Many people when they reach a certain age start to feel like nothing can change. There isn't any point in setting any new goals, there isn't any reason to dream for anything different. Some people reach a state of despair or a state of indifference such that nothing really matters anymore. And really, this can happen at any age, however, it has become largely noticeable in the seventy and over age group these days. Despair can hit anyone who has struggled for a long time and feels like they are not attaining anything different or important. Working with people who have reached rock bottom can be hard to do. However, we all need a little encouragement some of the time. Our good friend, C. S. Lewis once said, “You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
Encouragement. Most people at some point in their lives find themselves an encouragement story or quote that they hang on to when the going gets rough. I remember the halls and walls of my middle school being covered in encouragement posters, saying things like, "If Plan A doesn't work, the alphabet still has 25 more letters." Or Frank Sinatra's, "the best revenge is massive success." In high school, I adopted my own personal encouragement statement, "smile, defy gravity." Not only was I trying to remember to smile, but I was also sticking it to Isaac Newton and his infallible physics laws. Two points for me.
Encouragement is the name of the game today because that is one of the plays that Jesus is trying to make in the gospel passage for today. This passage comes directly after last week's passage, commonly known as the Beatitudes, a series of blessings for the people following Jesus. He switches from blessing the crowds to encouraging them to share what they have with others. He tells them that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus tells the crowds that they are following him through the laws and beyond. What he does not tell him, but what is implicit in what he does say, is that they are worth it. That they are able to make a difference. You are the salt of the earth. You can make a difference. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine. You can make a difference. That sounds like encouragement to me.
Maybe you aren't buying it. Why would being the salt of the earth be a good thing? Salt was a very precious commodity in the ancient world. Salt had to be gathered and purified. Salt was used to preserve food so that it didn't have to be eaten immediately. Salt also has healing and cleaning properties. In Jewish tradition, and later Christian tradition, salt was blessed and used in exorcisms and baptisms and blessing places. Salt really doesn't have too much of its own flavor. Garlic, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, all of these spices definitely have their own flavor. Salt, though is really only used to enhance the flavor of something else. Its kind of like a magnifying glass. It makes what is already present harder, better, faster, stronger.
The funny thing about salt is that it is like honey. Left by themselves, honey and salt never go bad. Salt is a stable chemical compound. Unless it gets wet, it will stay salt and salty for a very very very long time.
The analogy then is that when we act like salt of the earth, we do not call attention to ourselves. Instead, we enhance what is already present. We bring out the good flavor of what is already going on. We make things better. Salt's mission in this world is not to promote salt, but to make everything else better. We are not called to promote ourselves, but God.
So after Jesus blesses the crowds with the beatitudes, he encourages them by telling them that they are the salt of the earth. They are imminently good. And necessary. The crowds that Jesus was talking to were the lowly country people. They were not the high and mighty, not the celebrities. And yet, Jesus tells them they are the ones giving flavor to this world. They are the ones that can make life better for other people.
In the same manner, Jesus tells the crowd that they are the light of the world. Human beings need light to be able to see. We are created that way. And in order for other people to see God, they have to have the right kind of light. The people who are in darkness can't see God, because there isn't any light. Light does also normally follow Newtonian physics. Which means that unless something stops it, it will shine everywhere it can reach. Jesus tells his followers that they are the light, that unless they stop themselves for some reason, they can shine the light of God everywhere. Being light can be a burden, a responsibility, but it is also an honor. We are the light. Only we can show others what it is to see God in this world.
We follow in the footsteps of those in the crowds that day. We are the salt of the earth. We give flavor to this world. We are the light of the world. We can shine light on what it means to see God in this world.
So, I encourage you. Be salt and be light. I encourage you to try something new out this week. Try something you've always dreamed of doing or set a new goal this week. I encourage you to write down all the ways in which God has worked through you to help someone else. I encourage you to shine, to sparkle, to add flavor to another person's life. I encourage you to love, love deeply, love widely, love even in the midst of the hard moments and difficult emotions. I encourage you to be salt and light. I encourage you to trust God and follow Jesus. Amen.