Summary: A short sermon aimed mainly at a large group of ’not-yet’ Christians coming on a Sunday morning. Israel was called to be salt and light but made a hash of it. Jesus was, and still is salt and light, and calls us to be salt and light.
Have you ever left detailed instructions only to return and find things in a bit of a mess? Perhaps you left instructions with your children as they were sat around the dinner table, and when you returned just 2 minutes later there was food everywhere, tears flowing, and blackcurrant juice dripping off the table onto the new carpet. Or perhaps you were one of those children!
Perhaps you were the boss. You were called away from the office and delegated some work and were very precise about what needed to be done and when it needed to be done by. It was unlikely that you would be back that day, but as things turned out you made good time and managed to get back to the office. Some of your staff had gone home early, one or two were outside smoking, and the only other one left had his feet up on the desk and was making a ‘phone call to his friend in Germany. No work had been done!
Or perhaps you were the one with his feet up!
I said to my wife yesterday, “Moira, can you think of any occasions when you left me with instructions, only to return later and find that I’d got it wrong?” She said, “Warner, give me a bit of time to think and I can come up with lots of occasions when you’ve done that!” Only last week I was going into Eastleigh and Moira asked me to buy a big-brother card. As I was shopping I stopped myself from buying a card which said ‘Happy Birthday Big Brother’ because her brother Alisdair is actually younger; so I went for a reasonably priced ‘Happy Birthday Brother’ card. Of course, I had got it wrong because Moira had asked me to get a big brother card, not the tiny card that I ended up with!
Our Bible reading refers to an occasion when Jesus was reminding the people of Israel what they were called to be. God chose the Jews, the people of Israel to be salt and light in the world.
Israel was called to be salt and light in the world: Of course that sounds a bit strange to us, especially since we are told that too much salt is bad for us! However, that’s only because we put so much salt in the pre-packaged, convenience food that’s only really been around for the last 30 years or so.
In Jesus’ time, salt was mainly used as a preservative to stop food from going bad, especially meat. Israel was called to be salt and light to the world. As ‘salt’, God called Israel to resist decay, to be an agent of preservation, literally to stop the world from going bad. As ‘light’, God called Israel to shine in the world (Isaiah 58:8-10) and to be an attractive people; also to be so generous to the ‘outsider’ or the ‘foreigner’ that the world would marvel at Israel and be drawn to the God of the Israelite people. Indeed, the much disputed city of Jerusalem, built on a hill (Mt 5:14) was designed to be a place from which physical light would shine.
Jerusalem was also designed to be a place from which spiritual light would touch the nations and the peoples of the earth. So Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Mt 5:13). Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Mt 5:14).
There are lots of reasons why God sent Jesus into the world. One reason is this: Jesus came to call Israel back to its God-given task, the instructions which God had given. Jesus came as God wrapped in human flesh and discovered that Israel had its feet up. Israel had gone home early. Tears were flowing around the meal table. The task was not being accomplished, and yet there was Good News then and there is Good News now!
Jesus came as salt and light for the world:
Jesus was both salt and light. He was Good News!
Jesus was salt because his words and his actions had flavour. He was salt because he caused people to be thirsty for God; and Jesus was salt because he came to resist the moral and the spiritual decay that he found.
I wonder if you are at a point in your life right now where you need spiritual light, spiritual refreshment to come into your life. Jesus did that for people as he walked the land of Israel, but it didn’t end there. Just before his crucifixion he told his closest group of friends that he would send them a helper. Jesus promised his disciples the gift of his Holy Spirit to help them to be salt and light in the world. Jesus said of himself, (John 8:12) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”