Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5) “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b) Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we […]
Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5)
“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b)
Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we can get some accolades; it’s grittier than that. Jesus is saying religion isn’t just stale creeds and pretty objects and rousing songs and a collection of traditions. Religion is meant to be active.
Jesus is basically saying what Theodore Roosevelt would say centuries later, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Religion isn’t about who you are against or what’s on your list of no-no’s or 101 reasons to feel guilt, shame and fear. Religion is meant to be service, action, making a positive difference. If people don’t see religion making a difference, why would they care at all about what we claim to believe about things that can never be proven? If belief in God doesn’t motivate you to care for God’s children, then what good is your belief to anyone other than yourself?
So, Jesus says you are light and light must shine. Love of God must translate into building communities of optimism, comforting those who grieve, sharing and celebrating joys, caring about those who are deprived of necessary resources; love of God should translate into offering hope to the hurting, welcoming the stranger, reaching out to the marginalized, and confronting injustice.
So, the light metaphor is easy to work with; it’s obvious, it’s clear. But what about that salt business? You are the salt of the earth? What even does that mean?
Actually, it pairs nicely with light. People of faith are to be people of action. We are to be salty.
When you work hard, you sweat, and sweat is salty.
When you put your whole heart into something, your heart might get wounded or even broken. Heartbreak brings tears, and tears are salty.
To be light in the world, we’re going have to sweat a bit, and probably even cry a bit. There is sweetness in our ministry, but there is also saltiness if we are honest, and if we are following the example of Jesus.
When Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, he cried. When Jesus ached for Jerusalem, he cried. When Mary watched her son being tortured to death, she cried. When Jesus breathed his last saying, “God, into your hands I commend my spirit,“ God surely cried.
Last week we heard Jesus saying, “Bless you who mourn, who are persecuted, who are vilified, who long for justice…” In other words, bless you who know the taste of the salt of tears.
The work Jesus calls us to, the work for peace and justice and healing, will bring us times of tears. Bless you who cry. The salt of your tears will help heal our world.
There is also a bit of encouragement in saying, “you are salt.” Slavery was a time of sorrow, of tears, but eventually came the Passover, the Exodus, and liberation. Salty tears give way to brighter tomorrows; the tears of bondage reflect the light of hope that there is a land of promise flowing with milk and honey.
The message of light and salt is seen in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During World War 2, a young, German, Lutheran, handsome Dietrich Bonhoeffer left his fiancé and his position at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in New York, to return to Germany to be part of the resistance against racist, xenophobic, fascist nationalism. He returned to his homeland at a very dangerous and scary time.
Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and spent two years in a prison camp. He was charged with plotting to overthrow Hitler. Members of his family were executed, and finally, Bonhoeffer was, too…less than a month before his camp was liberated by the allies.
Bonhoeffer believed in grace, unmerited favor, but for him grace wasn’t about what he could get from God; he believed grace could actually cost something (he even called it “costly grace”). He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The grace he received freely caused him to act, so while free, it still cost him something.
Believing in and depending on the all-inclusive grace of God, Bonhoeffer had to stand up for it, speak out for it, defend those who were being dehumanized. The grace that affirmed him would not allow him to be silent when other children of God were being unjustly oppressed. And so, the grace that he lived for, he also died for. But he didn’t regret it; on the day he was executed he told a fellow prisoner, “This is the end, but for me, it is also the beginning.” The good we do cannot be destroyed. Isn’t that the message of the resurrection?
Bonhoeffer was light at a dark time, and salt when decency demanded that tears be shed for the evil humans can do to other humans.
We are God’s light; let us shine brightly. We are God’s salt, those who sweat and cry to share the love of God with others. Our job is to build communities of kindness, cultures of caring, ministries of mercy.
There are people who are terrified because religion and state, family and commerce conspire against them…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people fleeing famine and war, oppression and destitution…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who have been repeatedly dehumanized because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people battling life-threatening diseases, some of them without access to medical care…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who are lonely, hungry, afraid…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who have had to overcome unfair obstacles because of who they love or because of the color of their skin or because of where they were born or because of how they were taught to pray…be light to them; be salt for them.
Let the light of hope shine from you into their lives; let your salty tears flow for their pain, and make sure the sweat of your labor for peace and healing and justice falls like the dew of God’s own mercy onto our world. It’s not enough to say we believe something if that belief doesn’t motivate us to offer hope and compassion.
The spiritually of Jesus is an engaged spirituality that seeks to be light and salt, hope and healing to the hurting, the wounded, the marginalized and the oppressed.
Light and salt…they Jesus’ are marching orders to get to work and make a difference in a hurting world. We start by supporting our progressive, positive, and practical faith community, and then as a faith community, we encourage one another to work for peace, justice and healing. Good religion can help us feel good, and it should also motivate us to do good. This, according to Jesus, is what will be our greatest witness. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017
Let us serve you by caring for others.
And give us joy in our service.
Let us be receivers and workers of miracles.