Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The world we live in seems to be getting more and more messed up all the time. You don’t have to look very far to see it either. On the TV, in the newspaper, on the internet, the evidence is everywhere. Immigration bans based on countries of origin, attacks on religious groups (like the mosque attack in Quebec), protests and counter protests, angry people venting on Facebook and other forms of social media, it’s everywhere. It’s not just the United States or Donald Trump either. It’s not even just North America. It’s everywhere. The world as a whole these days feels like it’s gone right off the deep end. Hatred and anger seem to be at unprecedented levels all over the place.
We might think that this is all new, that this kind of hatred and anger has never existed before because we think everything that happens in our lifetime is happening for the first time ever, but this really is nothing new. Hatred and anger have existed ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin. Their oldest son killed his younger brother out of jealousy. Hatred and anger existed in those days too.
In the last few days and weeks, though, hatred and anger seem to be bubbling up right in our faces. We can’t ignore it the way we’ve been able to ignore it before. This presents a question for us to wrestle with: how do we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, live in a world like this? How do we relate to the hatred and anger that we see all around us?
Thankfully for us, Jesus answers exactly those kind of questions in our Gospel reading today. We pick up this week where we left off last week with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is sitting down on the hillside with His disciples gathered around and He is teaching them what it means to be His disciple. Last week in the Beatitudes He laid out the blessings that He brings (blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted, etc.) and today we hear Him describe what disciples are and what they do in the world. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said, “but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”
“You are the salt of the earth.” Believe it or not, that right there tells you pretty much everything that you need to know about how we live as Christians in this world. We are the salt of the earth. Now, we could get into all the different things that salt does and what that means for how we live as the salt of the earth. But all of that actually doesn’t really matter. There are two important things to take from this salt metaphor that Jesus is using. First of all, it means that we are different. We are different from the rest of the world around us. We are the salt of the earth. There is salt and then there is everything else. We are the salt. Secondly, it means that we are useful and beneficial for the world around us. Today we might not think of salt as beneficial all that often when we hear doctors and medical professionals talk about not eating too much salt, but salt has a purpose and a benefit. It preserves, it cleanses, and it provides flavour. Salt has its benefits. So when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth He is saying that we are different from the rest of the world and we are beneficial for that world.
I want to talk about that first part first, being different, because that is a significant challenge for us. Being different from the world around us is not exactly the most appealing idea sometimes. We don’t want to stand out or draw attention to ourselves especially when it is our faith that might be causing us to stand out. When our faith starts to feel like it is out of step with the world around us we very quickly begin to feel this urge or temptation to bury that faith, hide it away where no one can see it, so that we don’t seem different than everyone else. Rather than being different we want to blend in with the crowd, with the world around us. But when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth He is calling us something different than the world around us. Paul says the same thing in his letter to the Romans. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” As Christians we are not called to conform, to become one with the world, and follow the world wherever it leads. Instead we have been transformed by Jesus to be the salt of the earth, His disciples, His followers in a broken, sinful world. But our sinful nature does not want to be transformed. Our sinful nature would much rather conform to the sinful world in which we find ourselves.
But if we conform, if we cease to be different, the second part of being the salt of the earth is lost. If we are not different then we cease to be the salt of the earth and we cease to be of any benefit for the world around us. Jesus says, “If the salt has lost its taste how will the world’s saltiness be restored?” Who will salt the earth if the salt is not salty? Who will bring the benefits of Jesus to the world if we refuse to be different, to stand out, and to be transformed by Jesus? If we conform to this world of sin then we are of no benefit to this world. If we conform to this world of sin we are just more sinners walking in the darkness apart from the light and that is not who Jesus has made us to be.
Jesus has made us something different, something beneficial for the world. He has transformed us and changed us. He has made us into His people who are the salt of the earth. Look at what Jesus says about us, He says, “You ARE the salt of the world.” Jesus does not tell us that we need to become the salt, or that we should try to be the salt, He says you are the salt. He has already transformed us. He has given us this new identity.
Jesus is the real salt of the earth and on the cross He salted the world with His blood shed for us. He sprinkled us with His blood shed for us in the water of baptism to transform us to be the salt of the earth. He has poured out His love and forgiveness on us so that we would be changed by the love and forgiveness into people who likewise love and forgive. That is who we are in this sinful world. We are different and we are beneficial because we have been loved by Christ and covered with Christ and changed by Christ so that we love and forgive the world around us. That is who we are. That is who Jesus has made us to be. We are the salt of the earth.
If we conform to the world, if we refuse to be different, this benefit of who Christ has made us to be is lost. But if we are transformed, not by what we do but by what Jesus does, if we are changed by Jesus, we become the salt of the earth and through us Jesus brings His love and forgiveness to this fallen world. You are the salt of the earth. This is who you are and this is what Jesus is doing through you.
So how do we relate to the world around us? How do we respond to the hatred and anger that seem to be everywhere in the world? By being the salt of the earth. By loving our neighbour as our self. By loving our neighbour who might be a Muslim or maybe an atheist, who might support Donald Trump or hate Donald Trump, who might think we should stop taking refugees or wants us to take in more refugees. We are called simply to love our neighbour, no matter who they are, as our self. Plain and simple. We are the salt of the earth, this is how we benefit the world.
Us loving our neighbour as our self is not going to change things. It will not stop hatred and anger. Our love isn’t going to trump hatred. But it will proclaim the love of Jesus that caused Him to be born into this world that is full of hatred and anger and die on a cross at the hands of hateful and angry people just like us. It is this love that caused Jesus to die for us to forgive us for our hateful anger, for the times we hold a grudge, for the times we resent other people, for the times we murder or neighbour in our hearts with our hatred. This love, Jesus’s love, forgives us for all of our sins and all the wrong we have done. This love, Jesus’s love, changes things. It turns hearts away from sin and transforms sinful people into the salt of the earth. Salt that is different from the world and beneficial for the world. Ultimately, this love leads to life everlasting and the resurrection of the dead where hatred, anger, warfare, and violence have all passed away. The love of Jesus has done this and will bring it to completion on the last day.
As you see around you hatred and anger boil up all over the place consider who Christ has made you to be. Consider how we can love this world we live in and the other people in it. Consider Christ and His love for us. Consider His forgiveness for us. Transformed by that love and forgiveness we are the salt of the earth as we love and forgive those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.