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The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Salt and Light

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Discipleship is an exciting and challenging task that demands of us every ounce of creativity and energy we possess. How do we distinguish between the ways of the world and the ways of God? The choices are usually far from easy. The real measure of right and wrong comes, not from pronouncements made by the governing body of the church, or from rules and regulations rigidly adhered to, but by our actions towards others. The ethics professor at Trinity constantly reminded us that the basis of our ethical decisions should be whether or not we were doing – here his West Indian accent always came out! – "the lovin' t'ing."

It is the doing, the action, the lovin’ t’ing, that is behind two powerful images in the Gospel, salt and light. “Salt of the earth,” Jesus called the disciples. “Light of the world,” he said to them. “You are salt and light.” When Jesus says 'you are salt' it is no small compliment. Salt was essential to life in the ancient world. It was, of course, used to preserve food. It was also a requirement for sacrifices. It was mixed with incense for the temple. It was used as a sign of covenant. It was even rubbed on newborn babies. Not that it was easily attainable. It had to be mined and transported with considerable labour and expense.

And yet to us it is such a modest metaphor! It is not dramatic at all. It is certainly not overwhelming. It is simply a functional, everyday metaphor, and yet it has a dramatic effect on the environment. In many cultures salt is a symbol of hospitality. It changes food. It makes it tastier, livelier. At this time of year in Canada it is especially vital. It melts ice. Where would we have been during this past week without salters out on the roads? We use it as a healing agent, a cleanser. Yet simple and everyday as it is, salt has caused wars and revolutions. It has led to trading partnerships. It is a basic human need. Without it we would not survive.

For the Jewish nation every sacrifice was seasoned with salt to remind the people of their need to remain faithful to the Covenant between them and God. The salt made the covenant a binding agreement. It represented loyalty and truthfulness between them. Salt was a symbol that could heal the rift in a relationship. If there was no salt used in the Covenant it meant barrenness. So being a disciple of Jesus called for a good seasoning of salt.

Light is also a simple metaphor, but a wonderful compliment. It abolishes darkness. The darker the darkness, the more visible the light! We do not even realize how essential light is to us until we find ourselves in the dark hunting for a flashlight or a candle. We have all experienced blackouts. We had one in the north end of Mississauga a couple of weeks ago. There have, of course, been serious blackouts like the one a few summers ago that left us without power for days.

When Jesus says 'you are light' it is a contemporary Christ making an unapologetic call to contemporary Christian vocation. We are meant to see the metaphor of light in terms of our relationship as disciples of God.

In Aboriginal folklore, God first created animals. God called all the creatures together and gave each of them a gift in a box. The Old Turtle immediately opened his box and from it came the earth for the animals to inhabit. The whale opened her box and out poured life-giving water. One by one the creatures opened their gifts and creation came into being. But they could not see the beauty of what God had given them, for there was no light. Finally there remained only one box unopened. It belonged to the seagull who was determined to keep it for himself. The animals pleaded and pleaded. But the gull refused to share his gift. Finally the animals tricked him into opening the box and out poured streams of light. They could finally see the beauty that God had created.

Being light is a social thing. It must be shared. Light shines in our Christian community not only through personal conversion to Christ, but by our actions in the world, by doing the 'lovin' t'ing'. Our call to be light is a call to reach out to others in compassion. It is when we live with compassion that we truly encounter God and understand the joy that comes from discipleship.

So what does it mean for us to be salt? What does it mean to be light? Jesus calls us, his followers, to be salty Christians. He calls us to light up the world around us. It is a call to conduct our lives so that we will bring attention to the presence of God within us. It is a call to discipleship, an exciting and challenging task which takes every ounce of creativity and energy that we possess.

As we move forward in ministry we need to be salty Christians. To be salty is to have a spiritual thirst that means that you cannot help but want to learn more about God. It means that you want to share what you have learned with others. To be salty is to keep alive our baptismal covenant in which we promised to follow Christ’s teachings, to resist sinful behaviour, to be a Godly example to the world, to see Christ in others, to let others see Christ in us, to strive for peace and justice.

You are called to be light. You are called to light up a world in desperate need of light. In so many ways these are dark days. There is much to be worried about in our modern day society. It is a violent society. We face economic shifts that affect us globally. The environment is sick. We as the people of God have experienced the grace of God’s light. We are called to share that light with others.

When did God use you as salt? We have all been salt to someone. Perhaps God has used you to help thaw someone’s heart so that they could love again. Perhaps you gave someone hope when they were feeling desperate. Maybe you helped someone to heal from life’s hurts. Perhaps you listened in compassion to someone’s story as they opened up to you, trusting you with their innermost thoughts. Was it when you comforted a lost and frightened child? Was it the time you cried with someone in their pain and sorrow?

Has God used you to light up someone’s life? Did you mend a lost friendship? When did your smile light up a room and bring joy into another person’s life? Have you brought someone to faith? Have you seen the change in that person as God transformed them? Have you acted on an impulse and brought dinner to someone in need? Have you given a helping hand to a friend? Have you reached out into the community?

Then you have been salt. You have been light. In remembering to do the 'lovin' t'ing we are salt, and we are light, and we are Church. Amen
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