Be What You Are

Epiphany 5 – Be What You Are

Matthew 5:13-20

February 5-6, 2011


Jesus says, “You are salt…”

Not, “You should be salt;”

“You may be salt;”

or “You will be salt sometime in the future.”

Simply, “You ARE salt.”

Jesus also says, “You are light…”

Not, “You should be light;”

“You may be light;”

or “You will be light.”
Simply, “You ARE light.”


Now be what you are….

Be the earth’s salt.

Be the world’s light.


Not an easy task…

it wasn’t easy in Jesus’ day when he spoke those words;

it wasn’t in Matthew’s day when he recorded those words;

and it isn’t in our day when we hear those words once again.


Let’s look at Jesus’ day.

We may remember from last week that

great crowds had gathered around Jesus.


Jesus went up a mountain, sat down, and taught his disciples.

Actually, he taught…and taught…and taught…and taught…

The Sermon of the Mount is three chapters’ worth of teaching in the gospel of Matthew!

Chapters 5, 6, and 7!


This was not a little devotion or a short homily for the disciples;

this was an honest-to-goodness “sit down you’re going to be here for awhile”  sermon!


He starts with the Beatitudes,

moves to the Lord’s Prayer

and in between has some of his most familiar teachings.

Spoken to people longing to hear.


Scholar Edwin van Driel reminds us that this sermon is for Israel.

It is for a people living in a time of oppression by outsiders.

Their land, city, and temple are ruled by non Jews – goyim;

Soldiers’ boots march through the country;

The divine king promised by the prophets has not arrived.


There is a bitter and anguished debate about the meaning of their suffering

(How could God let this happen to us?)

They wonder how to respond.[i]


Jesus sits them down and says,

“This is how to respond:  be who you are.”


I call you salt – be salt

Be the earth’s salt.


I come from a Swedish background –

Swedish food tends to be understated and reserved (like the people I guess!)

Swedes tend to be suspicious of spices.


One of my jobs growing up was to dust my mother’s spice rack…

It was rarely used – it was really just another knick-knack…

Yet even my mother used salt.


Salt isn’t a very extraordinary spice.

It isn’t very exotic.

It is, however, very useful.


Salt…brings out flavor;

Salt..adds zest.

Salt without its saltiness is just a white granular powder.

Salt that doesn’t get used hardens and becomes useless.

Faith without action stays where it is.

Faith that doesn’t get used does nothing.


Jesus tells Israel in the midst of domination,

in the midst of their questioning about God’s meaning in their suffering

to be salty – to know that God has called them to a purpose,

and to be faithful to that purpose.


They aren’t necessarily called to anything extraordinary.

They aren’t called to anything exotic.

(No turmeric or cilantro). Just salt.

Salt is called to be salty.


Last week, our young adults reading group met over dinner.

It was a meaningful conversation –

one that most of us have had at one time or another.

What am I called to do?  Who am I called to be?


One of those present shared a really insightful discovery he’d made.


His discovery was that at one time he thought he was called to be something extraordinary…

Subsequently he struggled deeply with trying to figure just what that extraordinary thing was.


More recently he came to the realization that he wasn’t called to be extraordinary – In fact he was called to be rather ordinary –

he was called to be salt – just plain salt – and that was enough.


What freedom he experienced!

Can’t we all relate to his story….

We wanted to be the best athlete…the best student…


Jesus says, I call you to be salt.  Just salt.

Be faithful to who you are – it is amazing enough.

We’re salt of the earth kinds of people.


In case you didn’t get the analogy of salt,

Jesus gives us another analogy – light.

Salt and light go together.


An ancient Latin jingle went something like this:[ii]

Nil utilius sole et sale

There’s nothing more useful than sun and salt” – light and salt.


You are simply salt and light.

But you are not salt and light for yourselves. You are useful.

You are salt of the whole earth and light of the whole world.

You are the world’s light.

When others are faced with darkness,

You are called to bring light, hope.


Tomorrow we will baptize Keegan Deleanor Scott.

Keegan’s dad is deployed army overseas,

so we’ll actually be Skyping the baptism so he can take part.


His dad will see us give Keegan a candle and repeat these words from Matthew:

You are light…Let your light so shine before others

that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.


Once again we hear that a candle that isn’t burning is just a collection of wax.

A candle that is hidden under a bushel is useless.

Faith without action stays where it is.

Faith that doesn’t get used does nothing.


Jesus says be salt; be light.

Be useful, be zestful, be hopeful;

Spice the earth; Light the world.

Show the world who you are.


Jesus spoke these words to the disciples.

Matthew recorded these words for the early Christians.

Today we hear these words for us.  Amen.


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