February 9, 2014: Salt and Light


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Jesus once said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Just figure he includes us, too. Even though Jesus sounds pro-salt, I don’t think he endorses our modern addiction to salt. So keep tasting your fries before you salt them. Salt used properly savors and preserves, and at the right temperature melts snow. I’ve learned what those big trucks are scattering out the back now that I’ve been here into my seventh winter. At least Jesus doesn’t say, “You are salt of the road. Go stick to cars and turn them white.” Salt usage can be overdone.

Jesus also says, “You are the light of the world.” We need light. Remember when you got up in the night and didn’t turn a light on. You remember what you yelled when you punted the bedpost with your bare foot? Light is good, unless you are sneaking around in the dark so you won’t get caught.

There are problems. Not only can salt be overused, salt can lose its usefulness and not be good for anyone. Jesus doesn’t say, “Be the Ms. Dash or NutraSalt of the earth.” Salt adds zip. It won’t work well if it sits on a shelf – or a pew. It needs to be sprinkled and blended to give season and taste. That’s its purpose.  Light – we can hide it, or lose it. We know Jesus wants us to do more than nod politely when he says, “You are salt and light.” He expects us to make a difference. Spice up this world with God’s love. Illuminate, so others can see what’s in the darkness.

It’s hard to be salt and light in the world today. Many think the church is irrelevant and superstitious at best – judgmental, homophobic and mean-spirited at worst. Go to a coffee shop and try be salt to a young adult – “Hey, we got a pretty good church. Why don’t you come and visit us?” Don’t be surprised if they politely get up and leave. They already have pegged us church types. But if they should show up, will they understand what we do here – why clergy dress funny – and why we have all these books? We do have this in common. They may think we are aliens. But do we treat guests like aliens sometimes? We can gradually become complacent, and not even know it. So take a risk. When you see someone who looks puzzled and lost, get up and go help them. That’s being salt and light. God is working through you to help someone.

In a previous church, I had a member who probably liked my sermons better than anyone there. He couldn’t hear them. He was deaf, and yet one of the most consistent worship attenders. Why would he come so often if he couldn’t participate? One day I asked him, “Why do you come to church when you can’t hear a thing?” He could read lips up close. His answer blew me away. He wrote on a slip of paper, “I just want people to know which side I’m on.” “Wow,” I thought, “He gets it. He is salt and light in his way. I wonder if people who watch us can tell which side we’re on.”

That’s what we have to figure out – for ourselves and St. Paul’s. Where is God working through you, through this church, to be salt and light? What evidence of God do people see and experience in us? Jesus isn’t going to send people to us, make them like us and how we worship, and the hymns we sing. He says, “You are salt – go season lives with my grace. You are light – go reflect the light of my love.”

It’s harder inside the church these days, too. Every church wants to grow. Church consultants say we are in an attendance recession. A decade ago, a frequent attender came two or three times a month. Now it’s once a month. Since the bar got lowered, I guess we now have more “frequent” attenders. You know if you are one of them. And for those who visit churches, about one in ten will join. People today no longer are impressed with nice buildings and things we like. They are reluctant to join institutions like the church. Jesus says we are to be salt and light anyway. We do our job, and he’ll do his. That’s how they can know God’s love – because we take Jesus seriously.

Healthy churches ask, “What is God calling us to do? Then let’s organize ourselves and do it.” You see a need. You feel a tug. You gather some folks and say, “Hey, let’s go be salt.” And we bless you and pray, support and stand beside you, because we are in this together. That’s how GreenFaith and Common Ground became ministries here. Being salt and light begins inside. God seasons us first. We spread God’s life through our love for others. We can’t lose the taste or dim the light.

In healthy churches people talk about their faith – with each other and those outside the church who ask them. Faith matters greatly. They are attuned to how God is at work in their lives and the world. Many of you get it. You see Jesus in the hungry and feed them.  You invite and welcome guests to worship, volunteer at the Thrift Shop, visit the sick, hold the hand of the dying, pray for each other, open hearts so God’s divine love can flow through us. And if someone asks you about your faith – tell them about God’s goodness, how and where God’s at work in your life and in others, how God welcomes and loves all people, and you do too. Some will be shocked to hear this. Not all churches believe this. Some can be negative – judgmental. Sometimes salt will lose its taste, and light will go out.

You are God’s beloved. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. That’s what Jesus says – do you believe him? You can make a difference, and we are making a difference. Don’t lose sight of that. Remember who Jesus says you are. What we say and do matters. Jesus counts on us.


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