The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Matthew 5:13-20

Here, in this morning’s Gospel reading, which is a continuance of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus in describing his followers, the children of God, says, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.”

Salt and light. As Christians, as the body of Christ, this is who we are and what we are called to be. When we are made members of Christ’s body at our baptism, we are also, at that time, commissioned to be the salt and light for the world’s life.

But to fully comprehend this, to understand what Jesus means when he calls his disciples salt and light, we need to look at the attributes or properties of these two life-giving agents.

When we think of salt today, if we can forget for a moment about the problem of high blood pressure, we think of it mostly in terms of seasoning – of its ability to give flavor, and to enhance the taste of almost all of life’s food joys.

But salt, of course, can also be used as a preservative—a way of keeping food from spoiling. This was certainly the case, and the common way of preserving foods in Jesus’ day. So, when Jesus calls his disciples the “salt of the earth,” what he is saying is that, as Christians, as followers of the Lord, we are called – and not only called but empowered – to preserve life, and, also, to give life a special flavor.

I don’t believe we think about our Christian life and our Christian calling often enough in that way, probably because so much of the Christianity we’ve grown up with (and in) has failed to project that kind of positive, flavorful, preserving image and teaching. Instead, it has often been a rather negative and bland kind of teaching.

For instance, in the tradition I was brought up in, Christians were taught to believe that if you’re having a good time, then you must be doing something wrong. Having too much fun was a sure sign that your interests were too focused on the ways and pleasures of the world, and not enough on the ways of God and the life of the world to come.

It’s ridiculous, I know. But, somehow, somewhere along the way, subconsciously maybe, I bought into that line of thinking. & even though I know better, As much as I try to shake it, deep down, sometimes, it’s still there, a little bit. Still, to some degree.

Somehow, I think all of us, at one time or another, and to some degree, have viewed our faith as calling us to give up the enjoyment of life rather than getting from it a new zest for living. I think, probably, Anglicans are less guilty of this than most, but there still seems to be that element in us, too, that says our faith should not allow us to enjoy life to its fullest.

But that is not what Jesus is saying at all. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” Jesus called his first disciples, and he calls us, his disciples of today, to be salty, living life with a joy of spirit that infuses the life of the world around us. A joy that makes us and others feel better about ourselves and our lives. It doesn’t mean that we are not called to sacrifice – we are – but even our sacrifices, those made for the sake of God and the church and others should bring us joy, and peace, and life. And blessing.

What Jesus is saying is that part of our mission, part of our calling as the people of God is to be salt: salty people in the world, flavoring life. As Christians, we are called upon to bring a new spirit and a new vitality, and a new seasoning into life and into what would otherwise be a bland and tasteless world.

We are also called by Jesus to be light. The light of the world. Every single one of us is called to be some kind of light for others. Again, in the fourth Gospel, John speaks of us as people who have dwelt in darkness, but who have seen a great light.

We have received that light from God and are called to be sharers of the light with others. God has brought us into his brightness and light by the power of the Holy Spirit. That light has illumined our lives. We are now responsible for going out and sharing that light, letting that light, the light of Christ – our light – shine in the world.

“So, be what you are,” says Jesus. “Be what you you’ve been given. Be what you’ve been called to be. Let your light shine for the world to see. Be a beacon for others to follow.”

A little further along in our Gospel reading, at verse 20, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The scribes and Pharisees were the righteous people of their day. They studied the Law unceasingly, and followed it to the letter, never failing to do exactly what the Law required (of them). Nothing less, and nothing more.

So, what Jesus means when he talks about our righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, is that there is more to righteousness than simply worrying about one’s own well-being, and about questions like, “How much must I give? How much must I do? What is my duty? What is the minimum requirement I must fulfill?” That is righteousness of a sort. But it is righteousness that is dull and rigid and legalistic and safe.

Jesus is telling us that to experience the kingdom, we have to get beyond that in our lives. We must go beyond the Law and the requirement of duty, to a place of risk, and care and compassion for others, and discover the freedom of letting the spirit of love work in us God’s will.

Paul, in this morning’s epistle says, “What others have yearned to know, but have never known, God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”(paraphrase) Somehow things are brighter for us, more hopeful, because there is light, and there is salt in our lives.

Our mission, then, as members the body of Christ, each of us with different gifts, is to use whatever gifts we have been given to respond to Jesus’ challenge. To risk, and to let our lights shine, so that others, seeing our good works, and seeing our lives coming to life in excitement and joy, may glorify God in heaven.

So, when we leave here today, let’s leave not just feeling God is calling us to go out and “be good,” or to “keep the Law,” – to be “righteous” in that way only. God is calling us to do that, but God is also saying to us, “Don’t miss the fullness of life and the abundance of life by just being good persons. I want your righteousness to exceed that. I want you to be salt and radiance to others. I want you to let my Spirit work in you and lead you into living life in such a way that others will be drawn into the life of my kingdom.”

Jesus said that salt that has lost its taste is no longer good for anything. And that lights are not meant to be hidden under baskets. May we all come to recognize our call to be salty Christians, and to be, at least, reflections of Christ’s light.

There are people all around us that we are going to see today and tomorrow, at home, at school, at the office, at the store, at the club, people who need a little salt and light in their lives. They need for us to be good and fair and honest, but they need for us to be more than that.

They also need for us to have the spirit of love and compassion, of healing and joy and peace and life. Let us all pray for God’s Spirit to come, and to move in our lives in a way that will make us, not only good and right, but also salt and light.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.