Sermon 9th February 2020 St George’s Preshute
3rd Sunday before Lent: Matthew 5.13-20 & 1 Corinthians 2.1-12
The passage we hear this morning is set at the start of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. I suspect that the images are familiar to many of us. The phrases ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ have become very much part of our shared vocabulary. They are also particularly apt at this time of interregnum, moving hopefully towards the appointment of a new Team Vicar, because the words give us an idea of what discipleship looks like. Not just for the crowds who were addressed two-thousand years ago, but also for us, here at St George’s in the twenty-first century.
The first thing to not is that in this passage, Jesus addresses his listeners directly: ‘You are the salt of the earth’, ‘You are the light of the world’. These words are said to us, the challenge that following Jesus means is ours. Here in Preshute you have been very good in sharing this calling together, with a great diversity of services and events, as well as an impressive level of pastoral care for others. But is there still something we can learn from this passage? What might it look like to be salt and light, here and now?
Salt was a necessity of life in Biblical times. It was used to preserve, to purify and to season. It was also used in ritual sacrifices. This morning, I would like to focus on two of those uses particularly: firstly to season, and towards the end, I would like to say a few words about sacrifice. Food without salt can easily become tasteless, but at the same time, too much salt can spoil your meal as well – let alone being detrimental to your health. I suspect that this is also true for the Church. Too much Church is not necessarily a good thing.
If as Christians we lose our perspective by focussing too much on ourselves as a Church, we lose our capacity to season. We lose sight of our aim: sharing God’s love, which we have been shown in Christ in word and deed. We can only be faithful to our calling, if we continue to be rooted in the communities in which we find ourselves, which ultimately is at the heart of our parish system.
This may put into perspective the recent disagreements over civil partnerships and the continuous focus on statistics for growth. I am not denying that there is a place for discussions about what we believe, nor would I, as a scientist, deny the value of numbers to measure effectiveness. Yet, if this becomes our only focus, we lose our living connection with those outside the church institution and on its periphery.
The image of salt, of which there can be too little, but also too much, can also bring some realism as we are looking forward to the appointment of a new person here. No matter who this person will be, I think that it is unlikely that we will see all of Manton coming to St George’s on a Sunday morning, nor should this be our aim.
That thought brings us to the maybe more straightforward image this morning: our calling to be the ‘light of the world’. In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the light of the world, so we could say, here we are encouraged to share in Jesus’ own ministry. It is a message that should fill us with confidence and boldness. We, who have been given God’s light, should not try to hide it or keep it for ourselves, ‘put it under a bushel basket’, but share it with those around us.
When I was thinking about an example, our annual All Souls’ service came to mind. I think that this service at the beginning of November is one of the most poignant and important services of the year in our Team. Those who have been bereaved in the past year receive and invitation, and others are welcome too – and I suspect that many of you may have been at some point as well.
During the service, everyone is invited to light a candle and to place it on the altar. It is a striking reminder that no matter how faint and frail our own candle may feel, when they are all placed together, they become a sea of light and warmth. That is when we see what it means to be the light of the world. This may well apply to our discipleship too. At times, our faith can be faint and our commitment can waver, particularly after a long interregnum. However, when we come together, we can be encouraged by each other’s light and reminded that we indeed share a light that no one can ever put out.
The words we hear this morning are also a reminder that whatever we do, we do not do for ourselves. Jesus says: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” We do not let our lights shine to reveal our own goodness, but God’s glory. It is a theme that runs through all of Jesus’ teachings. However, it is certainly easier said than done. We may find it relatively easy to do good things, but I suspect that most of us do like it when people know the good we have done. And we hear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that this is a universal problem of all times.
Paul gives us some helpful advice against blowing our own trumpet too much, and that is to remind ourselves that whatever gifts and talents we have, they are gifts: given to us, bestowed on us by God. That brings us back to the image of salt, used not just to season but also in ritual sacrifices. A sacrifice means giving up something for the good of others, and of course it makes us think about the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the Cross. Thus, as Christians, we are not only called to share in Jesus’ ministry, but also in his sacrifice.
We are called to season, we are called to let our lights shine, not for our own sake, but to glorify our Creator and our Redeemer, and Giver of all good gifts. So let us commit to not losing our saltiness, but to letting our light shine before others. Share the good news that we have received with those whose lives we share. And we can do that in the hope that then they too may come to know and glorify our Father, in word, deed and worship.