Tag Archives: light

Salt and Light

 

salt and light

Do you make your own bread? I wonder if you’ve ever forgotten to put the yeast in? The result is pretty disastrous, isn’t it? But what if you forget to put the salt in? Maybe not quite such as disaster but salt-free bread doesn’t taste very good, does it? These days we’re always being warned not to have too much salt in our diets and, indeed, the amount of salt in many processed/prepared foods is pretty alarming – we do well to check the labels. But salt does a lot more than bring out the flavour of food. Too much salt may raise our blood pressure but the effects of too little salt are equally, if not more, devastating. Too little salt in our bodies can, for example, cause permanent muscle damage. We add it to bread dough not just to make bread taste better to stop the yeast being overactive; we add it when boiling potatoes not just to improve the flavour but because it causes the water in the potatoes to come out of them and so softening them.

Salt has cleansing, antiseptic properties; it was so valuable as a preservative in the time of Jesus and for many centuries after, that it was used as currency. Salt is so important, so essential to life and well-being that not only has it been used as currency but it has sparked uprisings such as the El Paso ‘salt wars’ of the 1870s in America and protests such as Gandhi’s salt march – a non-violent opposition to the heavy taxes imposed on salt by the British Raj in India.

Too little or too much salt can lead to big problems. Too much salt can ruin your meal; it’s unpleasant to drink – making you thirstier than before at best and making you sick at worst. Yet strangely enough, if you have been running or doing some other very active sport, a drink with some salt in it won’t taste salty or unpleasant because your body knows its need to replace the salt it has lost through perspiration. How very cleverly we are created by God!

When the amount of salt is just right, then we hardly notice it. It’s the same with light – that other image that Jesus uses in our gospel reading today. If there isn’t enough light, we can’t see where we’re going or what we’re doing. If there’s too much light, or it’s shining right into our eyes, then we’re dazzled and can see either.

It’s a question of balance, of getting it right. And so Jesus compares his followers, his disciples to salt and to light. Apart from needing just the right amount of salt or light, there is a significant difference between the two which Jesus highlights. Salt is generally the hidden ingredient. It’s not noticeable either to the naked eye nor in terms of taste. It just enhances the flavour of the food. The right amount is not noticed at all – only its absence or too much.  What does this say to us as a church community, as present-day disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we the salt of the earth that enhances our local community?  Just suppose for a moment that there were no disciples of Jesus Christ – no church – in in the place where you live. Leaving aside the question of the physical church building for the moment, what would be missing if there wasn’t a Christian presence here? Would it matter? Would something be missing? And if so, what? Would people notice the ‘lack of seasoning’? How would our community be different if it wasn’t for the people of this church?

If we look back to our first reading, where Isaiah describes the sort of commitment, the sacrifices that God requires of his people, the sort of difference we the church are called to make – to loose the bonds of injustice, share food with the hungry, welcoming the homeless, – and those more difficult demands – not pointing the finger, not saying unkind things….. These are the sort of things that are going to add flavour to our community, to our fellow human beings. And look at the promises God makes, the rewards which will result from this behaviour: our needs will be satisfied; we will flourish like a watered garden; we will be peace-makers, repairers of the breach, restorers of the streets to live in.

Although the right sort and intensity of light is unobtrusive, Jesus makes the point that, unlike salt which can be hidden, mixed in, light needs to be out in the open to be effective. It has to be in a position where it can be effective.  At our recent ‘Messy Church’, adults and children made a collage showing their homes as ‘beacons of blessing’

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– light streams from the doors and windows of houses making them noticeable, inviting, encouraging. Jesus says, in those words we use at the offertory in the Prayer Book service, that we should let our light shine – make all those things that Isaiah encouraged obvious – so that people would give glory to God. Here, unlike the salt, Christ’s followers should stand out, should shine out. We are the light of the world! Jesus in John’s gospel describes himself as the Light of the World but here, in Matthew’s gospel, he tells his disciples that they – we – are the light of the world. How do we enlighten the world. Do we enlighten the world? Do we light up our own community?

There’s something of a contrast here, isn’t there – between the salt which is unobtrusive, hidden, subtle, self-effacing and the light which is like a city on a hill, shining out. Both are effective, both are encouraged by Jesus. It’s not a case of “either or”, but “both and”. We are the church, the body of Christ in this place both in the way we are present alongside our family, friends and neighbours, living a life of faithful discipleship, and when we declare our allegiance, our faith in more obvious ways, when we speak out and stand up for those who are treated unjustly.

There is one last point I want to make about the image of salt and that is that it doesn’t take much. Only a pinch of salt is needed. And I hope that thought might be a comfort and an inspiration to us when we look around and think that we are too few to make a difference.  Remember the words of the Dalai Lama – ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’

May you be as salt where there is staleness;
light where there is darkness;
truth where there is unbelief
and love where there is great need.
And may you know the blessing of God the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit,
close to you each moment and each day.
Amen.

This week, when you switch on a light or taste salt, use this moment to pray for God, and ask him how you can show his love to others.

