Summary: We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are not called to withdraw from public life into our safe and cozy Christian circles. We are called to make a difference in a world full of darkness, fear, violence, and foolishness.
[Sermon preached on 21 October 2018, Reformation Sunday / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
We sing it almost every Sunday in church with the kids:
“This little light of mine—I’m gonna let it shine. Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.”
But I wonder how many of us really think about what we sing. What is “this little light” that we sing about? Are we really determined to let it shine? How do we do that? How do we make sure that others can see that little light? Am I ready to have that little light of mine shine really everywhere I go?
Around us and inside us, we find two kinds of darkness. The first is that of hopelessness and despair. It is the darkness of being in a tunnel and not seeing the light at the end. It is the darkness of not knowing where to turn to or where to go from here, and of wondering if it is worth going anywhere.
In Finland, as in many other countries around the world, suicide rates among young people are very high. The most obvious motives driving people towards ending their lives are emptiness, lack of meaning and purpose, and fear of the future in a world of growing unrest, violence, and ecological disaster. Asylum seekers attempt suicide when they hear that they will be returned to their home lands, where violence and death threats are surely awaiting them.
I think that the image Jeremiah uses in the Old Testament lesson of the tree out there in the wilderness is one that many people, young and old, can identify with.
The second darkness that we find in and around us is that of evil. Some of you are here now because you have escaped the evil of violence and war in your own country. But it is utterly impossible to escape the impact of evil—even in Finland, and even in our church.
The world seems to be gradually moving towards an ever-expanding state of war. Talk about peace, which was still the norm and politically correct twenty years ago, now sounds naïve and unrealistic. Violence and substance abuse are escalating even on the streets of our peaceful city.
The Bible says that, when God created the world, it was veiled in darkness—until God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Today, the darkness seems to have the upper hand again. It dominates in more and more lives, and in more and more communities and nations and regions of the world.
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, from the sermon that Jesus preached on the mountain, Jesus addresses the problem of darkness and light. He also speaks about salt and the lack of it. What is the context?
When we look at the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, we find a series of blessings, known as the Beatitudes. Jesus singles out certain kinds of people who enjoy God’s special favor. What kind of people does he talk about? They are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness and because of Jesus.
What does our society say about these people? They say, “These people are losers, pitiful losers! They are good for nothing, other than to be trampled upon!” And that is what often happens to such people. People like this are crushed under the feet of those who run to stay in the competition and to reach the finish first. They are abused by those who love power and influence.
But what does Jesus say to those people? “You are the salt of the earth!” “You are the light of the world!” “You have a special mission. You are making a huge difference to the world around you.”
Jesus first uses the image of salt. It is an image that doesn’t necessarily open up to us very easily. What could Jesus mean?
Well, in his days, salt would mainly be used in common life for two purposes.
The most common was to season food, to make it tasty and pleasant to eat. When we add salt to the food in the right amount, not too much and not too little, salt can accentuate the best flavor of meat or fish or vegetables. That’s why we add salt to our food.
But in earlier days, salt was also used a lot to preserve food. There were no fridges or freezers in Palestine 2,000 years ago. The way to preserve meat or fish for extended periods of time was to treat it with huge amounts of salt. As a result, the meat or fish stayed good and eatable for months on end, even during the hot season.