Sermon for the 3rd Sunday before Lent: Being Salt and Light – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 5 February 2023 by The Reverend Robert Green. (Isaiah Ch 58: v 1 – 9a; Matthew Ch 5: v 13 – 20)
Those of you who may have watched the series The Vicar of Dibley on TV may well remember the episode when following a storm a tree falls through a stained-glass window in the church. The vicar, the Reverend Geraldine Granger, persuades a local businessman to part with eleven thousand pounds to replace the window, but weeks later when the new window is revealed, it is only plain glass. Geraldine has donated the money to an earthquake appeal in South America!
The legality of donating funds given for one cause to an entirely different one is not addressed in the programme, but the congregation is so stunned by the sun shining through the plain glass window, illuminating the beauty of the surrounding countryside, that no one raises any objections. The reason for this illustration will become clearer a little later.
Our Gospel reading this morning is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount immediately after the Beatitudes, when Jesus continues by reminding all those listening that they are the light and salt of the world.
In the 1st century most light came from the sun. There were oil lamps for the darkness, but it was a very feeble illumination. Salt was mined or reclaimed from the sea in salt pans, in which the seawater was evaporated by the sun. Salt had many uses, including healing, flavouring, preserving and cleaning. Roman troops were often paid in salt, hence the word “salary”. The first of the great Roman roads was the “Via Salaria”- the Salt Road.
Only a little salt is necessary, but without it our bodies become chemically unbalanced as I found out when nearly four years ago I had to spend a brief spell in hospital because of a saline deficiency, and it could only be remedied by allowing the saline content to be gradually increased.
When Jesus refers to the salt losing its saltiness, and it is only fit to be thrown out and trampled underfoot, he is perhaps referring to the spiritual imbalance that occurs when we refuse to accept God. It is like putting a bushel basket on top of a lamp so the light is extinguished.
These words are not only addressed to the Twelve Disciples, but to all who are there. Even though they are ordinary people who happen to be listening, Jesus is saying that they and all people are salt and light for the world, unless we choose to go our own way. We don’t have to produce salt and light; that is provided for us by God, And as we heard in the Reading (v.16) “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”; one of the Offertory sentences in the Book of Common Prayer.
Jesus makes clear that he has not come to abolish Judaism, but to reinterpret it, drawing the distinction between observing the Law and being right with God. In our passage from Isaiah the prophet criticises those who when they fast “ do as you please and exploit all your workers” and again “Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” The prophet then spells out what should be the fruit of fasting “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke”. Obeying the letter of the Law, but ignoring its spirit is not acceptable. Our worship together is to prepare and re-energise ourselves to be witnesses in our daily lives.
We are the salt of the earth and light for the world now, exactly as we are. We are transmitters of God’s love, and the more we trust God the more light will shine through us, and as that happens our tiny pinch of salt will increase until it begins to flavour life all around us. We may not always get it right, but as long as we are willing to learn and trust that is honouring for God.
In other words God’s light will shine through us just as if we were plain glass!