Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

On the surface it sounds so easy – there are several songs with lyrics about being salt and light, Bible studies are available, and sermons have been preached.  On a certain level it is almost one of those pat Christian phrases, so I challenged myself to look deeper.  What does it really mean to me to be salt and light?

To start with, I had to think about all the uses for salt.  Traditionally pastors talk about preserving and seasoning as the two main uses.  They must not live in the midwest because, at least in the winter, a prime use of salt is melting ice-slick roads.  It is also useful in the restaurant world, when coupled with ice cubes, to get the burnt-on coffee out of the bottom of the pot.  I think all of those uses are applicable to us as Christians.

When I think about how I am a preservative, I have to ask what I do to prolong or increase the usefulness of those around me.  Yes, part of the preservation is in the eternal sense, making sure that those around me are Kingdom-bound.  I think it needs to go beyond that transition to include equipping the people I am around to be able to reach their goals.  Those goals don’t have to be necessarily spiritual to be deemed “worthy” of help; however, they do need to be in line with God’s desire for people.

When I think about seasoning, I think about how it makes the necessary (food) more interesting (flavorful).  If you’ve spent any time with people on a restricted diet, it quickly becomes noticeable that the food lacks a lot of  pop; it becomes less desirable.  I think that is another role we have as salt.  We need to make the Christian life look and feel desirable to draw others in.  Think about the traditional picture of cloistered nuns – not a lot of life-pop there.

Those two are often addressed, but I’m a Midwest girl heading toward winter.  Anyone who has faced extended winter storms understands the importance of not running out of salt.  After an ice storm, the salt helps to secure safe passage.  That is another role we have as Christians.  I believe that we are called to help provide safe passage for others when life conditions become dangerous and scary for them.  On the roads the salt works by softening the ice so it can be removed.  We need to be aware of how we can soften or break up the seeming impenetrable coating that prevents people from being able to move safely and securely through life.

In the restaurant world, inevitably, someone makes the mistake of leaving an almost-empty coffee pot on a hot burner.  No one does it intentionally, but he result is the same – stinky, ugly, stuck-on coffe goo that renders the pot useless until removed.  Enter a healthy dose of salt and a scoop of ice, paired with some vigorous swirling and the pot is like new.  The salt helps to knock the yucky part off the bottom of the pot – it acts as an abrasive to scour the pot clean.  One of my less-liked tasks is this one.  We are called to do that for others.  I don’t advocate walking up to just anyone and offering to help scrub them clean; this one is reserved for those people with whom you have an intimate relationship.  My husband and I act as abrasives for each other, scrubbing off the muck that doesn’t belong; likewise, the women in my accountability group help keep me scrubbed clean.  It’s only with a crud-free globe that our light can shine.

That brings me to the other side of what we’re supposed to be – salt and light.  So what does light do?  It eliminates the dark, gives warmth, supplies a necessary component for solar power, and provides nutrients to plants and humans.  Wow!  That’s a tall order!

So, if I’m going to eliminate the darkness in the world, what does that look like?  The problem I see with darkness is that you can’t see the things that can trip you, whether those things are items left out of place or people lying in wait to cause you to stumble.  If I am going to be light in the world, I need to expose those dangers to the people around me so they aren’t hurt by what they are unaware of.

Have you ever watched a cat in a patch of sun?  They twist around and absorb all the warmth and comfort they can.  If I am supposed to be light, then I am supposed to offer that same warmth and comfort to people around me.  The light helps to promote a feeling of relaxation and security for the cat; people need that same environment.

When solar powered lights are out they absorb the energy from the sun.  They don’t use it right away, but it’s stored for when it is needed – usually to light the darkness to keep someone not familiar with the surroundings from tripping or falling.  If the person walking were familiar with the area they would know the inherent dangers and wouldn’t need the path to be lit.  The sun doesn’t do the lighting itself, but provides what is necessary for another tool to work.  We are called to fill others with the potential energy they need to light the path for others.

Finally, light provided nutrients to keep plants and people healthy.  We also are called to be that vitamin infusion to the people around us.  When we interact with others we need to be sure that we are leaving them in a healthier state than we found them.  So often this happens with our words – we need to be careful to use them for edification not destruction.

Boy – salt and light sure sounds like a bigger order than it did when I first read those verses.  As I head into this new school year I am challenging myself (and you) to function fully as salt and light for a world desperately in need of both.

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