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Candlemas – Shine as a light in the world

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According to yesterday’s newspapers, we can expect another month – at least – of stormy, wet weather. Given that today is sunny – in this part of the country anyway – this fits in with the folklore that if Feb 2nd is cloudy and dull, winter will be over soon but if it is bright and sunny, there will be more bad weather to come.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

In the United States, on February 2nd, they observe ‘Groundhog Day’. The theory is that if a groundhog comes out of his winter burrow on that day and sees his shadow, he will be frightened and go back underground; winter will continue for a few more weeks. If there is no shadow (i.e. it is a cloudy day), winter is indeed over and the groundhog will stay outside. Like many of our sayings about weather (‘red sky at night’) it is probably based on experience and may have an element of truth.

I wonder if you have seen the film ‘Groundhog Day’? The story is about a grumpy TV weather forecaster, Phil, who is sent to report on what a groundhog (also called Phil!) does on Feb 2nd. Having made his report, he is prevented from leaving the town by heavy snow. He is then caught in a time-loop in which the day repeats itself over and over again. His response varies from frustration to taking advantage of the situation – stealing, being rude because he never has to face the consequences – to desperately trying to escape by attempting suicide. Only when he uses his experience to save lives and to befriend people, to be a blessing to them, is the loop broken and time moves on – much to his relief.

Today, Feb 2nd, the church celebrates the event described in our gospel reading, the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem according to the Jewish custom of the time – to dedicate the first-born male child to God and to mark the return of the mother to normal society after the birth. The elderly Simeon greets Jesus as a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of God’s people’. Light has come into the world but there are also shadows of events still to come.

Why Candlemas? Well, it was the day of the year when all the candles, that were used in the church during the coming year, were brought into church and a blessing was said over them – so it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles.

Candles used to be more important than they are now, and not only because there was no electric light. Some people thought they gave protection against plague and illness and famine. For Christians, they were (and still are) a reminder of something even more important. Before Jesus came to earth, it was as if everyone was ‘in the dark’. People often felt lost and lonely and afraid – and still do, of course. As if they were on their own, with no one to help them. Then came Jesus with his message that he is with his followers always ready to help and comfort them. He is a guiding light to them in the darkness. Christians often talk of Jesus as ‘the light of the World’ – and candles are lit during church services to remind us of this.

At the end of our service today we will light our individual candles, symbolising our response to our calling to take the light of Christ out into the world to combat the darkness and fear and loneliness that people feel. When Christians are baptised or confirmed they are frequently given a lighted candle and encouraged to ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’ because they have passed from darkness to light, they have stepped into the light of Jesus, the light of the world. Of course, we may well still experience darkness and fear. Becoming a Christian does not provided immunity from such things but when we belong to the body of Christ, the church, we can hope that others will shine on us, will reflect the light of Christ, light a candle for us.

But our responsibility as the body of Christ – Christ’s hands and feet and voice in the world – goes further than this. As a church, we are called to continue Christ’s work of bringing light into the dark places of the world. Yes, we can ‘do our bit’ on our own, we can be ‘you in your small corner and I in mine’ but how much more effective we will be if we work together! Think of a birthday cake with candles. Ordinary sized cake with, say, 5 candles dotted around the side. Pretty, attractive. Now suppose you are celebrating a significant birthday as some of us are this year…. Ordinary sized cake but someone decides to decorate it with the appropriate number of candles and light them all. What happens??? Melt-down! A conflagration! Wow!

That’s how to get noticed, how to provoke a response, how to bring a shining light into dark places – places of fear, of deprivation, of injustice. How might we do that? And just as Jesus the light of the world was not all harmony and sweetness, we too may find that standing up for what we believe may prove uncomfortable for us and for others, a stumbling block, a sign that is opposed.

Today is a day when we look both backwards and forwards. It is the mid-point, in terms of the calendar, between the winter solstice and the official beginning of spring on March 21st. It is the point at which we put Christmas behind us and begin to look forward towards Lent and Easter. It has become the custom in recent years for the church to continue to celebrate Christmas, to keep Christmas decorations up until Candlemas. But now our focus shifts from celebrating the birth of Jesus to considering his suffering. On the other hand, the darkest time of the year is now behind us, the days are getting noticeably longer; the light is coming. We no longer need those artificial twinkling lights; the real light has come into the world. Simeon and Anna, in our gospel reading look both back with gratitude that the saviour of the world has come and forward to what has still to be accomplished by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It seems a long time since Christmas but this is our last opportunity to look back at the infant Jesus. The special words spoken by Simeon and Anna tell us yet again that he is no ordinary baby. So many things have been giving us clues through the story of the nativity – a star, angels, the special gifts offered by the wise men and now all of that is put into words. This baby is the light of God’s salvation, a light for all the world.

But even as we look back at the baby, Simeon’s words to Mary make us look forward to the cross. He gives the first hint that the way to salvation is not going to be easy as he tells Mary that Jesus is going to challenge people and make her very sad.

So we too, in these churches of the Wilford peninsula can look back with gratitude for all God has done for us and the gifts he has given us. But we look forward too with varying degrees of excitement and trepidation as we set out on this journey to discover where God is calling this church and to carry His light out. I hope that we can say ‘For all that has been, thanks be to God; for all that shall be – Yes!’