The Gospel according to Matthew, the 5th chapter

Jesus said: 13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Completing God’s Law

17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.  The Message Bible


At the Luther exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this fall, I noticed 4 hourglasses filled with sand. When I asked what they were for, the guide told us “That’s so that the preacher doesn’t preach too long. After the first one is empty, the second one is tipped over and so on. OK I said. How long is each timer? 15 minutes was the reply. Four 15 minute timers.”  You can do the math. But don’t worry, I’m not going to preach for an hour.

Shorter sermons may be why the designers of the Revised Common Lectionary – that is the group that chooses the readings for each week -- decided to  divide the reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into four parts.

Last week we heard what’s called the “Beatitudes” or “Blessings.” Jesus blesses those that society doesn’t usually call blessed – those who mourn and those who are meek; those who are poor in spirit and those who seek righteousness; those who are persecuted and those who are vulnerable. We learn that Jesus gives us surprising blessings even when – or maybe especially when – we are feeling the least powerful. You are blessed.

You are blessed. That’s a great message, but Jesus is just getting started.  Jesus then tells his disciples: you are salt and you are light. Notice that he doesn’t say: “One day you will be salt” or “Someday you will be light.” No, Jesus calls his followers – and that includes me and you -- the salt of the earth and the light of the world – already.

So what does it mean to be “salt of the earth?”  This past Friday, by Governor Dayton’s command, the flags were flown at half staff in honor of four chaplains who, when their ship was bombed gave up their life jackets to save others. And then they held hands, sang hymns and went down with the ship.  One was Methodist, one was Catholic, one was Jewish and one was Baptist. But they were all “salt of the earth”.

But our actions don’t have to be that amazing or courageous to be “salt of the earth.” After all, just a little bit of salt transforms a bland meal and, in the same way, even small actions can enhance the world around you.

Jesus said, “You are light.” Again, Jesus calls you light rather than promises that you will one day be light.  You are already light.  Light can do two things: Light shines on the path for others showing them – and us -- the path, and, light exposes injustice and evil that lies hidden in darkness. Being light doesn’t have to be dramatic or a flashy big action. Shining even one little light into a dark room changes it. It makes a difference. And it’s something that you and I can do. In fact, you may already be doing it without really acknowledging that this is what you were doing.

For example, maybe you were salt and light this past week or so: by … saying a prayer… helping a neighbor….doing your work faithfully, helping a friend with homework… volunteering… smiling and saying a kind word…serving a meal at a funeral or marching for the sake of your neighbor.  You don’t all have to do the same thing – and it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Remember… it just takes a little salt to make a huge difference. With Jesus, faithful actions – no matter how small – can change the world.

Jesus calls you Salt and Light. And that is what you are. So Jesus challenges us to live into who we are. Jesus says, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.”  It does no good there. As disciples, followers of Jesus, as baptized children of God, you and I are called as a people and as individuals to let your light SHINE.  

The people of Pelican Rapids did just that. They were salt of the earth for Yusuf, when he came as a refugee 20 years ago or so. Yusuf and his family – his mom and dad and six brothers and sisters – fled the war in Somalia made it to a refuge camp in Kenya where they were screened and vetted again and again by the United Nations. They were there for four years – waiting and hoping and praying for a new life somewhere – anywhere. While they were in the refugee camp – receiving scant rations and minimal health care – five of his brothers and sisters died.

Finally, the day came when they received notice – they were accepted by the United States. Again they were screened. After passing all of the screenings, they were able to fly to New York City. They were met by someone from Lutheran Social Services – LSS - and were taken to a hotel for the night. They unpacked their bags. They thought they were in their new home! But the next day, they discovered they weren’t home yet. They got on another plane and flew to Fargo, N.D. They were met by another Lutheran Social Service member. Yusuf said he remembered looking out onto the prairie land – and wondering, “Is this home?” But no, it turned out that they were then put on a bus and traveled to Pelican Rapids.

At Pelican Rapids, they were met by a group of people who said, “Welcome home.” Yusuf and his family were the first immigrants from Somalia that had come to Pelican Rapids and the people welcomed them in, as neighbors.  The next day, Yusuf started school in the sixth grade, not knowing more than five words of English. But the people of Pelican Rapids were salt and light to Yusuf and his family and helped them overcome barriers of language and culture. For example, when they did not have money for soccer team uniforms, a church opened its doors and they cooked a traditional meal as a fundraiser– and the whole neighborhood came.

Now Yusuf works for LSS seeking to be salt and light – and to help other people and congregations to be salt and light to new neighbors, just as the people of Pelican Rapids had been for him.

Perhaps you saw the story of the little 4 year old girl from Somalia that got caught in the travel ban. Four years ago, her mother received the call – just as Yusuf’s family had – that she and her daughters could go to the United States. She too had been waiting for four years. But the baby was born too soon – and so there were no papers for her. Her mother made the incredibly hard decision to leave her baby with a friend and to take her two daughters and go. As a mother, I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But after 4 years in a refugee camp in which the health and wellbeing of her daughters were at stake – remember Yusuf lost five of his six siblings during his stay in the refugee camp – perhaps the choice wasn’t so hard. She chose life for her older daughters and hope for her baby.

The media reported that the mother contacted Senators Al Franken & Amy Klobuchar and asked him to work on her behalf. What they did not report is that this mother wasn’t acting alone. She had the support of people from LSS acting as salt and light to support her and encourage her and help her.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It is so easy to hide our light – and think “someone else” will be that light. But in big ways and small we CAN make a difference. We can be salt – for the hungry neighbors as we share food with through Near Foodshelf or for a hungry person by giving them an emergency packet. We can be light as we share the light in the darkness for those who are immigrants – and join LSS in asking our legislators to make fair and humane immigration laws.  We can be light as we welcome the stranger into our midst – remembering that it is Jesus we welcome whether the name is Husef or Mary or something else.  For regardless of the name,

Jesus reminds us that in serving our neighbor – in being Salt and Light for the neighbor, we are serving him.

Our challenge is to dare to let our light shine before others, to dare to “Go public” with this.  

Let us pray: Jesus, help us to be Salt – to bring out the God flavors of the world, to enhance the lives of our neighbors. And Jesus, teach us to be light, to bring out the God-colors in the world. Help us to dare to go public with this - sharing that God is not a secret to be kept but instead a joy to share. Amen.