Sunday, February 05, 2017

Salt and Light







Matthew 5:13-20                                                                                

This has been my meditation this week:

You are salt. You can’t be anything else.

You are light. Shine brightly.

Do not be afraid… even if everything appears fearful… in the middle of that, love boldly.

This week, Karoline Lewis wrote this:
You are the salt of the earth.

Jesus doesn’t say think about it. Jesus doesn’t say you will be, you may be, or try to be. No, you just are. You are made that way. You are salt and light.
The question is, do you know you are? Do you believe or doubt it?
Do you imagine that Jesus could not have meant you? Do you think that Jesus might have been mistaken? Do you hesitate? Have you convinced yourself that you can’t make a difference?
If you are afraid you have lost your taste, if your light is barely visible, then you need to ask yourself why. What, or whom, do you fear? What or who has silenced you?[1]

At my text study table this week, we talked about two kinds of fear. The fear that keeps you from going all in… and then the fear that drives you so far in that you’ll drown. Is one of those fears the one that’s keeping your light hidden?

In a sermon just prior to his arrest by the Nazis, Pastor Martin Niemoller spoke of Jesus’ words, You are the light of the world. He preached:

“What are we worrying about? When I read out the names (73 names of pastors & church members who had been forbidden to speak or were missing or arrested), did we not think: ‘[Oh no!] Will this wind, this storm that is going through the world just now, not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and keep it safe.’

It is… during these days that I have realized—that I have understood—what the Lord Jesus Christ means when he says: Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick! … We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is [God’s] concern: we are only to see that the light is not hidden away—“Let your light shine before [others]!”[2]

Last week Jesus began this teaching time on a mountain with… blessings, blessings, blessings… for those in circumstances that we would not immediately think of as blessed, which means somehow that blessing is not tied to our circumstances but to an identity rooted in God. The blessing comes from outside us and moves in… teaching us who we are when we need it the very most. As we come to know who we are more and more deeply, then we’re invited to really be that person—beloved friend of God, salt, light.

Yesterday, I found out about a homework assignment, due Monday. My seventh grader had to find someone, not a relative, and interview them… as I got the details, it was more complicated. We needed a scientist. A woman or person of color in the sciences. Luckily, we thought of our neighbor, an engineer of Chinese descent at Boston Scientific, and he was open to it. As my daughter began to ask him the questions her teacher assigned, we heard what he’s noticed about being Asian in the field of engineering. We heard him describe how he did not have role models growing up. We learned how although the number of Asians and South Asians in his field has increased over time, still in his group of 50 engineers, there are only three women and even fewer people of African descent. Then, our insightful neighbor began to talk about Boston Scientific’s STEM program (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), a real effort to begin at an early age to bring those fields to kids in schools and cultivate interest in these fields among kids who have not traditionally been encouraged in the sciences. And then, when the interview was done, we two parents began to talk out loud in front of our daughters about how they don’t always see themselves as good at math (even when they’re getting As)… but they are just as good at math as anybody else…

And I thought… Salt. Light. And what rose up in me was a feeling of gratitude, for the teacher, for this assignment, for an unexpected reason to reach out to our neighbor, and for the honesty in the conversation. Culturally, we have different ways of promoting (or not promoting) ourselves, and it’s a struggle to have our voices heard when we are in the non-dominant position… and then also I was grateful for the discovery of what we share, hope for our daughters. We share a hunger and a thirst for righteousness in all aspects of life. A hunger and thirst for things to be “Tzadik” (as Ralph shared a few weeks ago)—like a purring engine, right, just, working together beautifully in right relationship.

Matthew loves that kind of righteousness. And the point of Matthew putting salt and light together was that we become “fire starters” in the best sense of the term, bright lights, glowing for our children, our neighbors, our loved ones, and strangers.

This week, I’ve watched as people have been angry with each other and then reached out… and found reconciliation. This week, I’ve noticed as people have been paralyzed by fear… and then offered each other a word of hope. This week, I’ve thought about all the ways that we—with our diverse cultural backgrounds and perspectives—have something to offer each other, in so many ways, if we can just keep coming together, sharing our real stories honestly, and asking for one another’s full participation.

If you fear, remember that by the power of God (not your own power), you are salt. Just a little bit goes a long way… just a generous couple of shakes, a spoonful to season a whole batch of dough. When salt is dissolved in water, its power to cleanse and heal is still remarkable.
I remember my sister-in-law sharing a story about being on a beach in Jamaica and suddenly realizing with pain that she had been stung by a jellyfish. But the little Jamaican boys knew exactly what to do! They ran up and peed on her leg, and immediately it felt better. Usually, we don’t think of pee as a healing balm but turns out, it contains an assortment of inorganic salts and organic compounds… in a pinch, at the seashore… well, now you know.

Barbara Lundblad writes, “Jesus chose these two images on purpose. To be salt and light means to be shaped by the ancient, life-giving law of God.”[3] These are deep, rooted images… like the tree of life of our vision statement. And Henri Nouwen says it this way, “It is in the midst of this world that we are invited to live and radiate hope. Is it possible? Can we become light, salt, and leaven to our brothers and sisters in the human family? …. Do we dare break through our paralyzing fear? Will people be able to say of us, “See how they love each other, how they serve their neighbor, and how they pray to their Lord? Or do we have to confess that at this juncture of history we just do not have the needed strength or the generosity? How can we live in hope so as to give hope? And how do we find true joy?”[4]

You are salt. You can’t be anything else.

You are light. Shine brightly.

Do not be afraid… even if everything appears fearful… in the middle of that, love boldly.

What better time for learning and embodying this big vision of hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

[1]Karoline Lewis,

[2] Quoted by Suzanne Guthrie: Martin Niemoller, Soulwork Toward Sunday: “Let your light so shine…”  At the Edge of the Enclosure,

[3] Barbara Lundblad, ON Scripture, 2017.

[4] Quoted by Suzanne Guthrie: Henri Nouwen, Clowning in Rome, At the Edge of the Enclosure,

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