This is a brief homily I preached as the lectionary, fittingly, continues to go through the sermon on the mount. The sermon was, largely, influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his work “discipleship.” You will probably catch the references.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“The cross is not an end of a pious, happy, life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus. Whenever Christ calls us. His call leads us to death.” These are the words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his work Discipleship. These are the words written as the rise of Nazism began to grip the German people. These are the words written as only those deemed worthy by the state are allowed to live in peace under the third Reich. These are words written when what is seen as worthy, what is seen as an acceptable ethic was incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Whenever Christ calls us, His call leads us to death.”
We heard last week what it is that God expects of us. What it is that is meant to die to ourselves. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This is what is expounded upon in the opening of the sermon on the mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you on Christ’s account. Only these will be considered worthy of the kingdom of heaven. It is these that Christ calls us to die to embody. It is these that characterize a life of discipleship with christ. And it is to those that embody this ethic that our passage speaks to.
Our passage begins with an intensive y’all. YOU yourselves, are the light of the world. You who are poor in spirit, you who mourn, your who are meek, you who hunger for righteousness, you who are merciful, you are the salt of the world. Brothers and sisters, we must also note that the disciples are given no choice, Christ is not saying, ‘you should be the salt of the earth,” No, the disciples are given no choice as to if they want to be this salt or not. No appeal is made to them to become the salt of the earth. They just are by the power of the call that has reached them. It is not the message of christ that is the salt, that would diminish the meaning. What is in view is their entire existence, in so far as it is grounded in Christ’s call to discipleship, an existence which the beatitudes speak of. That is their calling, that is who they are, a calling and a life we share with them. All those who follow Christ’s call are made, by that call, to be the salt of the earth.
But why salt? What is it that we are made when we answer Christ’s call of discipleship? Nations grew rich from salt production. People survived winters by learning to preserve foods with salt. Salt was part of Roman soldiers’ pay, and the royal tax on salt was one of the abuses abolished by the French Revolution. It is an enduring substance and thus allows for an enduring metaphor. Homer called salt a divine substance because it preserves things as incorrupt and keeps them as dissolution. The salt, you see, is not for itself, the salt’s purpose is to be for another substance.
The light, is the same. Christ tells those that have aligned themselves to his call to discipleship are the light of the world. Again, You who are poor in spirit, you who mourn, you who are meek, you who hunger for righteousness, you who are merciful are the light of the world. Christ’s call creates followers that not only embody the invisible efficacy of salt but also the visible shine of light. You are the light, again, he is not saying you should be the light, or even you have the light but that you are the light. This light is the city on the hill. It is the mountain of the house of the Lord that has been established as the chief of the mountains, and has been raised above the hills; and all the nations stream to it. To be called the light of the world is to be called into participation in christ.
With this call, followers of Christ no longer have a choice. The only decision for the follower of Christ has already been made, you are the salt and light of the world. Indeed, the greek gives us a sense that Christ is going as far as to say that those called by Christ are they that salt the world, they are those that light the world. What is salt if it is not salty? What is a light if it is hidden? The word used, translated as “having lost its flavor” also means foolish. A foolish man is one that attempts to follow christ but ignore his call. Salt that does not preserve and light hidden is worthless. Faith in christ without the following of this call is no faith at all.
Christ goes on to say that he has not come to abolish the law. Not a word of this law will pass away, not one iota until all is accomplished. It is Christ that has fulfilled this law, and this fulfillment could only come about through his death and resurrection. It is through the cross of Christ that the law is made valid. So that now whoever does and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Now, whoever is poor in spirit, whoever mourns, whoever is meek, whoever hungers and thirsts for righteousness, whoever is merciful, whoever is pure in heart, whoever is a peacemaker, whoever is persecuted for righteousness’ sake, these are now blessed. These are now the salt and light of the world.
Brothers and Sisters, it is because Christ has fulfilled the law, through the cross of Christ that we are now the salt and light of the world. It is because of the the cross of Christ that we are now called to be the salt and light to the world. Our calling is a call to discipleship and this call to discipleship is a call to be for others, to be salt to others, to be light to others.
“Whenever Christ calls us. His call leads us to death.” The German is literally translated as “Every call of Christ, leads to death.” You have been called to discipleship with Christ. Christ does not say you should be the light, you should be the salt. You are the salt and light of the world, and if this salt is not able to preserve that which it is applied to and if this light does not illuminate it is worthless. Christ call to discipleship is a death to the old self, a life of faith in christ and a life dedicated to being for your neighbor, a life dedicated to being salt and light to the world.