Salt and Light – Lent 2014

My Dear Friends,

‘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

Negativity is spreading. Whether it is Media interviewers whose aim is to make people feel as small as possible or football managers who tear down their players with insults during a match, negativity is spreading.  It has been said too that “children become what they are called.”  But perhaps the challenge of Lent this year for you should be, in the words of the song, “accentuate the positive”.

Jesus does just this to his disciples after he has spoken to the crowds from the mountainside in the words which have become familiar as The Beatitudes. But when he calls them the “salt of the earth,” it is much more than our modern understanding. Salt was one of the most important commodities of the ancient world. It was used for preservation and, by definition, it only loses its saltiness if it is diluted.

Light is used by Jesus in a similar way. His disciples would have known that God began Creation with Light and that Light is a common metaphor for God in Scripture. Light is of God. Israel was meant to be the “light of the world,” to be a blessing to the whole of creation.

Saying “You are the light of the world” is telling his close friends that they are the sign of God’s presence in the world.

He goes on to say that that he has come to fulfil the Law of Moses and not to abolish it. He wants them to understand that that he is part of God’s ongoing work of Salvation and that what he brings to the world is not something new.  “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…”  His new righteousness, though, is not about following rules, but following the heart. And this makes further sense of what he is saying about Salt and Light.

How many people have never been told “You are the light of the world”?  How tragic is it that there are people in the world who have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world.

Notice the present tense as Jesus tells his followers they are salt and light now, not in some distant future. Jesus’ teaching is not only about what the Kingdom of God is, but centrally about who we are, what our new lives in this new realm look like — tasty and lit up.

Those who follow Jesus don’t merely sit back and receive abundant life, or simply tell others about what a great abundant life we have. Jesus is talking here about a life that makes a difference for others in the world.

We are the tastiness that adds salt to lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says we must be tasty and lit up in order to make a difference for God in the world. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfil their purpose when used, poured out.

Salt and light were both precious commodities in Jesus’ time. Both sustain life. Neither can be produced easily on one’s own. They are gifts of creation that require careful ingenuity to access and conserve. And they make all the difference!

The “bushel” Jesus mentions here is not a unit of measurement. Rather, Jesus refers to a vessel big enough to cover a lamp. He describes a light not snuffed out but covered up. The light is not extinguished. It is rendered ineffective.

Bushels that cover your light. What are they? Maybe the bushel is an inferiority complex, a lack of confidence. The inferiority bushel blocks out God’s light.

Or perhaps the bushel is the self-absorption of internal conflicts. Bushel that prevents our light from shining.

Jesus gives the central insight that lights don’t magically end up underneath bushels. The only way for our light to be covered is if we put a bushel over it. We can hear the incredulous tone in Jesus voice, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel” (verse 15). Bushels can only block out the light when we put them there.

For ours is the “light of all people. This light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). So “let your light shine before others” (verse 16).

Too many are captive to the lie that they are not Christian enough or sober enough or church-going enough or know the Bible enough to be claimed by God. The good news is that Jesus has already opened the Kingdom of God to everyone, regardless of who is righteous or deserving. Bushel-free, our lives can shine with the good news of Jesus, welcoming the lost from death to life, from shame to forgiveness, from wandering in an alien land to coming home to God’s very life. This strikes me as something that can make you both lit up and tasty throughout the 40 days of Lent.

Canon Charles Richardson



Message from Father Charles

Sermon preached on 4 August 2013 – Trinity 10

Luke (12:13-21)

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’  But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’  And he said to the crowd, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’  Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly.  And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?”  Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Two brothers are quibbling as brothers do and they put their argument to the rabbi as was the custom. Their father had died and the elder brother got the inheritance. That was the way it was, under the law of his day, but the younger wanted something too. Unhappy with this reality, he decides to put the matter to Jesus anyway. Jesus’ response is not encouraging. He says, “Who made me a judge over property rights?” His concern is not his authority in the matter, but the unimportance of the issue in the face of much more important considerations. There are urgent matters at stake in this time and place, and these men are quibbling about who gets the property! God’s concern is that we see what’s really important…Jesus tells the story of a rich fool to the quibbling brothers. There’s really only one point in the story. There was nothing wrong with the farmer building bigger barns to take care of his large crops. It probably made good sense. What was wrong was that he was unprepared for the fact that the night on which he made that decision also happened to be his last night on earth! It wasn’t that God was being unjust to him. It was simply that his time had come and he had given no thought to it and he had no relationship with the one with whom he was destined to spend eternity.

It was a judgment story and it must have hit the brothers between the eyes. It said you’re possessed by possessions and you’re not rich toward God. It’s a word none of us would like to hear addressed to us. We don’t like judgment. We like religious messages to be comforting, affirming, encouraging. The fact is, however, that like the brothers and the fool, we often do a poor job at recognizing what’s most important.

If you could have heard Jesus continue his conversation, he probably would have said something like this: “Life is a proving ground for the right decisions. In all of life’s circumstances, you are given the opportunities to choose between the unimportant and the important.” Over and over again in the imagery used in his language, he talked about separating sheep from goats, wise from foolish, hearers from doers of the word, children of light from children of darkness. To you and me who all too often want the soft life and the comforting word, there is in this parable a word of judgment: “In terms of the time you spend, the talents you share, the money you sacrifice, are you putting God first in your life? Are you prepared to meet him face to face?”

The good news in all of this is that there is a measure of grace in that Jesus brings us this hard message at all. You parents know how it is at times with your children. You want what is best for them and they lash back, “You’re always at me.”

The truth of the matter, however, is that we say what we say because we do care. If we didn’t, we’d let them do whatever they want. Likewise, Jesus’ warning to the people of his time was a mark of his love for them as well as for us. The whole of life is an opportunity to draw closer to God and grow in his kind of life-style for us. If we miss that opportunity by allowing ourselves to be possessed by possessions, we will have missed the point of life and we will stand empty-handed before God with no excuse.

The other piece of good news besides that Jesus loves us enough to warn us is that he shows us how to live in a different way. By his rich prayer life, his regular visits to the synagogue, his time spent caring for people, teaching people, loving people, Jesus demonstrated a freedom from the kind of life which commits so much time to what’s not so important. In spending himself for us the cross he surrendered the most important possession he had as a human being, his very self—and he did it in freedom, and seeks to live within us and empower us.

Like most of you I have spent the past few weeks looking at the case of Daniel Pelka. Why did not God intervene?  He did try. But he was surrounded by those who thought other things were more important. And thus that little boy suffered and died.

There is a question which the parable puts to us today. Perhaps we can find the time to consider it as we sit together at table or as we reflect while driving or at our usual tasks. What would fulfil me more, free me more, and establish me more as a person— acquiring more things, or sharing more of myself with others?

Or is it possible that you might become more fulfilled, because you were created to be fulfilled differently, as a person who shared more of yourself, willingly, freely, and lovingly with your spouse, your children, your neighbour, and your friend? Would you be more fulfilled if you shared more of your treasures to make a difference in someone’s life? Consider the one who asks the question. He is, on the one hand, the one who said, “You fool,” to the farmer in the parable. He is also the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” from the cross. His love seeks to empower us and to free us. His pure grace leads us to know what kinds of choices make us truly rich.

Canon Charles Richardson