Salt and Light: making a difference in the everyday
Report of Duncan’s sermon on Sunday morning.
Duncan concluded last week’s sermon on the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) by saying that we, as followers of Jesus, ‘are to be agents of God’s blessing ….. His blessing reaches through us and touches other people’s lives.
On Sunday, he continued this theme. He began by reading us a short passage from Jesus’ sermon from The Message a modern, ‘free’ translation by American Pastor Eugene Petersen who died last year at the age of 85. Petersen’s paraphrase seeks to connect the Bible with contemporary life (with a slightly North-American bias!) Here’s Matthew 5:13-14:
Salt and Light
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Perhaps we’re used to the language of more formal translations. Petersen’s paraphrase connects with us powerfully in his use of language.
As followers of Jesus, we are to ‘bring out the God-flavours of this earth’ and to ‘bring out the God-colurs in the world.’
Called to be ‘salt’
Duncan asked us to imagine a chef working in the kitchen, using all their culinary skills to draw out the flavours of each of the ingredients in the dish. Our lives, Jesus is saying, are to be like salt, which both seasons the dish, and brings the taste of each of the ingredients together into a better balance.
Salt symbolised purity in the ancient world; it was used as a preservative to stop meat going bad; and it brought flavour to the dish.
Jesus us saying to his followers ‘Be the salt in society which stops things going bad. Be the salt in society which adds a rich and aromatic flavour to every relationship you share in the world.’
And this means that we must not live our lives at arms-length from other people in the world. Salt permeates the whole dish. In the same way our lives are to permeate society as we engage in relationship with others.
Called to be ‘light’
In more conventional translations of the Bible the ‘light’ which we display in our lives – the light of Christ’s presence – is made visible in our actions, our ‘good deeds.’ But in his paraphrase, Petersen isn’t content to leave it at that. He gives us some more concrete examples of what ‘light’ looks like:
Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Light, for Petersen (and he’s correct, though the list is not excusive) is linked to hospitality, generosity and an openness and vulnerability in relationship with other people.
We are salt and light
Duncan pointed out that Jesus didn’t direct the crowd listening to him to sign up to a ‘Salt and Light’ course.
The folk in his audience had their hearts open to Jesus to the extent that they followed him up the mountainside to hear more from him. To the extent that their hearts were open to Jesus they already were salt, they already were light.
To the extent that our hearts are similarly open today, we are salt and light. Now, said Duncan, with a bit of imagination – with a chef’s creativity or an artist’s eye – we can explore what these images of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ might mean in the reality of our lives today.
We are agents of God’s blessing in the world – that blessing is expressed in our bringing out the God-flavours, and the God colours in each situation we face. All we need is our God-given imagination, and the promised guiding presence of God and the potential for our blessing the world through our lives is limitless.
Salt and Light – two examples
As Duncan ‘travelled with’ Jesus words as he prepared the sermon through the week, he both reflected on their implications for his own life, and reflected on two examples of Christ’s people in the public eye who are ‘salt’ and ‘light’
The first was Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Premier League football club Liverpool. Duncan quoted his words:
To be a believer, but not to want to talk about it – I do not know how it would work!
If anyone asks me about my faith, I give information. Not because I claim to be any sort of missionary.
When I look at my life – and I take time for that every day – then I feel I am in sensationally good hands. And I find it a pity if other people lack this sense of security – although they don’t know if, of course, because otherwise they would probably look for is.
Jesus Christ is the most important person in history. For me, this is an easy answer. This person comes into the world, and has a clear mission, which is not easy to accomplish at all. At the end [of his life] he took all the sins on himself and was nailed on the cross. That is why Jesus’ death on the cross was the greatest act that has ever been achieved, because it changed everything.
Duncan showed us a clip in which Jurgen Klopp spoke of his commitment to his team at Liverpool, his leadership style, and the attitude of interdependence which he seeks to build among all club employees. One phrase in the interview which struck Duncan particularly was this: ‘Everyone has a little responsibility for the mood in the room.’
Duncan said ‘I have been reflecting on that phrase for two weeks. In a world where so many of us feel we are operating in crisis mode, and in which many of the teams and places of work we share are often very unhappy and toxic places, it is good to be reminded of Jesus’ words. We can be salt, and we can turn around the world we share in by simple actions like ensuring we contribute positively to the mood in any room we enter.
(Pictured below: Jurgen Klopp))
Duncan continued by discussing another Christian who is ‘salt and light’ to many.
Charlie Mackesy, author of the current best-seller The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse is a very talented artist, now closely associated with Holy Trinity Brompton and The Alpha Course. But Mackesy was formerly an atheist. In his early 20s he lost his closest friend due to a tragic accident.
Duncan described an article he’d read about Mackesy. The artist spoke about being lost for a couple of years after his friend’s death, and then discovering he could draw, and that through his drawing he could work through his feelings of depression and anxiety. Said Mackesy:
Jesus quietly introduced me to a journey into finding people really beautiful, which is how my art really began. Because I felt inside he was going ‘Look. How beautiful is that guy sitting on that bench?’ And I would never have noticed him before.
There was one day when I was on my bike crossing a bridge in London, and it lasted about 11 seconds. But it was this kind of revelation – ‘Youre known, you’re loved, this is, God exists and He loves you. He knows you, you’re known, you’re fully known.
Warts, darkness…..You don’t have to pretend to be anything.
Duncan told us that Charlie MacKesy sees his art and sculpture as primarily a way of introducing God to the people he loves. He showed us The Prodigal Daughter, created for a friend who struggled with bipolar disorder. And he concluded the sermon by showing us some of the inspiration images from The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.
Go out into the world! Be the salt and light you already are!
(Pictured below: Charlie Mackesy and an one of the illustrations from The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.)