Isaiah 58:6-12 Matthew 5:13-20 Russell Eidmann-Hicks
A dash of salt tosses zing into a dish, spice into a soup, pizzazz into a pizza. A pinch of salt perks up a bland recipe. Salt cleanses and preserves, it kills bacteria – and so it’s good to gargle with when you have a sore throat. Salt isn’t boring, a little bit goes a long way.
A slim ray of light illuminates a dark corner, a dismal closet, a dank cellar. One candle in a lantern is all that’s needed to beam a path through a night-shrouded wood. A small bulb in the right location brightens a large room. You don’t put a light under a box or a basket; you put it up on a stand or a table, so it radiates everywhere.
So what is Jesus saying here? What do salt and light have to do with being a church, with being a disciple? Why is he saying this to his little band of followers on a hilltop?
This was actually a dangerous proposal. The early church lived in the shadow of the Roman Empire – whose army occupied the country with brutal efficiency. Anyone who acted up, who challenged the order, who questioned authority was in danger of a quick and nasty end. In this environment, you don’t want to stand out, to be noticed; the tallest stalk gets chopped down first. The Christian community stood in contrast to the Roman order, which was based on violence, patriarchy and control. The religious system of the time was also harsh and unforgiving: the temple religion was legalistic and literalistic – seeing laws and rules as the essence of faith. Christians, in contrast, stood for love as the defining rule; along with equality, non-violence, and sharing. This fledgling church grew an alternative to the dark and greedy world around them; offering the ‘beloved community’ of sharing, caring, and daring.
Jesus pushes the community of faith to step up – to be brave enough and energized enough to stand up for what they believe and to let others know. Don’t keep your light under a bushel basket, put it on a stand so it shines on the whole world! Don’t be content with begin bland, laying low, protecting yourself, being selfish. Be salt – be spicy – be tasty. Change things. Make a difference! This may have been dangerous – but it caused the community go grow and thrive.
That call to be light and salt still resonates in our day. The church community needs to stand up with energy and courage to offer an alternative to much that is wrong in the world around us: rampant materialism and greed, isolation and fear of strangers or foreigners, violence and warfare celebrated in the media, along with perverse pleasures and self-serving attitudes. Like the soldier in the stone soup story – people are too often met by closed doors and fear of strangers and chronic lack of generosity. Like that soldier, many are traumatized by violence and hatred – and need shelter and healing love.
Church lights the way to a new kind of world – alive, salty, & welcoming. We’re not about defending ourselves from others, or putting up armor, but opening doors to new friends in a safe space, so that we can learn from each other and grow. We’re not about selling stuff, but giving it away. We’re not about labeling and judging, but helping and affirming. We’re not about holding grudges or getting revenge, but we celebrate forgiveness and understanding – talking through our differences. Church is about gathering around the soup pot, contributing what we can to make a simmering stew to be shared with all.
In church we throw together people who are very different from each other: the humble, those who mourn, the gentle, the caring, the peaceful, the poor, the seekers of what is good and holy, the persecuted and oppressed – and guess what we end up with: a delicious and hearty stone soup: a community of sisters and brothers, ready to transform this world. We kindle a lantern on a stand, radiating light and warmth.
We’re in the stone soup business – throwing together individual gifts to create a lively community of joyful followers. Just a bit of this, and a spoonful of that – little slices of caring, little pinches of laughter, little bunches of music or poetry, little gatherings of study and discussion, little handfuls of outreach and mission – and we create a soup within a community that feeds a whole town, a whole society. Our lantern shines out to all who are lost. It’s as simple as that.
But it takes generosity – to share some of what we can afford to give. It takes courage – the courage to come out of our bolted-shut doors and latched windows, to offer our part to the common good, instead of hording it all for ourselves for fear of scarcity. It takes love to risk giving, to appreciate the gifts others offer, and to seek healing for the wounded and sorrowing. When we share, we create abundance that overcomes our fear of not-enough.
Peter Maurin who began the Catholic Worker movement wrote this: “God wants us to be our brother’s keeper. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to instruct the ignorant, at a personal sacrifice, is what God wants us to do. What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: “When man dies, he carries in his clutched hands only that which he has given away.”
Being salt and light means being generous – to give of ourselves to change the world around us – to make it more spicy and tasty, to shine the light of truth and compassion on all.
This season begins of our annual Generosity Campaign, when we ask our members and friends to throw something into the pot to make a new year of nourishing soup. Each of us are asked to give what we can, to throw what we feel good about offering into the pot. Then we light a fire, and throw on the pot, stir it up, and spice it up with salt and laughter. Then we dish it out – to all who need nourishment and love and community and wholeness. Like Jesus feeding the 5000 on the hillside, there’s plenty for everyone and enough for everyone to feel satisfaction and fullness.
As we share communion this morning, we celebrate unity and community. We eat bread and drink a cup with each other; fed by God, and experiencing enough together. As you take communion this morning, consider the person on your right and on your left – pray for each other – support each other – care for each other – so that we create the ‘beloved community’ – filled with light and salt – that shares, that cares, and that dares. Amen.