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Being Salt and Light

by HW in HI

based on Mat 5:13-20

Salt of the earth. If someone says you are the salt of the earth, it means you are a good person, probably without a lot of pretense. Probably a lot of people here would not mind being called the salt of the earth.

Now salt can be good or bad. We use it for our food, mostly, but too much salt can give people heart problems. You can find “salt substitute” in a lot of our homes. Salt was a different thing for people 2,000 years ago than it is today. Salt in older days was good for preserving food, for healing, for enhancing the taste of food.

So it is time to travel back a couple of thousand years to a time very different than our own. Ovens were made of earth. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and in Armaic, the same word is used for oven as for earth. So when Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth”, he could very well have been saying “You are the salt of the oven.”

Now in 1999 when we light an oven we generally push a switch or turn a dial. If it is an older gas oven we might just light a match. Or maybe we cook on an outdoor grill, again, we light a match. But those earthen ovens of thousands of years ago did not use electricity or gas or charcoal. And in most homes they did not use wood. They burnt dried manure. And they used salt to ignite it. Salt accumulated by the sea in big piles. The pure salt would ignite the ovens. The old salt would not.

So when Jesus says to us, “You are the salt of the earth.” He is saying that we are what is used to ignite something. To make something burn. To get something going.

What is really interesting is that he doesn’t say, “Go and be the salt of the earth.” He doesn’t say, “You are called to be the salt of the earth.” He says, “You Are. “ Moses asked God who he was, and God said, “I am that I am”. And Jesus told us “You are the salt of the earth.”

What’s really interesting is that he didn’t say, “You are and you are and you are.” He used the plural. You folks are the salt of the earth. Together. Go ignite something!

And in case we don’t get it, in case the culture of 2,000 years ago has gotten a bit distant for us, he told us again: You are the light of the world. Not I want you to be the light of the world. But you folks are. Let your light shine.

Episcopalians don’t really want to let our lights shine. Well, maybe, a small and appropriate light. Most of us really don’t respond well to someone insisting on telling us about the kingdom. Most of us aren’t anxious to shout our faith from the roof tops.



Episcopalians have been called a lot of things. We’ve all heard them. “E-whiskopalians.” Or “country club Christians.” The “frozen chosen.” We could take offense. But religious types have names like this for every denomination. Rather like the old light bulb jokes. Maybe you’ve heard them:

How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? None. God has predestined when the light will be on. Calvinists do not change light bulbs. They simply read the instructions and pray the light bulb will be one that has been chosen to be changed.

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Change? My grandmother gave the church that light bulb!

How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb? One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.

How many independent fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, because any more might result in too much cooperation.

How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb? At least ten, as they need to hold a debate on whether or not the light bulb exists. Even if they can agree upon the existence of the light bulb, they still might not change it, to keep from alienating those who might use other forms of light.

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? None. Only candles are permitted.

How many Epicopalians does it take to change a light bulb? The changing of the light bulb requires the approval by voice vote at two consecutive general conventions, to be proceeded by a proposed change circulated by the standing light committee, to be circulated for comment for a minimum of 24 months. The rubric for the number required will then be reflected in our canons. Until that time. no unauthorized changing of light bulbs will be permitted, except as required for sensitivity to diverse cultures.

Let’s go back a bit to the “frozen chosen.” What do people mean by that? It’s not so bad, really. I can’t imagine that they mean that we aren’t welcoming in our churches. We are, really. Outside just about every Episcopal church in this country is a sign saying The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.

I do believe they mean that we aren’t shouters from the rooftops. We are hardly even knockers on doors or callers on the phone. Maybe that is why they call us frozen. But we don’t have to be. Frozen.

There is a priest named Howard Hanchey. He teaches at Virginia Theological seminary, and he’s spent a bit of time studying our parishes. He says it is wonderful if we take our faith into the community and preach from street corners or whatever. But he knows that makes most of us pretty uncomfortable.

The Rev. Hanchey offers us a new understanding of evangelism. He says that God will send people to our church. God will send these people here and they will come seeking God and looking for a place that is their kind of place. Some will be Episcopalians who’ve moved and are looking for a church home. Some will have been away from the church for a long time, and are deciding whether or not this church will work for them. Some will come looking for “something”, not knowing exactly what.

And you know, I think he’s right. God has been sending us people almost every Sunday since I’ve been here. Sometimes even a dozen people. Hanchey believes that the most important thing we can do is to welcome those newcomers. This form of spreading God’s love is the first and most important for any parish. And this would be welcoming the people who seem to be similar to you, and also the people who seem quite different. Is the newcomer half your age? Wonderful, let us welcome him. Is the newcomer much older than you? Welcome her! Is there a young child or even a baby? Let us remember how very important our Lord said it is for us to lead them to God. Did their ancestors come from a different part of the world? Good, they are welcome. Do they not have even two nickels in their pocket? Jesus died with just the clothes on his back. Of course, they are welcome.

(At this time I will ask the Boy Scouts to come forward – we are recognizing Scout Sunday—and ask them to help me. We will place an ice cube in a tumbler of water and try to lift it out with a string. Then we will add salt to the ice cube, and try to lift it out. We will then add salt, and hope it works.)

As we life out the ice cube from the glass, remember that Jesus said you are the salt of the earth. Igniting the world. Letting the light of Christ shine. And helping out the frozen chosen. Amen.