Be a Salt Lamp for Jesus

In 1630, ten ships left Southampton, England headed to the Massachusetts bay carrying a thousand Puritans, among them, John Winthrop, on ship Arbella. Winthrop was the spiritual and political leader of these Puritans, and we have record of a sermon he gave, we imagine him on the bow of the ship, with ocean waves crashing against the boat, telling these Puritans how to be together when they arrived in New England.
“We must be knit together in this work as one man,” he said, with ocean mist spraying behind him, “we must entertain each other in brotherly Affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities,” “we must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality,” Isn’t that beautiful? “We must make others Conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together,” And never lose sight of why we are here, he says. If we do this, he promised, “the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways.”[1]
People are watching, he warned, we will be an example for the world. “For we must Consider,” Winthrop said, “that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” “If we deal falsely with our God in this work, God shall withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the way of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going.” That is quite a warning.
We shall be as a City upon a Hill, Wintrhop said. People are watching. He borrowed that phrase right out of the Gospel of Matthew, from Jesus first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, which we began to read last week, with the beatitudes. A City on a Hill is visible because it’s light shines. You are the light of the world, Jesus says in our passage today.
I interpret Jesus saying “be the light of the world” as an encouragement to shine brightly, to show others who you are and what you believe about God and the world. These disciples, freshly followers, are just learning what Jesus is about. The Puritans had so much at stake too, they took seriously their business in being the light of the world, living in city upon a hill; even their theology has within it a sense of always being watched, that good behavior brings about God’s blessings. The beatitudes have a very different theology, perhaps opposite, that we are not blessed by worldly success, but by living into God’s will, being meek, humble, peacemakers, and that we are especially blessed when we are downtrodden and even when we have failed, when we are poor of spirit. That is when God is with us most especially.
So Jesus goes on to say, in our passage today, you are the light of the world, God made you with a spark of the divine inside, and you are not made to hide that, to put a bushel basket over it. Let your light shine before others. Be who you are, share what you believe, let that light shine. ‘A city built on a hill cannot be hid.’ He said. Don’t wait for someone else to come around and lead you to your truth, or to tell you how to live your life, you were not meant to be hidden, but to shine. The disciples who were Jewish, would have understood the discussion of ‘Lamp’ as a term in the Hebrew Bible for David and his followers.
In the time of Jesus, a lamp was precious, it took oil and fire, to light a lamp, it was not automatic. Even in the Puritan 1600s, light was precious, it is not until very recently in the scope of history, with the discovery of electricity that the metaphor around light has changed. Light isn’t a steady precious rare glow anymore, light is reactive, it can be switched on and off. In our age light shines too much, we each have our own individual light in our pockets, the blue glow of our cell phones, the black mirror of TV, the always glow of technology, which disrupts our circadian rhythms, where we can tweet nonsense to our shining light’s content an any hour, where we can artificially light the world with what we think, and why we think that is the right thing to think and all the sudden there is a cacophony of light’s shining, arguing, disconnected from our lives. If you think I am talking about the facebook newsfeed you are right.
Jesus says, we ought to let our light shine, but it can’t be disconnected from what we are actually doing in our lives. Jesus said we ought to be the light of the world, by all means, share your opinions, you were made to do so, God gave you a spark and don’t hide it. But what does he talk about before discussing the light of the world? What does he say in the passage before he says, “you are the light of the world?”
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” Who are salt of the earth people? You kind of know them when you see them. They live by example, they do a lot of work, often with their hands, they are wholesome, not always the best spoken with the most polished shining opinions, but living in a way that is admirable and connected. There’s a lot of salt of the earth people here, we all know what that feels like, and I think our culture needs a little more saltiness right now.
Before Jesus talks about being light to the world, he talks about salt of the earth, as if to encourage us, that we have got to be down here first, before we are the city on the hill. With all the ways to project light, I think we have a sodium deficiency in our culture. And as the medical practitioners know in the room, a sodium deficiency, or a sodium abundance, can be catastrophic. Salt needs to be regulated carefully in the body, it controls the fluids in our body, it is responsible for making our muscles and nervous system work. Salt is also a preservative, as well as a flavoring agent. We can spout off our opinions all we want, as long as we have the real flavor of living that truth in our lives. Do you think we need more salt in our culture? Perhaps some of you have too much salt, and have burnt out. Put aside individual salt levels for a minute–
What does a cultural sodium deficiency look like? It is to speak out against the evils of racism, but then continue to be happy living in my very homogenous bubble, not interacting with anyone who looks different than me throughout the week, not making any effort to examine my life. It is when I go to a rally and snap a selfie and put it on facebook, but don’t do anything in my local community to advance the rights of the cause the rally meant to support. It is one thing to write an article or be quoted about your opinion of income inequality, and entirely different thing to seek community with the poor. It is one thing to say, “build bridges not walls,” then to sit within my four walled home without seeking to build interpersonal relationships with anyone out of my comfort zone. Do you see what I am getting at here? We have a cultural sodium deficiency. This is another way of saying “faith without works is dead.” Hypocrisy begins to glow if we are only light all the time, without ever being salty. If our opinions only seek to be on the right side of history, without making any shifts in our actual lives, we are light without salt. If we only act without thinking, we are salt without light. We need to be both.
The Russell Library is getting some heat for claiming that they will be an inclusive space. That is talking the talk, being the light. But when you walk over there, you see that they are walking the walk too, being salty. They don’t have rules about loitering out front. They welcome people in to sit in the warm space, even if they aren’t reading, and they will continue to provide safe space for those who need refuge. They are somehow getting flack for human decency- I guess not everyone likes the flavor of salt.
Who likes salt here? Who likes the kind of salt Jesus is talking about here? The salt of the earth? Let’s get salty church! We are past the time where we can let just some of the body of Christ be salty. They will burn out. And for those salty, burnt out folks among us- take a salt bath. Eat some good food, turn off the artificial glows for a while- renew yourself, until you feel the glow of your own light come back.
Salt has to run through the whole body. Who served breakfast at St. Vincent DePaul this morning? Thank you salty people! Now take a break and let other people do it next time! Who, while you were serving today, developed a relationship or struck up a conversation with someone you didn’t previously know, someone who is different than you are? Salty people! Take time this week, to do something that your own light tells you to follow. It is not enough to be the light, we have to do the light. We have to become salt lamps for Jesus. Do you know what a salt lamp is? Well, I have one here to show you. My salt lamp burnt out a few years ago- and I am not claiming that metaphor for myself, but I do have a terrific mag-light, metaphor for the grace of God, to light this thing up.
Congressman John Lewis, when interviewed by Krista Tippet, On Being recently said, “You don’t change the world, the society, in a few days. It is better to be a pilot light than to be a firecracker. Because if you are a pilot light you’re going to be around. A firecracker coming along in you, just go off. You’re here one moment, and you’re gone the next.” A salt lamp is like a pilot light- it doesn’t burn out quickly like a fire cracker, it is a slow and steady glow, it knows its limitations, it is light that is grounded, contained in saltiness.
The prophet Isaiah says that if God’s people are not living out justice, are not bringing the homeless into their homes, are not letting the oppressed go free are not breaking every bond of injustice, not sharing their bread with the hungry, not covering the naked, and even hiding from their own kin, they aren’t doing the type of fasting that God wants. But if you do these things, if you become salt-lamps I’d add, God says through Isaiah, “Your light shall beak forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly, your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard, and God will say, “here I am.” Our light will shine so brightly, if we become the salt, if we align our loving actions with our really good opinions and beliefs. Church, let’s be salt lamps for Jesus, and light up our community together. Amen.