You are salt,
You are light,
You are needed in this world.
Our salt-free-by-dietary-choice culture risks missing the poignancy of Jesus’ assertion; we are something that the world craves. My grandmother has been gone to glory for more than twenty years now, but the memory of her sneaking a little salt into her diet here and there still brings a smile. She had spent 55+ years of cooking 2 eggs and 2 strips of bacon for breakfast every morning for herself and my grandfather while he lived. The savory, salty taste of a crispy strip of bacon was wrapped up in her memories of life at its best and giving up bacon was a battle she occasionally chose to lose when we were out of the house and she was left to her own devices. On second thought, I suspect that the memory of salt is indelibly fixed in the Western collective consciousness, because so many of us have to be warned to leave it alone!
Light, on the other hand, is not open to dispute. Try living without electricity for a day, a week or even a month! We think we can’t do it. At those rare times when storms come and so many are without electricity, newscasters speak of it as deprivation. In developing countries, where electricity is unstable, its presence or absence is a topic of frequent conversation. In places where electricity is altogether absent, the people living there have worked out alternate sources of illumination. We live as those afraid of the dark and often view light as a necessity.
I feel rather important now, when I hear Jesus saying that we are salt and we are light! Yet this charge to be the light, a city set upon a hill, and be the salt that everyone craves and needs is one more area in which we, God’s people have failed so miserably.
Too often, we seasoned, veteran ‘church folk’ have been conditioned to think of the congregation not as salt or light, but as a faithful group of believers huddled together protecting one another from the darkness. Our language about the faith reveals an image of the church looking more like a fortress that stands in opposition to the world and its unredeemed culture, than like a force that influences it. Worship, then, functions as an oasis in the desert of despair that refreshes our parched souls or a filling station that gives us just enough gas to speed through that desert to the next filling-station time when we meet again.
But Jesus said, you are salt, and you are light – which seems to imply contact with this world in ways that make it better for our having been there. The world needs our godly influence to change the taste of things and to bring light to people who are afraid of the dark. So, how do we get members of our congregations to think about their part in God’s mission to bland, dimly-lit places?
To begin, worship with your eyes open. Remember that the local congregation is the public face of the Christian faith and that our worship takes place in public, not in private. We worship with the doors unlocked, always hoping that the stranger will join us and overhear our conversations with God. We worship with our hearts open to receive new people from new places that have been unreached. We pray for people that may have no other persons to mention them in prayer. We preach, ever mindful of our mission to represent God’s cause and spread Good News to the ends of the earth.
Then, we send worshippers with a charge of our own suggested by the text of the day and the tone of our worship. We cannot afford to just fill them up, like they were at a filling station, and dismiss them; our mission dictates that we must send them. We send them to love God and their neighbor with all their actions and their attitudes. We send them to make a difference in some small way. We send them and remind them to smile when everyone else is frowning or grumbling or complaining about politics. We send them as the 70 (or the 72) were sent – to announce the Kingdom of God, to drive out evil spirits, and to bring healing (Matthew 10:1, Luke 10:1).
Don’t just dismiss the people at the end of worship; send them!