February 9, 2014 - "Shine Bright"


February 9, 2014

Matthew 5:13-20


Salt has many purposes and functions....And when you think about it salt is a pretty amazing mineral.  It is used to enhance food and add a salty flavor.  It is what brings out the flavor in other foods and makes them come alive.  
    In certain circumstances salt can be used as a preservative, keeping food fresh for an extended period of time.  
    After being here in Western New York for the past few weeks, I have become increasingly aware of another use of Salt and how helpful it is in melting the ice on our frozen steps and snowy roads.  
    A long long time ago, In the Ancient world salt was actually of great value and was sometimes used as currency.  In fact, the word “salary” comes from the practice of paying a worker with salt.  
    So we are starting to see just how versatile salt is and the importance of it in every day life, which allows us to see the depth and richness of Jesus’ metaphor using salt in our reading from Matthew.
    The words from Jesus, You are the salt of the earth, implies that we have some sort of purpose and function to perform.  It implies we have an important responsibility to carry out.  
    Being the salt of the earth isn't about being something great and wonderful on our own or for our own purpose.....but rather it’s about being the ones who bring out the great and wonderful things in other people.  It’s about allowing ourselves to enhance other people’s lives.
    The second metaphor from our reading this morning is about light and it echoes the same message.  It invites us to consider the role of discipleship in which we radiate Christ’s light in the world. We have the overarching purpose of refracting God’s light for all peoples and nations. 
    Similar to salt, light is also of great importance and is as versatile.  The light from our headlights and street lights helps us to see when it is dark outside so we can make our way back home. 
     Light gives us vision so we can read our books and educate ourselves.  A little light offers peace and comfort for a small child so they can sleep through the night.  
    Here in Chautauqua County we are surrounded by lighthouses....and there was once a time when those lighthouses were of extreme importance because the light radiating from them ensured the ships would make it back into the port safely. 
    And we also have the light from the sun....which we were so fortunate to see and experience Friday and Saturday.....and it gives us hope as it warms us and reminds us to hang on because spring and summer aren't too far away. 
    Jesus’ words from Matthew this morning are of utmost importance.  This passage of Matthew is part of the sermon on the mount and comes immediately on the heels of the familiar Beatitudes.  
    Jesus’ sermon was not an expression of some general ethical rules for people to follow if they just so happened to feel like it.  But rather they hold significant meaning and purpose for our lives.  Encouraging us and even commissioning us to reach out to others, to be a blessing in other peoples lives....to be the salt and light of the earth as Matthew puts it. 
    We are to read Jesus’ words and commission... and then move toward being the salt and the light in this world.  We are to read it as a way of living in keeping with God's moral vision for humankind and eliciting goodness on earth.  Providing salt to enhance people’s lives.....and providing light in this dark fragmented world.  
    Last week we heard the insightful words from the prophet Micah.... to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.  We discussed the importance of embodying those words from Micah through mission..... and reaching out to our neighbors in need.... extending loving kindness and ensuring they are taken care of.  
    These words from Matthew this morning...To be the salt and light of the earth are no different.  They elicit the same response....to go and do......we are to care for others and radiate God’s light in this dark and broken world. 
(Long Pause)    However, this morning I want us to focus on the second half of verse 13 when Jesus says, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
    I am not sure if it is actually even possible for salt to lose its salty quality and become flavorless.  There may be some expert chemists out there who can educate us further on that but I pursued a degree in counseling, and in theology and religion...so I am not much help on that topic. 
    But what I do know is that when we view salt from a metaphorical perspective, implying human actions are the salt of the earth.... then we can begin to understand how the salty quality can be lost.  
    And The same is true in regards to the light metaphor.  As humans we can lose our light too.  We can lose our salty quality and we can lose our light that is suppose to shine brightly within us and radiate out into the world.  
    Inevitably as we go through life....just as we go through the normal cycles of life, things are going to occur which knock us down.  Things are going to occur which steal our joy and zeal for life.  
    There are going to be things that occur that cause us pain and heartache, and leave us deeply wounded.  There are life events that will occur that will makes us angry, bitter and resentful.  
    Inevitably throughout the course of our lives.....life events will occur that will rob us of our saltiness, crush our spirit.... and dim our light.  
    Certain life events like the death of a friend and loved one, or the heartache and pain of a divorce.  We will experience arguments with family members whose words pierce our souls and leave permanent scars.  We will experience lies, deception, and betrayal by people we thought were our closest friend and ally.  
    Invariably, there will be life events that pierce our hearts......leaving the light within us faint and dim.  
