As we heard last week, the essence of his message to the disciples was not to present instruction on how to obtain God’s blessing as much as it was to remind them (and us) that we are already blessed by God and as such, called to be poor in spirit, relying on God; to be people who ”hunger and thirst for righteousness” longing for the peace and justice of God’s world to come on this earth, who are merciful to others, “pure in heart, ” being ethical authentic and congruent in dealings with others, to be peacemakers, and to be willing to act on our convictions no matter the cost.
So in today’s Gospel, this call to know and manifest our identity as followers of Jesus continues. “You ARE Salt and light” he says– not as some kind of after-market add-on but as part of our very being and essential nature created in God’s image; a nature shared with Jesus who is defined as the “light of the world” and the “light the darkness cannot extinguish.”
Why salt and light? Well first the obvious - Salt flavors things. Even sweet things are better with a pinch of salt. It was the secret of my mother’s fabulous fudge, not to even think about salted Carmel, and we all know that not having some salt on food can leave it tasting kind of bland and flat. And light of course illuminates. Think about a time when you have been in that complete dark we rarely experience in our urban lives, maybe at camp or out in the country at night, we know that it is VERY dark, and in that situation it can be hard see the way forward or to navigate around obstacles in our path. It’s easy to trip and fall.
In addition to these obvious qualities salt and light both have another interesting quality. They purify and preserve things, and they both do it by acting as change agents on the substance and fundamentally altering the environments so that the harmful things that are present are either destroyed or cannot flourish! Ultraviolet (UV) light rays (those just below visible light on the spectrum) can penetrate harmful pathogens in water and destroy illness-causing microorganisms by attacking their DNA, and salt purifies and cleanses by dehydrating the environment so that there is nothing to feed the pathogens.
Salt and light - Jesus says, this is who YOU are as my followers, called to not only liven things up and make them visible, but to be fundamental agents of change in YOUR environments, cleansing them and purifying them by making them places that are inhospitable to the growth of things that are harmful. This, he says, is your true nature, what you were designed for, blessed for, called to by the God who wants you to be co-creators in God’s kingdom of peace, love and justice in this world. Called, he says, to cleanse and fundamentally change the structure of the environments in which dis-ease can flourish and grow.
The question then, of course, becomes how we might fully embody this identity, respond to this call and manifest this in our own lives and contexts; to be the agents of change and transformation that God calls us to and that the world, especially now, so desperately needs? How do we find ways to illuminate and purify the flat, dark places in our world? How do we create environments where healthy growth and life can flourish, where what is corrupt and decayed cannot live because there is simply nothing there that feeds it?
One thing I am pretty sure of is that we cannot do it alone. While we are each individually called to live out our baptismal promises, at least in our tradition, this call comes to us in and as part of a community. Just like one little grain of salt can’t really add flavor or beat back the growth of bacteria and one little flame cannot illuminate great darkness or purify very much, one of us alone, while we can do something, cannot do as much as many gathered and committed as one. I think about the power we saw manifested at Standing Rock, the energy that was generated and reinforced when peaceful warriors gathered supported by faith and constant prayer toward a single aim. In our own context, when we gather to do things like Harvest Packs, we can easily see how in a few hours, many people working together with one goal can make a difference. We can think of these as focused beams of light that shine from those gathered and that illuminate not only the unjust and concerning things that are happening in our world, but also light up the positive power of peaceful engagement and focused action.
Just like every point of light and grain of salt, each of us is unique, each of us called and gifted by God to participate in co-creating God’s kingdom here on earth. Each of us is issued the commission by Jesus himself – be salt, be light. Don’t get stale, don’t hide or cover your brightness. Use your gifted blessedness to Illumine, enliven, purify and transform this broken world to one that more closely resembles God’s kingdom. Engage in whatever way you can in that work to which we are called in the words of Isiah: “…to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin….and then, he says,…your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
The world needs us and God calls us to transform the world from dis-ease and darkness to God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice with every bit of salt and light that is in us. Can we? Will we? Our answer: We will, with God's help.