notre dame montreal

Salt and Light

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
10th February 2002

What makes a good sermon?

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending and having the two as close together as possible. (George Burns)

That won't do.

Corinne sent me an Email last week, (who said I don't communicate with my wife?) She said:

A good sermon should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to rouse the interest, but long enough to cover the essentials.

Let's see if we can manage that.

On this particular day in the church calendar, we stand at the end of one season and on the threshold of another. We're just finishing up Epiphany, a special time when we have thought about the light of Christ shining out in the world.

This coming Wednesday, "Ash Wednesday," we will begin a new season of Lent. Lent is a time when the word "repentance" takes centre stage, when we examine our own lives in the light of Christ, when we allow his light to shine within us. The liturgical colour will change to purple, the colour of repentance, for Lent is the time when we examine and seek to change.

Now, there are places over which we don't want this light to shine, places we don't wish to have lit up so brightly. Darkness covers many sins, after all, many failings. And, maybe, we'd prefer the dark to the light - if we're honest with ourselves. But that is what Lent and repentance is all about, recognising where we need to change.

First we saw the light of Christ at Epiphany, now our light needs to shine within, and then we can shine outwards.

So Jesus draws these three metaphors from daily life 1. "salt," 2. "a lamp" and 3. "a city," to describe the role of his disciples.

Like salt, the disciples are to add zest and flavour to life.

Like a city, they are to be visible for others to see.

Like a lamp, they are to enlighten others.

All three metaphors provide lessons on discipleship. Jesus used ordinary images to convey extraordinary things. Of course that is the secret of a good sermon!

His ability to take ordinary things from life and use them to illustrate deep spiritual truth.

The point about them is that all three stand out and all three make a difference. So go on, in what ways are you different because you are a Christian? How is your life different because of your Christian faith?

This week we are going to start looking at the Apostles Creed and we will be thinking about what we believe. That is in itself interesting because most of the time nobody really bothers about what we believe. I think that as we study the Apostles Creed we will all agree that what we believe is important.

But this passage is not even just about what we believe, it is about how that belief actually makes a difference. I hope that as you go through the Apostles Creed and think through your faith you will ask 'what difference does that make to me.'

As an example, what difference does it make to you that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Hopefully it will bring to you hope and perhaps even confidence, that Jesus can, out of the rubble of our lives, rebuild and remake us, for there is no power greater than his.

So, how does your faith challenge you and move you to a different place? Are you changing your environment or just reflecting it?

Jesus tells us that our task is to allow others to see, in the brightness of our lives our heavenly Father at work. It is to God, and not to ourselves that our lives must point.

So here you are—you come to church with all of your worries and cares and the preacher says 'its all down to you.'

"you are the salt of the earth...light of the world."

Now you are to be responsible for it all!? You are to stand out like a beacon for all to see, a shining example of model Christian behaviour.

Most Christians can barely hold the everyday things in together. It would only take one thing to go awry in life and the delicate stack of cards that you balance each day comes tumbling down. We are all running as fast as we can just to keep up.

To keep our heads above water we come to church on Sunday looking for strength, solace, guidance and some spiritual charge that will enable us to roll up our sleeves, go back out there and face the daily grind.

What do we hear in this hassled state today? Jesus says 'You are salt of the earth...light of the world."

Sounds too big for me; more like a job for the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, another Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama—someone with clout and a big voice. Someone who speaks, or makes a visit to foreign lands and the world sits up to take notice, Tony Blair!

But—Jesus challenges us to seriously consider our calling to the world. For better or worse, we have been chosen by God to address others with the message we have received. We may communicate the message with words, but as the ending of the passage suggests, we are also to do it by our good works. Our good deeds are to witness to what we believe. When people see them they are to be drawn to their source—our God. We disciples are, like it or not, light of this world.

To put it another way, we are fingers that point to God. Our lives are to be such that when people see us they look to the direction we are pointing.

Even though many of us have been told to "watch our salt", nevertheless, salt, in moderation, is a very good thing. It makes food tasty. What's encouraging is that salt is such a seeming insignificant and tiny element. It's a good metaphor for the ordinary Christian. We may feel insignificant, but in the divine scheme of things, we have a part to play. Salt may not change or affect the whole world, but it certainly affects the smaller world with which it comes in contact.

You may feel inadequate for the task, but so have all God's real leaders, from Moses to the Apostle Paul. Paul described himself to the Corinthians as "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling...."

Is the mighty and famous Paul being disingenuous, pretending such human feelings of inadequacy to attract attention or sympathy? I think not. He most likely felt like a lot of us, quite intimidated by the responsibility of being an ambassador for Christ. He must have felt quite naive as he went to the sophisticated Corinthians with the seeming improbable gospel message of Christ's resurrection. But he was salt because he had working in him "a demonstration of Spirit and power"—the very power of God!

With this power in him he was salt of the earth; before he became the famous Saint Paul, he was "weak and fragile." In fact, his writings reveal he continually felt that fragility, but continued, despite his limitations, to be salt—he sprinkled himself generously wherever he would find someone to listen or speak to or teach. Paul did a very basic thing: though he was fearful and trembling he simply spoke from his experience of God and trusted in the gift he had received.

We too have to be more than just fitting in with what is around us, we are supposed to make a difference as we act and speak. We are to be salt and light too. We are called not just to reflect society but to change it. If we simply absorb the prevailing attitudes around us, then we are like thermometers. Christians are not to be simply indicators of what is happening around. Instead we are called to be like thermostats, we are supposed to be able to change the temperature of society, not just measure it.

Liberal optimism supposed that given the right conditions humankind could change itself. However, humankind is not evolving into a better species. Optimism has pervaded different generations, such as towards the end of the last century, you may know the words of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who said

The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.

Liberal optimism supposed that given the right conditions humanity could become so much better. Yet education has not brought an end to violence, instead we build better weapons and devise more skilful means to kill. Human endeavour has manufactured machines that are capable of producing amazing results, yet we use them to make people redundant, poor and without dignity and jobs.

Jesus is clear that the world cannot simply be left to turn out right, it requires treatment. We are lights in this world in that we have the one true light. Humankind has searched for answers, which it is doomed never to find. And yet we have the one true light and it is our task to make Him known to others. There is a way to God and a very simple one. It is to know one person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, He is the Son of God and He came from heaven to earth to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to illuminate the darkness, to expose the cause of darkness and to make a new way of living.

If we feel daunted by the task of being salt and light. If we think that we won't measure up, then fear not. For all we are really asked to do is to walk with Christ. It is not ourselves that we proclaim, it is Jesus that we take to our world.

Charles Royden February 2002

Bible Readings and Notes for 2nd February 2002

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