Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

Isaiah 58:1-9a
1 Corinthians 2:1-13
Matthew 5:13-20


In the name of God, creating ,redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

You are the salt of the earth ..he said.
You are the light of the world … he said. He says.
You are here to transform the world.
You. Us.

They are on a mountainside. In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, known as the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus teaching his disciples, in the first of five passages of teaching in the gospel. This year we are spending time with this Gospel of Matthew, a gospel written particularly for Jewish hearers, a gospel which portrays Jesus not only as healer and prophet, but particularly teacher.

Jesus and his disciples are on a mountainside. Mountains are God country. And the Jewish hearers of this gospel could not have helped remembering Moses and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai. Only, when Moses spoke with the people he led into the wilderness from slavery in Egypt, Moses spoke of God in the third person …  “The Lord said to me…”, (Deut 10.1) Moses said. “Here is the land the Lord is giving you …” (Deut 26.1), Moses said. “The Lord your God is commanding you …” (Deut 26.16) Moses said to eagerly listening people.

Jesus doesn’t speak like that at all. Jesus just says “I say to you…”, “Truly I say to you …” over and over again. This mountain is God country and Jesus is speaking in the first person, “I”. This is a very holy person we are listening to here.

And this very holy person says to the disciples, and is saying to us,

You are the salt of the earth …You are the light of the world … You are here in other words, to transform the world.

This is a weighty description of us. Extraordinarily difficult to believe. And yet …wonderful. Can we believe this? That we are here to transform the world? We as individuals, we as community. We as country even, in a time when God, knows, we need God’s voice to be heard.

When he has said these words, Jesus, knowing human nature, as he does, points to the disciples’ and our struggle with this extraordinary vocation.

‘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 hidden. 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.  (Matthew 5:13-16)

This morning we will spend a little time pondering the struggle.

If we accept that we have this God given vocation to be salt and light, what is it that causes salt to lose its taste, what is it that has us hide our light under bushel baskets. What is it that diminishes us so?

Fear, I think, is one of the key contenders. Sin, of course, is another. Jesus is a literary master, one who is very good with images, and “light hiding under a bushel basket” is an astute image of one who is fearful. What nurtures this fear? I wonder if fear may come from a broken imagination. Our imagination that we might be who God has made us to be. Can we remember God calling us into a situation that frightened us greatly and it being as if we couldn’t imagine ourselves there? Imaginations are damaged by circumstance. Some of us have experienced terrible suffering, in the form of violence or abuse. Such suffering damages in the most profound way our imagination about ourselves, what we believe about ourselves. Some of us are shaken by illness or grief. For some of us, home has become unsafe and we now live far from home. Imagining who we are away from the earth of our home, the community of our home, can diminish us. Some of us could not name why, but dis-ease about the call of God seems to haunt us.

Jesus knows this. The passage we heard read this morning from chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel follows immediately on from the Beatitudes, the strange blessings that Lynn Arnold reflected upon last Sunday. Jesus knows our struggles and has named them just before he tells us we are light and salt, just before he tells us we are to transform the world.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn.” Jesus says. “Blessed are the meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, and the pure in heart, and the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

This is not about being successful in the world’s eyes; this is not about worldly power. Jesus is saying that we are blessed, that God is with us, close to us, when we are struggling. That it is precisely there, precisely where we might least think it possible, that we can bring blessing to the world.

Paul, in this morning’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians is saying a similar thing:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,*  [he writes], I did not come proclaiming the mystery* of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,* but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

For Paul, the key thing that matters is Christ crucified. The moment of profound failure in Jesus’ life is God’s moment of redemption. In a culture in which we would expect Paul to convince the readers of his letter by eloquent argument, Paul does not do this, does not use lofty words or wisdom, as he puts it. He simply points to Christ on the cross as sign of God’s power and presence in the world.

The Beatitudes and Paul’s writing point in different language to the same truth. When we are struggling, when we seem in the midst of failure, God is with us, God is close, God’s work of healing and redemption is at hand. Do not therefore be frightened to be salt, be light, be as individuals and communities engaged in God’s transformation and healing of the world. Jesus is telling us not to allow our frailty to stop us standing on that hill as light to the world. That, in fact, it is precisely when we are frail, or frightened, that we might go to our hill and shine our light there.

What, though, would God have us do? What does salt and light look like? If we can find the courage, even at times, to be that salt and light, to what do these images point? The prophets are never backward in telling us what they think about this matter.

This week it is Isaiah whose words we are given to hear:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not 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?

 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, …(Isaiah 58:6-8)

Our light shall break forth like the dawn when we loose the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free. I wonder if this could be about forgiveness. Is there anyone we need to forgive, anyone whose forgiveness we need to seek out? Injustice and oppression has many guises. Our light shines forth when we share our bread with the hungry and cover the naked. Isaiah says.

Shining a light in the world, allowing our lives to transform the world, seems to be about knowing that we are blessed even in places of struggle and vulnerability, knowing we are blessed and allowing our imaginations to thrive there, knowing we are blessed and reaching out in forgiveness and generosity to those who are in need.

You are the salt of the earth ..Jesus said.

You are the light of the world … he said. He says.

You are here to transform the world.