Sermon for February 9, 2020
In 2014, the television show sixty minutes told a story about a man named Nicholas Winton. Winton was a 29 year-old stockbroker living in England in 1938. He was planning a two-week vacation and thought he would go skiing in Switzerland. But he had heard stories about refugees in Czechoslovakia. He decided to go there instead. While there, he visited some of the refugee camps. He decided to rent a small office in Prague and invited people to come and tell the stories of their children, all Jewish. Armed with the names of children and their pictures, he returned to England. He decided to try to bring some of the children to England. Nicholas Winton had no special skill in diplomacy and no real contacts in government. He organized a small group of volunteers. He took some stationary from a non-profit agency and placed the heading children’s section on the page. He mailed out requests for people to host children, to adopt them. Winton was successful in bringing 669 children from Czechoslovakia to England. He is credited with saving their lives, keeping them from the horrors of the concentration camps.
Nicholas Winton was just an ordinary man with no special skills for the task he took on. He was an Anglican Christian, part of the worldwide community we belong to. One of the things that intrigued me about this man was his humility. He never spoke about what he had done. The work he did went unnoticed for fifty years. During the sixty minutes interview with Winton, he was asked, “How did you do this?” His answer was, “If something is not impossible, there must be a way to do it.” It seems to me that he lived the Christian life that Jesus taught us. Nicholas Winton didn’t stop helping others. He helped people who were mentally challenged. Then he decided to build homes for old people. He never stopped living the life of a Christian.
A constant theme during Epiphany is that Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus came and took us out of darkness and brought us into the light. Today, we hear something different. Jesus has turned the tables on us. We do not hear that Jesus was the light of the world but rather we hear from Jesus that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. What does this mean?
We take salt for granted today but it had tremendous value in the time of Jesus. Roman soldiers were given a ration of salt as part of their salary. Salt was used both as a preservative and as a seasoning. Salt was necessary because they had no other way to keep meat from going bad. It made sure the food was edible. We use salt to flavor meat but they used it to extend the life of the meat. Salt is also used to purify. When I bless the Holy Water that is found in the baptismal font, I use salt as part of the blessing.
I understand that some of the salt used in the time of Jesus came from the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so salty that you can float in the water without really trying. The salt taken from the Dead Sea was not pure salt, it was mixed with other minerals. After they had used it for a while, all that was left was the minerals. That is what Jesus meant when he said that salt had lost its saltiness.
When Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth, he meant that his apostles were responsible for keeping life on the earth from decaying. The apostles were the ones who followed the law and helped others do the same. They were an example to others in how they should live their life with God.
Rosemond Anaba, a pastor in Ghana suggested that “Salt, no matter how small in quantity, has the ability to change the taste of food just as light also, no matter how small the flicker is, has the ability to overcome darkness.” It doesn’t take a lot of effort for people to see our light or to recognize our faith.
The message about light flows through all of our scripture today. We find similar words in Isaiah, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” It is our inner light that will shine, not God’s light. Or perhaps we might better say that God’s light shines through us. This is what we hear in the Psalm, “Light shines in the darkness for the upright.” When we open ourselves to God, God’s light shines on us. We have all experienced the presence of another person who shares the light of Christ. On Wednesday someone reminded me of the expression about certain people who light up a room when they enter.
When Jesus said that you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world, he was speaking about us in the same way he spoke to his apostles. Jesus didn’t actually require us to do anything specific in order to be salt or light. We are by the definition of Jesus both light and salt. Our very presence in the world as Christians means that we provide salt and light. We always worry about what we might need to do, but today Jesus doesn’t specifically ask us to do anything. We are light and salt. Just be yourself and you are salt and light.
Today’s passage comes as a part of the Sermon on the Mount. It follows immediately after Jesus provided a list of things that people are blessed for. I am saddened that we didn’t get to hear that list of blesseds. It is often a part of last week’s scripture passages but we instead chose to hear about the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I think it is helpful to hear the two verses just before our passage begins. Just before the message about salt and light, Jesus changed from universal words such as “Blessed are the Peacemakers to words specifically meant for his followers. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus was speaking to a regular group of people. There were no famous people among his followers, probably not many wealthy people, certainly not people in authority. Just a group of regular people many of whom were worried about where their next meal would come from. We should be normal people as well. We are not required to change the world like Nicholas Winton did by saving many children. We just need to be an example for those around us.
Jesus expected people to turn on his followers, to be cynical about faith or simply unimpressed. Jesus wanted his followers to remain strong despite the reception of others to the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t want them to forgo their beliefs in order to be accepted by others. If they did that, they would lose their saltiness.
Mother Teresa wanted us to remain steadfast just as Jesus taught us. She said, “Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” She asked us to always follow in the footsteps of Jesus. While Jesus did say that we are already salt and light, he is asking us to remain true to our faith. He is asking us to have faith that is stronger than the faith demonstrated by the scribes and pharisees. Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” We don’t need to have words of great wisdom. We just should demonstrate the Spirit of God. Isaiah taught us that we don’t need to fast to show others how good we are. Rather than fast, we choose to show God’s love to other people, often people in need.
Martin Luther King Jr. suggested that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Jesus taught us to love one another. Jesus said that we are the salt and the light. It doesn’t require us to work harder or do something no one else has done. I believe it only requires us to be steadfast in our faith. As Jesus said, I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill it. Let us be persistent in our faith and allow God’s light to shine through us. Amen.
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