What do you see when you look into the mirror? Some thoughts on Salt and Light, Matthew 5:12-15

Sermon:        What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Scripture:     Matthew 5:13-15
Preacher:      Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:             February 9, 2020

This week we are reading from what is often called the Sermon on the Mount.  It begins with the recitation of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and extends to the end of chapter 7 with Jesus’ teaching. The Beatitudes outline for Jesus the characteristics of the people who comprise the Kingdom of Heaven.  Kingdom people are gentle, pure in heart, humble, meek and will be persecuted for what they believe. Turn in your Bible with me to Matthew 5.13 and following.

Matthew 5.13-15

13 ‘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 underfoot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.[1]

Most people can remember the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel where the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples that they are to go out into all the world, preach the Good News, and baptize people in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What most people do not remember is that the Great Commission occurs much earlier in Matthew’s Gospel in today’s text.  Our three verses in Matthew 5 is Jesus’ commissioning his followers to go out and change the world. He is telling them to go live into their identity as people of God. How? They are to go and be salt and light to the world. Scholar Dale Bruner from Whitworth University calls our text the vitally important “You ares!” of Matthew’s gospel.[2] These “you ares” shape our identity as God’s people.

So far in Matthew’s story, Jesus has been baptized, he has been tempted, and he has assembled a team. Jesus has provided them an outline of what it means to live in God’s realm with the Beatitudes. Today, Jesus gives his first marching orders to the Church: You are salt and light to the world. These marching orders are where the church finds her identity.

You and I are the salt of the world. We live in a world where salt is discouraged and we are encouraged to live a low-sodium diet. The challenge is that Jesus is calling us to live into our identity as high-sodium disciples flavoring the world. Salt enhances flavor. Salt is used to preserve things like food. Salt is necessary for our bodies to function metabolically. Salt in and of itself is not a bad thing but too much of it is. If you go to Fresh Market and buy a beautiful standing rib roast and slather it with too much salt and serve it up, you will not be able to eat it! It becomes a wasted culinary moment!

The same can be said for light.  Light is a good thing.  It lights up shadows, it helps us navigate. It gives the body needed vitamins and helps produce positive chemical levels in our brains. And yet, too much or too little light is not good for us or others.  Too much light pointed in a concentrated area can cause blindness. Exposure to too much light can cause damage to the body in the form of skin cancers and melanomas. And yet, too little light is a problem, too!

I never knew until I lived in the Pacific Northwest that there is such a thing as Happy Lights but after living there one full winter, I understood why they were on sale in the stores!  In the PNW winters, you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark because the days are so much shorter; it starts to turn dusk at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Add to that the rain, the clouds, and the cold – at times it feels claustrophobic. For nine months residents of the Puget Sound region suffer through dark, dank, dreary weather. If by chance the sun makes its way out during those nine months, people flock out of their office buildings and go sit in the sun to get a sun break. It can be thirty degrees outside but people are out sunbathing getting as much vitamin D as they can! People crave the light! So, someone figured out Happy Lights which you place in front of you for an hour a day and they keep you less depressed. I had a coworker bring her dog to work one day because it was feeling sick. I looked at the dog and said, “So she’s depressed?” My friend shot back, “Oh yes! How’d you know?”  I pointed to the Happy Light she had placed on the floor in front of her dog’s face. I may be from Georgia but I sure can pick up on the signs!

Members of the church are called to an identity of being salt and light to the world.  We are to enhance people’s lives. We are to season the culture with the virtues listed in the Beatitudes.  We are to shine a light on injustice and hatred. We are to reveal the Good News about the wonderful reign of God in our lives so others can experience the same. We are to shine hope where there is despair. We are called to be salt and light: That is our commission!

Yet, sisters and brothers, we are to use our saltiness, our light strategically and not wastefully or carelessly.  As we have noted, too little or too much salt and/or light can be a bad thing, too. We live in a culture that believes if a little is good, then more is obviously better; however, in the case of our Christian commission and the way we season and light the world with the flavor and colors of Jesus, it matters how much we use.

Think for a moment with me of those Christians you know that are too salty and too bright for people to taste and see the Lord is good or can see Jesus for who he is. They use all the right Christian words, dress a certain way, and have a sense of personal piety that smells like a woman who has sprayed on way too much gardenia perfume!  Overly salty Christianity, a Christian walk that’s “too bright” for others to look at, smell or experience, is not what Jesus is praying for us to demonstrate. Fundamentalism in any form from conservative or progressive is a misuse of Jesus’ high sodium discipleship and light. Salt and light are to be used strategically.

Today we celebrate our Scottish heritage as a church.  Presbyterians emerge from a down-to-earth, common sense, practical understanding of faith.

As Presbyterians we don’t believe in checking our brains at the door of the church but that God gave us an intellect and a faith that can stand up to any intellectual probing we apply to it.

As Presbyterians, we are known as people of the Middle Way; in other words, we are known for prayerfully studying the scriptures to determine the way and will of God.  You see, we believe we can better discern God’s voice through the many as opposed to just the one.

As Presbyterians, we embrace that God is God and is sovereign and that we are not; therefore, we commit everyone and everything to God’s Providential care and oversight.  We may not be able to understand the “whys” to cancer, depression, or assaults on culture’s most innocent, but we Presbyterians do believe that God has all those knots and problems in the midst of His hands and is sorting them out in ways we both cannot nor understand.

As Presbyterians, we are known as a people who are focusing on Jesus first, issues second; at least, it used to be that way. Nowadays, though, Mainline Churches have let social agendas determine the course of the Gospel.  We have removed Christ from the center, the Head of the Church and have displaced him with our personal cause. We forget that it was our Scottish ancestors in the Presbyterian Church who sought and fought to maintain the separation of the Church and the State and here we are in the 21st century America wrapping the two back up together again.

As Presbyterians, we know the world and its issues cannot be easily separated into white and black, this or that, or conservative or liberal; Presbyterians are comfortable with the uncomfortability of wading into the graywater of life and its murkiness in order to find solutions to problems.

I think of our beloved city’s woes with its sewage systems. I can never get out of my head the picture of the scuba diver who put on his helmet and air hose and dropped below the water in the Himmarshee Canal as the broken sewage pipe was spewing god-only-knows-what into the water.  It is a dirty job and not many people would line up to do what that diver did, but someone had to do it. In order for the pipe to be fixed, in order for the sewage to stop spewing into our city’s waterways, someone had to get wet and smelly under the water to set things right.  As Presbyterians, we are like that diver in Himmarshee Canal[3]: the majority of the people in culture are standing on the side of life’s problems, critiquing what should’ve been done, what needs to be done, and whose fault it is and was, to begin with, but unless someone has the courageous humbleness to wade into the gray-water, to wade into the sewage, nothing is going to be addressed and nothing will be fixed. That’s why I am proud to be a Presbyterian. We may not always be popular, but we realize that to be salt and light in our contemporary world means strategically going to address broken pipes in our world that others will not touch.

Beloved, today I ask you to go home and look in a mirror.  Who do you see? Are you a flavor enhancer? Are you a grace-full light bearer? Let’s live into our heritage. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
patrickw@firstpres.cc
patrickhwrisley.net

© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Dale Fredrick Bruner, Matthew, Volume 1, The Christ-Book.

[3] Please see https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/sewer-line-ruptures-in-himmarshee-canal/2167505/.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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