Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Salt and Light

When my father was 79 years old, he had open heart surgery to replace a faulty valve and to bypass a clogged artery. He did great in surgery and his recovery was remarkable. I remember him saying that he couldn't remember when he had last felt that good. The downside of it all was that he had to radically change his diet to a fat and salt free diet. In other words he gave up any food that really tasted good to him.
(I thought it was ironic that he was told he couldn't eat things like Bacon any longer and yet the very valve they used to repair his heart was from a pig. Go figure!)

About 2 years later - at age 81 or so, after one of his complaints about not being able to eat the foods he really liked, I suggested to him that maybe at age 81, he ought to eat whatever he wanted moderation of course. Returning to red meats, cheese, real eggs and salt, may not have been the best thing to extend his life in years but it sure made his last years more enjoyable.

As I begin to prepare a set of sermons based on Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, I am struck by two unique "you are" statements he makes about his disciples. "You are the Salt of the Earth" and "You are the Light of the World." It impressed me that sentence structure doesn't intimate that a disciple should be" salt and light. The follower of Jesus is salt - the salt of the earth. The believer is light - the light of the world.

If that is true, then the question is not whether or not a Christian is salty or has light. The question is, instead, what are you doing with that tanginess and that light. And the Lord suggests that the danger of salt is that it can lose its tang.

Now my palette is not discriminating enough to tell whether the Morton's salt we buy at the store is stale or tangy. Apparently in Jesus' day, salt was not produced in the same way and with the same consistency and it could, in fact, lose its saltiness or flavor. In that case, it was no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot.

Salt not only adds flavor by its tang, it was used to preserve food in an age before refrigeration and artificial food preservatives. It had healing benefits. I remember having to soak my feet in Epsom Salts if they were sore or rinsing my mouth with warm salt water after a tooth extraction. I guess it aided the healing process. I know it didn't taste very good.

If we can assume that Jesus had these ideas in mind as he talked about salty salt, it has some profound implication for the way we are to live our lives as Jesus' disciples.

Salt can also be an irritant (i.e. "rubbing salt in a wound"). That might be a down side of saltiness. Sometimes we talk about a person with a salty personality or using salty language - that's usually not a complimentary reference.It seems to me that Jesus is suggesting that his followers are to have a tasty desirable influence in our world - one that preserves, heals and transforms our world and the people around us.

Sometimes Christians are known more as the irritant, strident kind of salt. We stand more for what we are against than what we are for. Jesus has called those who bear his name to be an influence for positive change and showing the world a better way rather than the many ways that the world is "wrong."

Hateful demonstrations, strident protests, violence or discrimination have never been great "draws" for people with no faith to become Christ followers. Acts of compassion, careful treatment of the oppressed and marginalized, fairness, and loving unity among themselves seem to be better examples of what it means to be salt.

Similarly, when Jesus went on to say "you are lighthouses in the world" it is more likely he meant we are to be people who light the way from danger to safety, rather than blinding flashes of damaging light. We are reflectors of the true light. We guide the way for others by the way we live. And Jesus says, if you are indeed light, then don't hide your light inside a bucket - let it shine. Be so filled with the True Light of the World that it exudes from your every word and action. Reflecting Jesus' light, the light your reflect will point others to the true light - that is if you don't bury it under a basket of busy-ness, isolation from the world and its needs, and a walk of life that doesn't match your talk.

Ethical, kingdom living begins by the Lord having blessed and equipped us to live as kingdom people. If you are a disciple, you are salt. You are light. Are you salt that has flavor though? Are you a light that shines the reflective light of Christ to a hungry, lost world? Jesus will go on in his inaugural sermon to talk about the commands of the Kingdom; the "shoulds" and "ought-tos." But before he does, he reminds us of what we are and how we have been blessed and equipped. We are blessed so we can be blessings - salt and light. How salty are you?

No comments: