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 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.Matthew 5: 13-20
Growing up I lived next door to a boy named John. I remember that John’s father was always telling him that he was not good enough. Whenever he failed at something, he would say, “I’m not very good at this. My dad says I’m not good enough.” And you know something? John had a very hard time discovering what he was good at and how valuable his life was because the voice of John’s father was so loud, so overwhelming and buried so deep in John’s psyche that he could not overcome it.
You probably know someone like John. There may even be a few people here today who have a voice like the voice of John’s father somewhere inside. Maybe it isn’t as negative as the voice John had to deal with, but so many of us struggle with that inner voice that repeats messages like, “You’re not smart enough. You’re not strong enough. You don’t measure up. Better let someone else try that.” The more significant a person is in our life, the more damaging a negative message from that person can be. Sometimes the person does not come out and say it directly, but their disappointment comes through in more passive ways that can be just as harmful.
For instance, when parents make frequent comparisons between their children and point out one child’s accomplishments over another. Sometimes parents or grandparents make comments such as, “Why can’t you be more like so and so.” The child who hears that compares themselves to others, and no matter how talented or competent he or she really is, the child will begin to question themselves and their worth.
Not only can the harmful messages come from family members, but they also come from our culture. Advertising is specifically geared towards making us feel like we are not whole, not good enough just as we are. If we felt good about ourselves, we would not need to go out and buy the products that ads entice us with. Lowering our self-esteem is one of the ways that the business world gets us to shop, shop, shop until we feel better. If we simply buy the right clothes or the right make up, if we have the right procedures done and decorate our house in a certain way, then we will be good enough. So we try those things and maybe they make us feel better for a little while, but in the end we are left empty until we find a better way to claim our worth. On the other hand, what a powerful difference it makes in our lives when we have been nourished with messages like, “You can do it! You’re a talented person – you will succeed! You can make a difference” If we believe we can’t – we will most likely fail. If we believe we can – chances are high that we will succeed. We need encouragement, and others need to be encouraged by us. If we claim our gifts and celebrate the gifts of others, then we can make life better for ourselves and for them.
A positive example of a countercultural movement of empowerment is the civil rights movement. From the beginning of the civil rights struggle in America, there was an uplifting message that strengthened those fighting for equality. In the darkest of days and deepest despair, the refrain would rise up in the hearts of the people, “We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome – someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.” The people who worked to advance the cause of equality saw that every life is precious and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. If they had not had this hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and a positive attitude, they would not have achieved all that they did in the late sixties and early seventies.
Rev. John Jewel notes that in the passage from Matthew that I began with today “Jesus moves from the qualities and character of his followers to who they are to be in the world. They would reach out to the world around them with the ‘Good News’ that they had received and experienced with Christ.” A major part of that good news is that we are the light of the world. What does that mean, to be the light of the world? It means that God has chosen each of us and God believes in us. God has given us a spark and wants us to shine. God does not want us to tear each other down. God wants us to lift each other up. God tells us that we should not hide all that we have to offer to the world, like putting a lamp under a basket to block its light. We are called to illuminate the darkness and help others to do the same. We can do that on a small scale in our personal relationships with family and friends or on a large scale such as the civil rights movement.
Sometimes the world gets us down. Sometimes even those we love, like the story I started with, criticize us and lower our self-esteem. I know that even I tell myself at times that I am disappointed with myself. Who is it or what is it in your life that makes you feel like you are not good enough? Remember that even Jesus, who was God in human form, was criticized. Jesus told his followers, “They call me a glutton and a drunkard.” All four gospels report that Jesus was rejected by his hometown and home synagogue. All four gospels say that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. We know that Jesus faced the ultimate humiliation of death on a cross, but all of that negativity and hate was not enough to bring him down. Jesus came with a mission and a purpose that became the mission and purpose of all who claim to follow him. He came back from death to life out of the darkness to let his light shine and to inspire all of us to do the same.
No matter the negative forces in our lives, we have to keep in mind God’s view of who we are: v.13 “You are the salt of the earth…” v.14 “You are the light of the world…” What a powerful thing for God to say about who we are! These were astonishing statements to make, particularly in the time that Jesus lived. Salt was so valuable in the ancient world that the Greeks said it was divine. In my research I discovered that there were even occasions when Roman soldiers received their wages in salt, and the Latin word for salt is the root word of salary. We do not comprehend the amazing value of salt in the ancient world because it is so commonplace today, but Jesus said that we are the salt of the world because he was trying to communicate the fact that God thinks we are very valuable!
We make the world flavorful and we illuminate it. In the ninth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world!” Now in Matthew he says to his followers “You are the light of the world!” So what is Jesus saying? “You are Christ to the World!” Now that Jesus is no longer in the world, who is the light of the world? We are! Who is the salt of the earth? We are! What does that mean?
You can bring hope and healing. You can change the world for the better. You can spread the message of peace and justice. You can inspire people.
When you and I grasp deep within what God says about who we are, we are transformed by this knowledge. We are inspired to live into this calling. In some sense faith means listening to God’s view of who you are. It does not matter what anyone else has ever called you or told you, to God you are amazing. It does not matter what age you are or what gender, to God you are amazing. It does not matter what job you have or how financially successful you have been, to God you are amazing. You are the light of the world. Don’t let anything, not other people, not your own physical limitations, not the voice in your head, stop you from letting your light shine. You are the most valuable in God’s eyes. May you all live a glowing and salty life.
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