This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. As the Communications Director for IGRC for Unity, I compose a weekly email with news, resources, and reflections. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
The lectionary text for February 9 is Matthew 5:13-21. This come immediately after the Beatitudes, and serves as the beginning of Jesus’ most famous teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, also known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” I’ve told many people, ‘If you are only going to read three chapters in the Bible, make it Matthew 5, 6, and 7 – the Sermon on the Mount.’
Verses 13-16 include two famous lines, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Salt and light, this seems like an odd pairing. One is essential to life, the source of heat, the first step in Creation, and an eternal symbol of God’s presence in the world. The other is on our table at the diner. Salt however, is also essential to life. Some have argued that salt is the primary ingredient to civilization itself. It allowed for the preservation of food and the survival of people in times of scarcity and famine. If it were not for salt, people would have remained nomadic, simply following the food where it could found instead of settling into a place where life could be preserved. Light and salt. One is essential for revelation. The other is essential for preservation. Both are invaluable. Perhaps we can learn something from these metaphors Jesus used.
So many of our culture wars are framed in terms of “us vs them,” “liberal vs conservative,” or “progressive vs traditional.” Instead of framing his sermon in similar terms, Jesus lifted up the salt and the light. Illumination and preservation; these are the building blocks of the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ articulation of an alternative way of being, but he is not inventing something entirely new.
This passage reveals that the Kingdom of God is at the same time built upon the foundations of God. The Law is still to promise of God. It is still the way people should live in relation to God and to one another. It is to be preserved, but not in the rigid and harsh ways that some think it should be. The light reveals something new. It reveals the heart of the Law, the relationships essential to the Law, the love that is at the foundation of God’s Law. Jesus came to proclaim something new that is not new at all. He came to proclaim God’s love which is revealed not simply through the law, but in its loving interpretation and application.
And this brings us to perhaps the most important part of the Sermon on the Mount: the audience. Remember who Jesus is calling salt and light. Remember who Jesus is telling “You are essential to life! You are essential to the Kingdom!” The audience came from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River” (Matthew 4:25). Jesus did not reserve his teaching to a privileged few. He preached to Jew and Gentile, tax collector and zealot, Pharisee and sinner. He came so that all may have life. All of them – poor, oppressed, hungry, downtrodden, and rejected, they are the “Light of the world.” All of us are the “salt of the earth.”
As we are moving forward as a United Methodist Church, we can remember Jesus’ call to be the salt and the light. We can preserve what is good, what is of Jesus’ love, what is worth preserving for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We can illumine new ways of experiencing God’s love. We can lift up our light of justice, grace, and mercy. We can lift up the light of Christ to those who have been kept in shadows. As we move forward as a denomination and conference, let us be wise in preserving our mission, our Wesleyan roots, and our traditions which are life-giving, and let us carry to the light of Christ to those who have yet to see what true love looks like.