Monday, February 10, 2014

Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-20, Epiphany 5 A, February 9, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Listen to this story: “A king had three daughters. He wondered how much they loved him. The one said that she loved him more than all the gold in the world. The king was impressed. The second daughter said she loved her father more than all the silver in the world. That pleased him, too.

“The youngest said, ‘I love you more than salt.’ He was disappointed. The castle cook overheard the conversation and decided to do something in defense of the youngest girl. The next day she left out all the salt in the king's food. The food was tasteless. Then he knew what his daughter was saying to him. She loved him so much that without him, like salt in food, nothing was good.”

We can appreciate the value of gold and silver, but like this king, I wonder if we don’t value salt enough. When Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth, he means that we are of great value. In our modern context, I am not sure that we are fully aware of what Jesus meant. On every table at every restaurant and at almost every kitchen table in every home, there is a shaker of salt and a shaker of black pepper. Grocery stores are full of table salt, kosher salt, and even rock salt. No matter in what form we would like to purchase salt, we can find it at a reasonable price.

When Jesus says that we are the light of the world, he is also implying our value as Christians. Do we ever consider how important light is? In our homes, we can turn on lights with just a push of a button or a flip of a switch. It doesn’t cost us much to light our homes. We even can get solar powered lights for outside that use no electricity. Even in our small towns of Le Claire and Princeton, we have some streetlights that help us see in the dark. We need not live without light unless we want to do so.

In Jesus’ time, salt and light were rarer yet just as necessary for life. Back then, just as it is now, salt was used in many ways. They needed salt to preserve food and to season it. Salt was so important that it was used like currency in the first century.

They even used salt to keep fires going. They did not have coal, nor did they have much wood, so they needed to use blocks of salt to increase the heat of the fire. Eventually, like coal and wood, the salt block would burn down and become useless. Then, they would throw the ashy remainder in the street. Salt was a critical part of society in the first century, a rare and valued commodity.

Light also was not as available. When the sun went down, people could not light the world like we do today. Without electricity and light bulbs, people in Jesus’ time needed to use oil lamps and other small sources of fire to light the world at night. Light was never taken for granted.

We may take light and salt for granted, but we should never take our own value for granted. Yet, so often we do. The following story shows how a young child values his father, even when the father didn’t feel like it.

“In the faint light of the attic, an old man, tall and stooped, bent his great frame and made his way to a stack of boxes that sat near one of the little half-windows. Brushing aside a wisp of cobwebs, he tilted the top box toward the light and began to carefully lift out one old photograph album after another. Eyes once bright but now dim searched longingly for the source that had drawn him here…

“Setting aside one of the dusty albums, he pulled from the box what appeared to be a journal from his grown son's childhood. He could not recall ever having seen it before, or that his son had ever kept a journal. Shaking his white head, he wondered to himself, ‘Why did Elizabeth always save the children's old junk?’

“Opening the yellowed pages, he glanced over a short reading, and his lips curved in an unconscious smile… It was the voice of the little boy who had grown up far too fast in this very house, and whose voice had grown fainter and fainter over the years. In the utter silence of the attic, the words of a guileless six-year-old worked their magic and carried the old man back to a time almost totally forgotten…

“Reminded that he had kept a daily journal of his business activities over the years, he closed his son's journal and turned to leave, having forgotten the cherished photo that originally triggered his search. Hunched over to keep from bumping his head on the rafters, the old man stepped to the wooden stairway and made his descent, then headed down a carpeted stairway that led to the den.

“Opening a glass cabinet door, he reached in and pulled out an old business journal. Turning, he sat down at his desk and placed the two journals beside each other. His was leather-bound and engraved neatly with his name in gold, while his son's was tattered and the name "Jimmy" had been nearly scuffed from its surface…

“As he opened his journal, the old man's eyes fell upon an inscription that stood out because it was so brief in comparison to other days. In his own neat handwriting were these words: Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn't catch a thing.

“With a deep sigh and a shaking hand, he took Jimmy's journal and found the boy's entry for the same day, June 4. Large scrawling letters, pressed deeply into the paper, read: Went fishing with my Dad. Best day of my life.”

Jesus tells us that we are of great value. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. He doesn’t stop there, though. He encourages us to share ourselves with others. Instead of hiding an oil lamp under a bushel basket, we can put on the top of a stand so that it lights up the whole room. 

Instead of hiding ourselves inside our homes or even our sanctuary, we can spread the love of God to our neighbors, our community, and to those we love. With the internet, we can spread God’s love throughout the world!

Remember, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are more important than gold or silver. You cannot be replaced. You are valuable, and you have something to share with others. Go out and brighten someone’s day! Amen.

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