    About 4 years ago I was working as a youth director for my home church in Roanoke.  I had been working there for a couple years and loved my job...I was excited about my job and because of that natural joy and enthusiasm it was infectious for the kids.
    I organized a mission trip for the youth kids one year to Washington D.C..   The day we were leaving for the trip we all gathered at the church to load our stuff in vans.  We were minutes away from pulling out of the church parking lot and I received a call from my mother. 
    My mom called to tell me that my grandfather was really sick and had been admitted to the hospital.  This was confusing to me because my grandfather was healthy, he was relatively young, he ate right and walked everyday. 
    So I was confident he just had a stomach bug and would be released within 24 hours.  I was literally minutes away from departing from the church with 4 vans full of kids eagerly anticipating their mission trip in DC, so I told my  mom I was sure he would be fine.  I informed her I was on my way out of town, and assured her I would have my cell phone with me at all times....so if his situation worsened I would leave and head back early. 
    We remained in close contact throughout the whole week we were up in DC and I never ended up having to drive back early,  but my grandfather was also never released from the hospital either. 
    Over the course of the following 9 months I watched my grandfather’s health decline.  I followed him from hospital to rehab, from rehab to hospital, as teams of doctor’s attempted to provide the best medical attention and care possible.  But the inevitable occurred and my grandfather passed away.  
    The aging and dying process is inevitable, we know it is going to occur...at some point.  But that does not make it any easier on us.  And it doesn't mean it won’t have an effect us.  These sorts of life events cause tremendous pain and suffering and leave emotional scars. 
    And I most certainly was wounded by my grandfathers death.  It knocked the wind out of me, it caused agonizing grief to settle in.......it stripped me of my natural joy and enthusiasm for life.....essentially it robbed me of my saltiness and left me with no light left to shine. 
    As I tried to lead the youth program in the months following his death, I had very little to offer.  And the youth group kids knew it....they could see it....and they could sense my broken spirit. The overall excitement and zeal that was once ever-present in the youth program had diminished greatly. 
    Friends inevitable we are going to face trials and tribulations like this, there is nothing we can do to prevent it or escape it.  And there are many other difficulties we will have to face in life as well.  
    Therefore it becomes imperative for us to properly take care of ourselves.  And what I mean by that, is that it becomes imperative for us to  allow ourselves to truly grieve and to mourn the lose of our friends or loved ones. 
    It becomes imperative to grieve over the emotional scars that were caused by the angry and hurtful words from a family member....or by the lies and deception from a friend that took us by surprise.  It becomes imperative for us to take time to heal from these things.  
    When you allow yourself to really acknowledge these devastating life events, and take the time to grieve and mourn over them....then we give ourselves permission to be angry and hurt by what actually occurred.     
    It is through allowing yourself to feel those genuine emotions that you can properly heal and our wounds can scab over.  And eventually over time acceptance and forgiveness are able to settle in and replace those feelings of anger, hurt and pain.  
    It is essential that we take care of ourselves not only for our own well being but also for the well being of others....so we can actually be the salt and light of the earth.  
    A wise man recently told me, “You have to heal yourself, before you can heal the world”.  Those words of wisdom are profound and are the essence of Jesus teaching here.  We are the salt and light of the earth but what good is salt if it has lost it’s saltiness....and what good is a light if it isn't shining brightly.
    In order to share the light of Christ with others then we must look at the darkness within ourselves, and work to address the pain and anger that resides there. 
    We cannot bring the light of Christ to others if we have not addressed what is hampering our own light and we cannot cast out..... if we first have not cast in.  
    We must heal what is broken and hurt inside before we can reach out to the darkness in this world.  
    Here in this passage from Matthew, Jesus encourages his followers to bring light to a dark and broken world.  Jesus encourages his followers to be the salt of the earth, but we must first ensure our light is burning bright.  And we must ensure we have not lost our salty quality along the road of life. 
    We must make sure we are rekindling the flame that lives within us all.......and we do that by giving ourselves time to truly grieve and mourn, and eventually by letting acceptance and forgiveness take root in heart.  
    But we are also not alone in that walk.... look around....you are surrounded by a community of people that are devoted to caring for each other, and that want to offer love and support.  
    And no matter what heartache or pain we may face..... God is always with us....providing strength and support, nurture and comfort.   
    In the words of Matthew....we are called to be the salt and light of the earth.  We are called to enhance other people’s lives...to be a beacon of radiating light in this dark and fragmented world.  

    May we all take the time to nurture the flame that resides within us....May we all heal ourselves so we can reflect God’s light in this world......May we all shine bright!

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