Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Salt and Light
February 10, 2014, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A Sermon given at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 9th February 2014

Salt and light. Let’s just remind ourselves who our Lord was talking to, and in what circumstances. Jesus has gone up a mountain with his disciples. If you visit Galilee, you will be taken to the place where our Lord gave the Sermon on the Mount. It is a very pleasant hillside, but it takes a stretch of the imagination to call it a mountain. What Matthew wants us to be reminded of is Moses on Mount Sinai, giving the ancient Law to the people of Israel. This, implies Matthew, is God’s programme for the renewed Israel, which Jesus the Messiah is going to inaugurate through his death and resurrection.

Jesus was talking to Jews. He told his disciples on several occasions that his primary mission was to Israel, God’s chosen people. He was not starting from scratch, as if the centuries of Israel’s history counted for nothing. He was building- or, better, re-building Israel itself. He had not come to abolish the law or the prophets. He had come to fulfil them. That is why we cannot properly understand the New Testament if we are not familiar with the Old Testament. Each one throws light on the other.

In today’s reading, our Lord speaks of salt and light. Somehow, these represent his followers’ characteristics. They represent what Israel was supposed to be. Think about them. We use salt in cooking. When the dish is on the table, you can’t see the salt. You may not even taste it (unless the cook has put too much in); but it makes all the difference to how the dish tastes. Israel was not called by God to keep itself to itself, but to be like salt in the rest of the nations, enabling each one to give out its own special flavour.

If we apply this to ourselves, the Church of God, Christian people, it is the same. In all kinds of unobtrusive ways we are supposed to make a difference to the world around us, to enable others to live in the way God wants, drawing attention to him and not to ourselves. Perhaps very strident Christians, who seem to want to attract attention to themselves, are just too salty! But the danger Jesus warns us about is not being salty enough, losing our flavour, so unobtrusive in our Christianity that we make no difference at all.

Light works in the opposite way. It is meant to shine out. When our Lord spoke of a city set on a hill, he probably had in mind Jerusalem, the Holy City, the place of God’s Temple. Jerusalem should have been a city renowned for its holiness, but it seemed to have forgotten its vocation. Its priests were more concerned with political expediency, keeping their position. The Temple was full of buying and selling, and not always honestly at that.

Israel was intended by God to be the model of a human society, and the Old Law, in its original form, was intended to be its blue-print or constitution. The essence of the Law, as our Lord himself reminded us, consists in the two-fold commandment to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and to love each other as our own self. The Kingdom of God does not mean just a well-ordered society where everyone does as they like as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else. It means a society where God is King, where Jesus Christ is King.

Jesus once said, “If anyone is ashamed of me, then in the last judgement I shall be ashamed of them.” One of our challenges today is to show visibly that we are loyal to Christ, not just to a set of rules, however sensible those rules may appear. We are to be a light to the world, and the light that we shine is Jesus Christ himself, the true Light of the world. We have to shine in such a way that those who see our good examples give glory to God, not to us.

Salt and light: giving a Christian flavour to our whole society, and at the same time drawing others to Christ himself. That is what Jesus is asking us to be and to do. That is our vocation as individual Christians, and as the Parish of All Hallows. This, I think, is what is meant by the slightly curious diocesan slogan, “creating communities of wholeness with Christ at the centre.” Christ at the centre, that is the key to a healthy community, one where each member regards each other as another self, to be loved and respected because (even if they themselves do not understand or live up to it) they are made in the image of Christ, as we are.

Unless our righteousness- that is to say our faithfulness to Christ’s example of love- is greater than that of those who pay lip-service but do not perform (or, as we sometimes say, are “all talk and no trousers”), we shan’t be proper subjects of Christ the King, citizens of his kingdom.

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