Salt and Light – Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20

During this past week we have celebrated Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation. It is a point of change int he church’s year. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple to receive God’s blessing.  There they meet Simeon and Anna, two old people who had been faithfully waiting for God to break into their world.  When they saw Jesus they realised that this was who they had been waiting for – in Simeon’s words; “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” But Simeon also says to Mary, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Just as Mary’s thoughts are disturbed by Simeon’s words, so at Candlemas, we mark the end of the season of Epiphany and start our journey towards the Cross and Good Friday, through Lent and Holy Week and on to Easter.  Candlemas is often celebrated surrounded by candles, the theme of light is important The reading set for the 4th Sunday Before Lent continue this theme.

In the Old Testment reading, Isaiah talked about what God looks for in his faithful people – let me remind you of his words…..

“When you share your food with the hungry
    and provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked and clothe them,
    and do not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,”

Isaiah reminds us that shining with the light of God’s love in the word around us is about caring for those who lack food, shelter and things to wear and caring for those who are oppressed.  He also reminds us to take care with the way we communicate – that if we point our finger and indulge in malicious talk then we are not letting our light shine.   The challenge is clear … “let your light rise in the darkness,” says Isaiah. Challenging stuff indeed!

Matthew uses two images to help us understand what it means for us to draw people closer to God.  “As Christians,” he says, you are called to be salt and light to the world.  To be ‘the light of the world…… letting our light shine before others, so that they may see the good we do and praise God.’  To be the ‘salt of the earth’.

Both salt and light make a great difference.  Salt not only preserves and disinfects but it brings out the full flavour of other ingredients.  Light allows everyone to see clearly what’s around them.  So, we are called to do those things that let God’s light shine out from us, we are called to make a difference in the lives of those we meet.  In all we say, think and do, God asks us to reflect his values, his love, his life, his light.

However, if light and salt are not used carefully they can destroy rather than enhance. When you are cooking, adding the right amount of salt is critical to producing a dish that has a good flavour.  Too much and you’ve ruined the dish, all you will taste is salt and no-one will want to eat it.  Just the right amount, and you won’t actually taste the salt but the dish will be delicious – all the other flavours will be enhanced.  Used well, salt is helpful, used in a way that dominates, it is overpowering and destroys!discerned_saltandlight

We also have to be careful with light.  … Have you noticed how when people drive towards you in the dark, often your eyes get pulled towards their headlights and you get distracted from the road in front of you. … or if someone has shone a bright light straight at you, you’ll know how you are blinded and can’t see anything.  For light to be useful, it has to be carefully directed and its level balanced.  Too bright and in the wrong direction and no-one can see anything.  But just the right level of brightness and shining at what we want people to see, then it makes all the difference in the world.

Matthew prompts us to think about whether we are salt and light, but he also prompts us to consider how we are salt and light.

Things had gone wrong for the people Isaiah was talking to.  They had made their adherence to their religion a show – something to boast about. They were being heavy handed with the salt and shining the light too brightly into the eyes of others, so that all anyone could see was them carefully following religious practices. Their behaviour hid the reality of God’s love.  They didn’t make a difference in the lives of others and so were not working with God but against him.

1d5e83e00422b659f2c4a4a8dddb2678What about us?  What do people see when they look at us? Do we obscure the light? Or do others see people who are different, who are making a difference?  Do they see people who reveal God’s love, God’s peace, God’s joy and God’s hope?  Do they see people who are salt and light to the world?

What might we do to ensure that we are both salt and light in our world? I think Isaiah is very clear, and we could do a lot worse than listening to his agenda for mission:

“When you share your food with the hungry
    and provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked and clothe them,
    and do not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness.”

Amen.

 

matthew5-13-15-scripturephoto_lg

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