Summary: As salt and light, Christ's followers are to be change-agents in the world, making God's kingdom real on earth!
For most of my thirty years of life, I have thought of salt simply as a seasoning. Like pepper or curry or Mrs. Dash. Salt is something added to food to alter the flavor a bit; at least, that's the way I looked at it, until about a year ago. I took notice when my husband sat down at the dinner table and basically proceeded to add what seemed to be half the shaker of salt to his food. Now, I exaggerate a bit, of course, but Ken really does love a lot of salt on just about everything he eats. When I asked him why he likes salt so much, he told a story of his childhood. Ken recalls running into the kitchen at about the age of five and seeing his father putting salt on a slice of apple before eating it. When Ken asked why he was doing that, my father-in-law explained that salt brings out the flavor of foods.
Now, for whatever reason, this was not a way I had ever heard the function of salt described. Like I said, to me, salt was just a seasoning. Then, just a month or so ago, I was watching a cooking show, and the chef explained that just one grain of salt could bring out the flavor of the food. So, naturally, I thought to myself, "Wow, there must really be something to that!" So I decided to look into it. In preparation for this sermon, I did a little research about salt, and I'd like to share with you some of my findings.
How valuable is salt? 40 million tons are required each year to fill our needs. Homer called it divine. Plato called it a "substance dear to the gods." Shakespeare mentioned salt 17 times in his plays. Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci wanted to send a subtle message about purity lost when he painted "The last Supper." In that painting an overturned salt cellar is conspicuously placed before Judas. In ancient Greece a far-flung trade involving the exchange of salt for slaves gave rise to the expression, "...not worth his salt." Special salt rations were given to Roman soldiers and known as "Solarium Argentums" the forerunner of the English word "salary." Thousands of Napoleon's troops died during his retreat from Moscow because their wounds would not heal--their bodies lacked salt. The human body contains about 4oz. of salt. Without enough of it, muscles won't contract, blood won't circulate, food won't digest and the heart won't beat a beat. Without a doubt, salt is the essence of life. And Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth."
Sure enough salt is quite important, and Jesus hit on it precisely as he preached to the disciples gathered around him. Salt does not exist for itself, salt functions to enhance other foods. And just as salt does not exist for itself, nor do the disciples, the followers of Christ. You see, the life a disciple is to be turned outward to the world. This is not an option, it's not even a commandment! Much like the Beatitudes, Jesus is stating the simple facts of Christian discipleship. "You are the salt of the earth!", he says, "You are the light of the world!" Like Jesus himself, the faithful followers of Christ bring out the best in the world!
So here we sit, followers of Jesus Christ in various stages. Though Jesus was surrounded by crowds as he spoke these words, they were intended for his disciples. And though each of us here are in different stages of our walk with Christ, we are all in some way followers of Christ. These words are spoken to us as well! "You are the salt of the earth!" It's kind of intimidating, isn't it? All around us are the crowds, the people who need salt and light. And Jesus is telling us to go be the disciples we are so that the people of this world can be the people God intended them to be! When we function as salt and light, amazing things will happen!
I read a news story this week about some students at American University in Washington D.C. I think they demonstrate a bit of what Jesus was talking about when he declared his followers to be the salt and light of the world. Here's what happened. Several weeks ago, the Westboro Baptist Church announced that they were going to picket American University. Now, even if the name of this church doesn't ring bell, their actions will; this is the group that pickets soldiers funerals and comes out in praise of people like Jared Loughner, who is responsible for the shootings in Arizona a few weeks ago. So when the students of the United Methodist Campus Ministry at American heard that members of Westboro Baptist Church were coming to their campus in protest, they decided to respond.