This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 9, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.
“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.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In 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.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For 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. Therefore, 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Our gospel passage today comes from a conversation Jesus is having with the crowds. When we imagine a crowd of people listening to Jesus, it may be easy for us to think of a group of random strangers, strangers who just happened to be there at the exact moment Jesus was coming through. But this crowd Jesus is speaking to, it is no accident they are there. Jesus is talking to the crowds of people that have followed him.
They’ve come from just about everywhere, because they had heard about him. They have heard things from their friends, their community, their neighbors, and they want what Jesus has to offer: meaning, direction, purpose. They’ve come to him to listen, to be healed by Jesus, and to learn from him.
Many of us come to Jesus for the same reason as those in the passage today. For some reason, whether it’s because of a reasoning we know, or one that we don’t, we keep coming back to Jesus for healing and light and relationship. And today, Jesus’ words are showing up for us, just like they did for the crowds thousands of years ago, Jesus’ words proclaiming a message for us about just how we are to live out our lives.
Jesus encourages the crowd, us, with two things. The first, is that we are the salt of the earth. Now, what does that mean? For our purposes, it’s actually pretty simple. Jesus talks about salt like we would, as a sort of seasoning. Jesus names us as salt, as a way of communicating our call to flavor the world. Like a perhaps under-seasoned dish of food, when we add salt, we allow the dish to be experienced in a much more full and robust way. I read this statement as a call from Christ to help people experience God, the flavor of God if we still are going to use cooking terms. And how do we do that? Well, that is Jesus’ second encouragement.
The second thing Jesus tells us is that we are light, and more specifically, we are the light of the world. Something really cool about these calls, is that it’s not a question Jesus is asking. Jesus isn’t trying to get us to posit whether or not we are the light of the world. He’s also not trying to get us to be the light of the world. No, he proclaims it. He insists. You are the light of the world.
So why does Jesus feel the need to name that? Well, as he continues on, we learn that sometimes, we can hide that light. We can lose the awareness of our light shining, because somehow, it gets lost, covered under a bushel, which is to say, hidden.
What are the bushels that cover your light? Is it fear? Is it a feeling of not being enough? Not thinking you can make a big enough impact? Is the bushel your habit of comparing yourself to others? Not wanting to invest and then get hurt?
The bushel can look like a lot of different things for each of us. Sometimes it feels like it’s actually making us feel safe, keeping us in our cozy bubble, blocking out the newness around us. Sometimes the bushel makes us feel trapped, like we are stuck inside of something that we’d like to break out of. Whatever your bushel is, it’s important, we learn, that we name it, and then allow God to transform us in light, seeing what might still be hidden under the bushel we’ve created.
Still, no matter the bushels that cover our light, the things that make us lose sight of the salt we are to be for the earth, Jesus still says that they are true. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. On the days we forget, we can look here to remind ourselves that they are true. And then, we get to live out that truth in our lives, being the salt and the light, letting our light shine.
Today, Matthew’s gospel passage challenges us to let ourselves shine, to let our own light shine, whatever that means for us. Overall, Jesus teaches us that our light, meaning our gifts, our passions, the things that make our identity authentic, those things were never meant to be hidden. It doesn’t mean we did a bad thing by hiding them, but it does mean that when we get out from under that bushel, we will experience a freedom that only God can provide, a freedom that is celebrated through our own light being shone brightly in the world.
And the good news today, is that Jesus is in the business of reminding us that we are salt and light, anytime we forget. Jesus will always be here to say “you are the light of the world”, and we get to respond.
Today, as you know, is Scouting Sunday, the day each year that the UMC celebrates the ministry of scouting, and the gift and light they are to our community. Today to me, is a moment where we can point to that notion of light being shone in important ways. Our scouts meet at our church, and have for so long now. They have a community of people committed to growth and service, and they choose to shine their light through serving this community, through their acts of service, their gifts, and also their presence today. Today, these young leaders have given us a real example of letting our light shine, being a beacon of light in the world, a brave act that each of us can learn from.
Jesus says to me, and to you, that we are the salt of the earth, and that we are the light of the world. And through our actions, we get to be that in our communities. We don’t have this salt and light to covet and keep just for ourselves. Rather, this salt and light, which comes from Jesus, is given to us so that others might eat and see better. It is meant to shine and be bright for all who need to see it.
Again, on the days we forget, Jesus reminds us. We are the light of the world. You are the light of the world. How will you use that light, the light that on some days hides under a bushel, and on others, answers the call and shines onto the world.
How, on your best days, will you let your light shine?
How, on your best days, can you allow Jesus to be seen through your words and actions and gifts?
As we leave this place, may we recognize our inherent gifts of salt and light, given from Jesus to us for the world. May we see ourselves as valuable to the body of Christ, our light something that is not just for us, but for those around us, a holy gift. And may we practice being the light of the world in the ways we can, doing all that we can to further the gospel, the story of salt and light and love, told by the creator and the teacher then and now. Let us pray.
God of salt and light, we thank you for your witness, your constant reminder of our worthiness. Help us to see the privilege you have given to us, the gift we have to go out into the world to share your teachings with those we encounter. In your holy name we pray, Amen.