Gay Jennings preaches at St. Luke’s, Fort Worth
St. Luke’s Church
Fort Worth, Texas
February 9, 2014
In the Name of God, Amen.
Good morning! I am so glad to be worshipping with you this morning at St. Luke’s. I have held the diocese and its people in my prayers for many years, and I have long admired your faithfulness, loyalty, and perseverance in the face of loss and adversity. Thank you for your witness and faith.
This morning’s Gospel from Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount and the words are addressed to the same audience as those who heard the beatitudes – people called to follow Jesus in a life of witness and grace. His words are addressed to all those baptized into the life of Christ, and the words are not only for those sitting on the hillside in a distant time, but to those of us here this morning.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
We aren’t told that we should be the salt of the earth or the light of the world. We’re not told that we must be salt and light, or even that we have salt or light. We are told we are the salt of the earth and we are the Iight of the world. We have been made salt and light by virtue of our baptism. We have been transformed and are still being transformed, and these two images are descriptive symbols of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Let’s take salt first.
- When we want to express a person’s solid worth and usefulness, we might say, “She is the salt of the earth.” During the time of Jesus, salt had particular qualities that were well known and appreciated.
- Salt was connected with purity. No doubt the whiteness of salt made the connection easy. The Romans said that salt was the purest of all things because it came from the purest of all things – the sun and the sea.
- If the word purity seems out of date, perhaps the word integrity works. If you are the salt of the earth, you are a person of integrity remembering that the word integrity means whole and undivided.
- Salt was the most common preservative used during the time of Jesus. It had a cleansing quality and kept food from going rotten. A person who is the salt of the earth strives to preserve what is good and holy, and works against what is corrupted.
- Probably the most obvious quality of salt is that it provides flavor – ask anyone who has been placed on a no-salt diet. Zest, tastiness, flavor. Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean a grim-faced determination. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in his diary, as if recording an extraordinary event, “I have been to church today and am not depressed.” We are called to lives of joy, even in the midst of adversity, secure in the knowledge that we are beloved of God.
Then there is light. You are the light of the world.
- Like salt, light has qualities that make it an interesting image for Christian discipleship. Light is something that is meant to be seen. As followers of Jesus, our faith is meant to be visible – not hidden.
- Houses in Palestine were small and very dark, usually with only one circular window no more than 18 inches across. A lamp was like a gravy-boat filled with oil with a floating wick. Normally the lamp was on a lampstand which was a roughly shaped branch of wood. When people went out, they took the lamp from its stand and put it under an earthen bushel so it could burn without risk until they returned. Jesus was saying we shouldn’t hide our light.
- Light serves as a guide – it can make clear the way – think of the blue lights that mark an airport runway.
- A light can also be a warning light telling of danger ahead. Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to respect the dignity of every person and to work for justice and peace. Part of vocation is to serve as warning lights for anything that degrades or diminishes people.
And why does Jesus tell his followers that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world? It’s simple, so they can change the world and transform it and themselves to the likeness of God. It’s no easy task.
The great preacher Fred Craddock tells the story of vacationing in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. He and his wife found a lovely restaurant at a place called the Black Bear Inn. We were seated there, he writes, looking out at the mountains when this old man with shocking white hair came over and spoke to us. “You’re on vacation?” he said. We said yes and he just kept right on talking.
“What do you do?” he asked. Well I was thinking, Craddock notes, that it was none of his business, but I let it out that I was a minister. The old man said, ‘A minister? Well I’ve got a story for you.” He pulled out a chair and sat down, and Craddock said “Won’t you have a seat?” (He later discovered that the man was 80 years old, the former governor of Tennessee, and that he did this almost every day.)
He said, “I was born back here in these mountains and when I was growing up I attended Laurel Springs Baptist Church. My mother was not married and as you might expect in those days, I was embarrassed about that. At school I would hide in the weeds at the side of a nearby river and eat my lunch alone because the other children could be cruel. When I went into town with my courageous mother, I would see the way people looked at me trying to guess who my daddy was.”
“The preacher fascinated me but at the same time he scared me. He had a long beard, a rough-hewn face, and a deep voice but I sure liked to hear him preach. But I didn’t think I was welcome at church so I would go just for the sermon. As soon as the sermon was over, I would rush out so nobody would say – What’s a boy like you doing here in church?”
“One day though,” the old man continued, “I was trying to get out but some people had already got in by the aisle so I had to remain. I was waiting, getting in a cold sweat when all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked out of the corner of my eye and realized it was the face of the preacher, and I was scared to death.”
“The preacher looked at me. He didn’t say a word, he just looked at me, and then he said, ‘Well boy, you’re a child of…,’ and he paused, and I knew he was going to try to guess not who my mother was, but who my father was.”
“The preacher said, ‘You’re a child of, hmm… Why, you’re a child of God! I see a striking resemblance boy! He swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Go claim your inheritance.’
And then the old man said, “I was born on that day.”
What does it mean to be salt and light? It means to serve God’s people. The vocation is quite simple and incredibly complicated at the same time. Our ministry as followers of Jesus is to help people touch the resurrection which is what that Baptist preacher did for that young boy so many years ago. The ministry is to help people know themselves as loved, cherished, valued, and bathed in the light of Christ. The ministry is to help people be born anew with the knowledge that they are the beloved children of God, created in His image. Amen.
Grant us a new dream
to awaken our spirit,
to revive our faith,
to restore our wisdom.
Set us to work
to value your gifts,
to transform our communities,
and live your resurrected life.
We ask it in the name of the God of love
God in community, Holy, and One. Amen.