hired as an English teacher at a high school. The new principal Mrs. Blake and I seemed to hit it off right from the start. But she had an unusual request to make of me. She wanted me to meet with her boss, the superintendent and speak well of her at the meeting. He did not like her and was the bane of her existence. I wanted to please her because I liked her and we got along so well but I must admit there was also a self interest motivation, in that if I could get her boss to like her as she was asking me, my relationship with her, my boss, would be even stronger. So I went to the meeting and the superintendent and I chatted about education and about all sorts of things and I mentioned quite truthfully that I really liked my new principal. Then on the way out I noticed a picture on the wall of a group of people skiing and I pointed to one of the people and told him that it was a very good picture of him. He looked amazed for a moment and then said, “That’s not me, that’s my wife!” Time seemed to stop for an eternity. I had time to think in horror: “What have I said?” and then he threw back his head and roared with laughter. “Thank you God,” I said silently filled with relief. I raced back to school, trying to figure out how to tell Mrs. Blake what had happened. She was waiting for me outside and my heart began to race with dread. I opened the car door slowly. And then I saw the smile on her face. Her boss had already called her and told her what I had said. They both had a huge laugh and then she and I laughed about it for the next several years. But I always remember, how easily it could have gone the other way. He could have been highly insulted. And so too I have found and you may have too, that acting in self interest can backfire.
Now contrast that with a time when you acted altruistically, with no expectation of reward for yourself in any way. This is what Christ is talking about, a self sacrificing love for humanity expressed in our actions. I wonder if you felt blessed or happy. I wonder if you felt a lessening of your own ego and a strengthening of Christ’s love within? In whatever we do, let us understand our internal motivation for our action. Does it come from a place of God interest or self interest? Are we living solely for God and not for appearances? Jesus especially berates those who strive to build a good image by appearing powerful, successful, and assertive. “Keeping up with Jones” is their mantra. Jesus radically turns the material world we live in upside down by demanding that we reverse our priorities. This material world equates people and relationships to commodities -4- that trade in reciprocity. If I do this for you, what will you do for me? You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. This is the behaviour that Christ abhors. In trying to understand ourselves and from which side we are leading, it may be useful to ask the question: What would our neighbours say about us if someone asked them to describe us?
When I taught high school English, we studied a book called Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding, which many of you may be familiar with. Very simply it explains that left to their own devices, human beings will become self serving, ultimately evil and self destruct. Of course one may disagree with Golding’s hypothesis. In order to provide a counterpoint to that behaviour, I asked my students to do an experiment for homework. They were to do an anonymous Random Act of Kindness that week, something that could not possibly benefit them in any way. Then they were to write a short paper about their experience. That experience was an epiphany for them and for me. I remain deeply concerned that many of them expressed that they had never done an intentionally kind act for anyone in their lives. Most were raised on the market place principle of reciprocity. Initially they had difficulty trying to figure out how to do a kind act anonymously and did not understand the point of doing something that would not benefit them. Once they completed the assignment, they understood. Several described feelings of peace and bliss. One explained that the feeling of giving altruistically was better than receiving a greatly wished for gift. In the scripture, Jesus explains that the kingdom of heaven awaits those who reflect the beatitudes as these students did.
What about the Light? The scripture tells us that we are to be a “light in the world”. What does that mean? Simply, it is to lead from the Christ within, to be a conduit of God’s love in the world through good deeds which do not appear to benefit us, yet God’s blessing is returned to us by healing us as we do our deeds to heal the world. These deeds will be a compassionate disruption in the world much as Christ’s deeds were notable and different and became a wake up call to His observers. Note Christ’s radically different reciprocity. Now it becomes a perpetual cycle of love in relationship with Christ instead of give and take with the world: as we love others: so we are loved by Christ. The hour glass is emptied and is refilled. As Martin Luther King once famously said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” His words are inscribed on the Martin Luther King monument in Washington.
So my challenge to you today (I won’t say homework) if you decide to accept it, is to go out and be a Light in the world in any way you can. How can you do this? Perhaps start with something small. Try a day when you simply give a kind hearted smile to every person you encounter. Observe how your day changes. Observe how you feel. Observe their reaction. Try a day when you give a kind word to people you encounter. Or try a Random Act of Kindness. Be amazed as you change the world for others but also incidentally for yourself as Christ fills you with joy. Watch as you become the salt and the light that Christ is asking of his disciples. Feel the kingdom of heaven within yourself. In 2017 we are Christ’s disciples!
For anyone who would like a sample Random Act of Kindness, I have some that you may like to choose from on your way out. I will take one too and perhaps we could share our results next week. Also available to anyone who might like to increase their saltiness…..Salt Water Candies.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; and it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. Amen