Sermon: February 5, 2023

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world.

I want you to listen to these words from Jesus very closely. They are so familiar to us that it is easy to miss the profound message in them.

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world.

Jesus doesn’t say you will be the salt of the world and you will be the light of the world. He doesn’t say you should be or you must be. Jesus says “you are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world.” You can cover up your light, you can dilute your saltiness, but you are still the salt and you are still the light of the world. Nothing and no one can change this reality.

And light and salt are wonderful things, they are life-giving things. Without salt and light, we would not have life. In a world filled with too much electric light that can be overwhelming at times and in a world where we are constantly told that salt is ruining our bodies, it can be easy to forget how important and essential these two things are.

Light, sunlight, is necessary for life. It is the energy source that allows life, our life, to exist. To our knowledge, no other planet in our solar system contains life, because the other planets are either too close or too far from the sun. It is only earth, the third rock from the sun, that has just the right amount of sunlight to sustain life.

And salt. Salt does taste good, but it is so much more than that. It is also essential for life. Too much of it might not be good for us, but too little will kill us. I have a friend who was once hospitalized for three days because her sodium levels were too low. Too much salt can kill us over time, but too little can kill us very quickly. Sodium is necessary for the generation of nerve impulses that effect metabolic and heart activity. If you don’t have enough sodium your heart can stop.

When humans ate primarily wild game, getting enough salt was not a big deal, as wild game contained enough salt for the average human being. However when humans became farmers, getting enough salt became a problem. Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 6,000 BC in Romania. Salt was also extracted by ancient Chinese, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Egyptians and Indians. Salt became an important item of trade. Roman soldiers sometimes received their wages in salt. Nations have fought wars over salt. Salt is also an excellent preservative. Before canning and refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving food for times of scarcity.

So salt is life and salt preserves. But did you know that it also fertilizes? This was news to me. I always thought that salt simply killed plants, but I have learned that this is not true. Certainly if you put too much into the soil, the plants will die. But in small amounts, salt activates the nutrients in the soil and keeps down weeds, providing opportunity for plant growth. During World War II, when fertilizers were in short supply, British farmers actually used regular table salt as fertilizer, especially for beetroot crops. Those living during Jesus’ time knew that salt fertilizes and used it in this way.

So salt is life. Salt preserves. Salt fertilizes. And light is life too. And we are salt and we are light. You and me. We are life. We preserve. We fertilize. We are necessary for the life of the world. I wonder how this makes you feel? Do you feel elated when you hear this? Does it ring true for you? Or do you think to yourself, “I am not necessary for the world. I am not the light and salt of the world?”

Go find a mirror and look at yourself in it. Say out loud to your image in the mirror, “I am the salt of the earth. I am the light of the world.” How does that feel? Is it something that empowers you and fills you with hope and excitement or does it scare you and make you feel sad and doubtful? Or perhaps you feel a little bit of both.

We come into this world knowing that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But then life intervenes, and we receive messages from people and the world that make us question our essential light and saltiness. We are taught somewhere along the way that we have to put our light under a bushel or dilute our saltiness. Or even worse, we are told that we don’t have any light or saltiness in us at all.

If you do find it difficult to embrace your light and saltiness, I wonder what bushels are covering up your light. I wonder what is diluting your saltiness. Is it messages you received when you were young? Is it a stuck place you find yourself in right now? Is it the losses you have endured in your life? Is it the day-to-day stress of trying to make a living and find your way in the world? What is it that is covering up your light and diluting your saltiness?

A funny thing happens when you uncover your light and embrace your saltiness, you find yourself feeling more alive, more at peace. And you can’t help but help others uncover their light and embrace their saltiness too. You become a life-giver, a preserver of life and a fertilizer of growth. You become a person who helps life flourish. You realize that if you are necessary for life then so too is everyone else in the world. And you want to help them to realize this too.

I always love examples, so I’ll tell you a true story to help illustrate what I am saying. Anny Donewald grew up in a typical middle-class American home. In college she started work as a stripper to earn extra money. She found her new work demoralizing and turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. After several years of stripping, prostitution, and substance use she had a child. The birth of her child woke her up and she had a conversion experience. She had an epiphany that Jesus loved her and wanted a much better life for her son and for her. With the help of family and friends she left her life in the sex-industry behind, entered recovery and turned her life around. She finally realized that she is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And she wanted to help other women come to the same realization, so she approached several different churches to start a ministry to female sex-workers. She didn’t want to convert them. She didn’t want to tell them they were bad. She simply wanted to befriend them and tell them how much Jesus loved them, and then help them with the resources they would need to leave the sex-worker industry if they wanted to leave. If they didn’t want to leave, she still wanted to be their friend. She was rejected by every church she approached. So, she started her own ministry.

In 2010 her ministry made the national news when she become involved in a feud between a conservative Christian church and a strip club in Warsaw, Ohio. For years the members of this church had been picketing outside a local strip club. They would also take pictures of the license plates of patrons of the club, track down the people driving the cars and send messages to their family members that their father/husband/brother/son was going to a strip club. Now the strippers were fighting back. The strippers were picketing outside the church using quotes from scripture on their picket signs.

Anny, with a friend, decided to visit the strip club and represent Christianity in a new way. They went inside the club, got a table and gave gifts to the strippers. When the strippers asked them why they had done this, they simply said, “because as followers of Christ, Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. You are our neighbors, and we love you.” They didn’t condemn the strippers. They didn’t call them to change or repent or even become Christian. They simply treated them like human beings worthy of respect and shared the love of Christ with them.

Meanwhile, outside the club the church members continued to wave their signs and yell their chants. Over the many years they had been protesting, they had never once entered the strip club. They had never sat down and had a conversation with any of the strippers. And not one of the strippers had become a follower of Christ or left their profession because of the protests. That evening five women decided to find a way to leave their lives as strippers and to explore this Jesus thing. Anny embraced her saltiness and light and now she is helping others to do the same.

You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! Embrace your light and saltiness. Amen.