Salt and Light
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20
“What am I doing with my life?” This is a question we all ask ourselves at various points in our journey. It is the question behind the dreams of children who wonder what they will do when they grow up. Young people wrestle with this question as they plan their futures, choose schools, pick careers, leave their parent’s house and make a new home for themselves. Those of us who are older look back on the past and ponder what we have done with our life. The difficulties, challenges, and losses in life often bring us face to face with this question. It is really a question about meaning, significance, and purpose.
“What am I doing with my life?” I believe that is it is in and though such a question that God is doing the work of drawing us to himself. It is a question with which we will always struggle until we begin to seek meaning, significance, and purpose on God’s terms and for the love of others.
“What am I doing with my life?” is the question behind today’s gospel. Jesus is continuing the Sermon on the Mount. He is speaking to those He has just declared to be blessed: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for the sake of what is right and for speaking the truth. Today people like Colonel Vindman and Fiona Hill come to mind. To live the beatitudes is our way forward in this life and the challenge in which we discover our blessing and our blessedness.
You blessed one, Jesus says, are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But our blessedness is not for ourselves alone. It is a gift given us to be held and used for the life of the world and the well being of others. The Christian life is not lived in isolation from or without regard for others. If we do not flavor this world with Christ, we are like salt that has lost its saltiness. If we do not illuminate darkness with Christ’s presence, we are like light hidden under a basket. We render ourselves useless. When we do not live as the people Christ knows us to be, we thereby reject our blessedness.
Some of us will hear the words of Jesus and think that we need to become something that we are not, or that we need to get something that we do not yet have. That is not, however, what Jesus says. He does not say you should become salt. He says we are already salt. He does not say that we are to become light. He says that we already are light. We already are what we need to be. We already have all that we need. It is for us to live the life of those who have been blessed, the life of salt and light.
This is really the call to make our inner life and our outer life, the life of the spirit and the life of the flesh, congruent with each other. Our beliefs and our actions are to reflect and reveal each other. Whether it is a question of our baptismal promises or the public oaths we swear to serve the common good, these spoken commitments are to inform the decisions we make and actions we take. If they do not, then we have missed the mark, we have robbed life of its God given meaning and purpose, have sinned and sinned greatly.
Life can only be lived as salt and light if it is lived with integrity. This is something that too few of our elected senators demonstrated this past week. They failed to connect obvious truth with appropriate consequences. They have thereby seriously weakened, compromised and crippled the possibilities of our common life. A recovery from placing one man above the law and investing him with a tyrant’s mantle will unfortunately take generations. A precedent has been set that dishonors our past and compromises our future.
Our faith in Jesus, our life of prayer, our blessedness must be made visible by how we live, speak and act. These must be the foundation for our relationships with all people: family, friends, strangers, and even enemies. We must respect the dignity of every person. We are not to behave as undisciplined adolescents, making fun of people, calling them names, or referring to any child of God as scum. It is one thing to believe in Christ and to profess to be a Christian. It is another to live a public life that bears witness to that belief.
We can say our prayers and sing our praises to God, but if they do not guide and govern our actions in this world, then they are only self-serving words that fall deaf on God’s ears. Perhaps we should spend less time speaking the truth about God and more time doing the truth of God. What is truth? How do we do truth?
The Prophet Isaiah is clear and concrete about how we do God’s truth. We loose the bonds of injustice. We undo the thongs of the yoke, and we let the oppressed go free. We treat the rich and the poor with equity. For example, we do not require bail from the rich and the poor as if they both had access to the same reservoir of financial resources.
Doing God’s truth means that we share our bread with the hungry, we bring the homeless poor into our house, and we do not hide ourselves from each other.
This past week I put out a call to UIDN supporters for a home for Luis, an 18 year old, unaccompanied asylum seeker. A member of our congregation and his wife answered that call. Last week, two members of St. John’s opened their home and their hearts to 18 year old, Evelio, and Isabel, his 16 year old sister. Isabel had spent the last 8 months in detention in Texas. With UIDN’s support he was able to secure her release and these teens, who only have each other as family, were reunited. On Saturday, I received a call from the a warden at Trinity Church in Saugerties who offered, their now vacant rectory, as a home for Roberto, Maria and their three young children.
Doing God’s truth means living with and caring for each other in such a way that our blessedness makes a difference in the lives of others, that we satisfy the needs of the afflicted, as do the team of bilingual volunteers who staff UIDN’s office.
In short, doing God’s truth means doing what is right, what is good, what is Godly. It means speaking the truth to power, with courage and without counting the personal cost, as did Mitt Romney this past week.
When we live this way our light breaks forth like the dawning of a new day and the darkness is dispelled. That light is the presence and love of Christ. As we live for others we discover that our soul is healed, our needs are satisfied, our life is rebuilt and God is ever-present saying, “Here I am.”
The meaning, significance and purpose of our life are found in the life and well being of another. The Jews, Muslims and Christians and non believers who work together as a team raising funds for UIDN’s work, and the wider community that so generously supports it’s work are a mosaic of salt and light. I am happy to report that this past week Episcopal Charities gave UIDN a 25K grant for 2020.
The meaning, significance and purpose of our life are manifest in the many volunteers who collect, package and give food and clothing on the third Thursday of each month in our parish hall to no fewer than fifty asylum seeking families, who have come to be our neighbors.
The meaning, significance and purpose of our life are found in the life and well being of another. To serve our own purpose, to inflate our selves in some desperate search for a measure adulation that can never suffice, to fabricate a litany of questionable and unfounded accomplishments and achievements, to enrich our own coffers at anyone and everyone else’s expense, make for a meaningless, insignificant and purposeless life.
The cry “America First” rings hollow in the face of the Christ who calls the first to be last and the last to be first. And the cry “Make America Great Again” can only be judged as vacant before the clarion declaration of the gospel that true greatness is to be found in becoming the servant of all.
The meaning, significance and purpose of our life are found each time we offer forgiveness rather than enact revenge, seek reconciliation rather than foment division, or act with compassion rather than display willful indifference. We thereby sprinkle salt. Every time we speak a word of hope, work for justice, or do for another what we would have them do for us, our light pushes back the darkness.
So much of our world is dark and tasteless. Too many of God’s children live a bland existence among the shadows. The world and its people need flavor. They need light. They need the disciples of Jesus, we who are blessed, to make a difference. How are you being salt, flavoring the life of another? Where is our light dispelling darkness?
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
February 9, 2020