February 5, 2017 Sermon
Hidden Salt, Shining Light
Today, I will start my message with a poem. I will only read you a part of this poem because it’s long; it’s a poem titled “Ode to Salt” by Pablo Neruda. “In its caves the salt moans, mountain of buried light, translucent cathedral, crystal of the sea, oblivion of the waves. And then on every table
in the world, salt, we see your piquant powder sprinkling
vital light upon our food. Preserver of the ancient holds of ships, discoverer on the high seas, earliest sailor of the unknown, shifting byways of the foam. Dust of the sea, in you the tongue receives a kiss from ocean night: taste imparts to every seasoned dish your ocean essence; the smallest, miniature wave from the saltcellar reveals to us more than domestic whiteness; in it, we taste infinitude.”
We love salt. Sometimes we have cravings for salty food. We tend to consume too much salt, which is bad for our body. When I preached today’s gospel text as a youth pastor, I researched the various uses and functions of salt; one new discovery at the time was that salt is added to sweets to improve the sweet taste. Now when I eat chocolate, I think of this. Sometimes I buy sea salt caramel products.
Jesus said we are the salt of the earth and that we should keep our saltiness. What does salt do besides making sweets yummier? First and foremost, salt is a preserving agent. It keeps food from going bad. Food items that are designed to last long contain a lot of salt; smoked meat and kimchee, fermented Korean vegetable dish. Salt prevents food from going bad and makes food taste better, even sweets. But an important thing about how salt works is that it is melted, thus becoming invisible. We cannot see salt when it’s working. So as the salt of the earth, our good deeds would be hidden. As it is written in Matthew 6:3-4, “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and our Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Christian responsibility, or the “kingdom lifestyle”, is much more than giving to charity, of course; but the same principle of humility still applies in everything we do.
But what about light? Light cannot be hidden; it would defy the purpose. The function of light is to reveal things. Have you noticed when bright light comes in through the window, suddenly you realize how much dust there is in the air? This is why people who do bad things prefer the dark; they don’t want their deeds exposed. Then it seems like the lessons on salt and light contradict each other; as salt, we are supposed to do good deeds without the whole world knowing, but as light, our good deeds should be seen by others so that they can praise God. Does it seem like a contradiction to you? When we read the lesson about light, we have to pay attention to verse 16; “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It is clear that, when we are light, we are shining the light to bring people to God, and not for our glory. The principle of humility still applies.
After the lesson on salt and light, Jesus moves onto the problem of obeying the Law. “The Law” with an upper-case L means, he is talking about the Torah, the Jewish law, the law of Moses. What is the relationship between living as the salt and light of the world and obeying the Jewish law? According to various Old Testament references, salt is a metaphor, a sign for God’s covenant. It purifies the sacrifices or whatever is spoiled or polluted. The imagery of light and lamps is used for God in the Old Testament. Jesus and his first disciples were Jewish. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that he came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. They were still Jewish who learned to be God’s people from the Jewish teachings. Jesus is not denying the Jewish religion; he is trying to make his followers become better Jews. Pharisees and other Jewish leaders of the time knew the Law inside and out and obeyed it as much as possible. But while doing so, they also found loopholes and got sneaky. “Well, technically speaking, I didn’t disobey the Law”. What Jesus tried to teach his followers about being faithful people of God is that the heart has to be sincere whether “technically” one followed the Law or not. That’s why he concludes today’s lesson by saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Disciples have to function as salt in the world and prevent corruptions. They have to function as light with their good deeds so other people will know from their good deeds that God is good. The Law is designed to promote God’s will for love and justice in the human society, so they should not ignore it, now that they follow Jesus and not the Pharisees or other Jewish leaders. And even as they shine the light, this light will humbly direct people’s attention to God, who inspired them to live as good people of God.
I said last Sunday that our unjust society needs us. We have to lovingly serve the marginalized groups created by the unjust system, and speak against the evil. Being the salt and the light of the world is much more than helping the needy through acts of charity. As we heard from Isaiah chapter 58, what God wants from us is not the religious rituals that we practice but the sincerity of our love for justice; “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke”. The prayers, offerings, worships, and fasting (although I don’t think a lot of us practice fasting) are useless if our heart is not sincerely after God’s values. Salt is a solution for corruption, both in food and in the society. As the light of the world, we have to expose the evil of our society.
Ever since Trump became the US president, it seems like a lot of closeted bigots are receiving courage to come out and be blatantly hateful. Last week, there was a shooting at a mosque in Quebec, and other bigots are praising this evil deed, along with Trump’s hateful and discriminatory policies. A lot of immigrants who had recently left the country are being denied entry just because they are from Muslim countries. As disciples of Jesus, we cannot just sit and let this kind of evil go on. We have to be the salt and heal the world and its people wounded by bigotry, discrimination, and persecution. We have to be the light and expose the evil by not being silent. Not doing anything in the face of evil ultimately supports the evil. Speaking of light, I will end with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. People of God and disciples of Jesus, in the face of so much evil and injustice, go spread God’s love with your life in the world. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim