[Jesus said:] 13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
If you ask any number of Christians why they live the way they do, you may end up having a statement that goes something like this: “I live a Christian life because I am a Christian, and I am a Christian because Christians get into heaven.” I am not here to judge the hearts of people, but I have to find this attitude and sentiment very apathetic. It as if their entire life is lived up in holding onto something – the promise of heaven. They live their whole lives so that they go to heaven and can be separate from all the pain and sin in the world. This is fine, this gathering up is important, for sure, but it misses something very fundamental in how we think about this text for today.
The way that we use salt and light is very specific. By gathering, they do us no good. You can have a thousand salt shakers and they will not season your food. You can have a million lamps, but unless you turn them on and set them on a table, you’ll never be able to read a book. If salt and light are not spread out, they do not work. If salt and light are not spread out, they are not accomplishing what they are used for. The same is true of us.
In the waters of baptism, you are called as children of God. You are claimed, by no merit of your own, as a beloved daughter and son of God, sisters and brothers of Christ, heirs and citizens of the kingdom of God. When we come together in worship, we remember that. Our Thanksgiving for Baptism reminds us that from the grace we experience in this Spirit and water, we are made into heirs of the promise of God and servants of all. Especially when it comes to baptizing infants, we see that this grace is purely a gift, purely free, it is poured out upon us each and every day. Martin Luther is credited with having a particularly pointed saying when he felt depressed or tempted or tormented. He would say, “I am baptized!” Not “I was baptized” but “I am baptized.” This is not a past event but a present reality.
When we are baptized, we are gathered in, claimed by God, but we are also spread out, sent by God into the world. In fact, when we baptize, we give a candle (to the parents or sponsors, not the baby) and we name them and say, “Now, may your light so shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” Sound familiar?
So we are sent, we are lamps on a stand, a city on a hill, and salt of the earth. But how do we do this? How can we be sure that when we live we are really being salt and light? Jesus answers this in the second half of this reading. We work to live our lives, as best we can, according to the laws of God. We do this as a response. We do this to be a city on a hill whose light comes from God.
In our adult study on the Ten Commandments, it’s come up a number of times that these laws are not meant to give us entry into eternal life. When these laws were given to the Hebrew nation, they already understood that they were God’s chosen people and that the laws were the way in which God was going to bless the world. These laws, especially the laws regarding caring for others, were not about gathering in, but in about being spread out. So, when Jesus tells his listeners that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, it means that Jesus’ life itself is a model by which we follow God’s law.
And it might be good to remind us of what we read last week: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted, those who work for justice, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They are blessed because Jesus is staking his place with them and they are blessed because follows of the law, followers of Jesus, will come to their aid.
But here’s the funny thing about this teaching. Jesus, I believe, is joking about something. Salt can never lose its saltiness. In fact salt can’t be broken down by nature. If I dissolve a teaspoon salt in a glass, it may disappear, but if I let the water evaporate, it will be left behind. Salt cannot lose its saltiness. In the same way, you cannot lose the love of God. You are bound forever in the embrace of your Creator. When we remember that, out of gratitude, we will spread our saltiness, we will spread our light, and we will spread the love of God throughout the world
There’s a lot of places in our world that need salt and light and love. It may seem like it’s an impossible task. In our day and age, where information is shared so quickly, we can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the need and despair in our world – in our lives, the lives of our neighbors, the lives of our fellow human beings – but we aren’t doing this alone. To paraphrase Mother Teresa – we may not be able to do big things, but we can do little things with great love. Little things with great love, spreading salt, shining light onto the world. Whether that’s something as easy as buying an extra can of food for the food pantry when you go grocery shopping or as hard as building houses for Habitat for Humanity, you have light to shine. You are the salt of the earth.
Our Christian life is more than just a way to show that we are Christian. And being Christian is more than just a fire insurance that gets us into heaven. The life of a Christ follower is instead a way to make Christ known. And being a Christian involves living in the kingdom of heaven now. Eternal life isn’t just a future life, it’s a present life. We make that kingdom known, both for others and in ourselves, by living into it now.
We gather each week here, but then we are sent out. Sent out from the church into the world. Sent out from worship to do acts of worship. Sent from light to be light. Gathering to hear, being sent to tell. Gathering to experience the body and blood of Christ to go be the body and blood of Christ.
The kingdom of heaven is not for the elite, but for the downtrodden, for the lowly, for the lost and forsaken, for the free and forgiven. The kingdom of God is for you. Go, be salt of the earth, be a light on a table, be a city on a hill. God is with you. Amen.