|Jesus spoke those words two thousand years
ago on that beautiful hillside in Galilee. But we have to hear them
this morning, listen to them and know that Jesus is saying those words
to each one of us here. You, I, and every one of us are the salt
of the earth. “You are the light of the world.” It’s an extraordinary
gift that Jesus presents to us, to be for him salt and light. It’s
a very important responsibility that we have. Jesus was speaking
to his disciples, those who were ready to follow him, and he’s speaking
to us this morning saying, “You are the salt of the earth, the light of
As we reflect on what Jesus is saying, we need
to ask ourselves, “Am I salt for the world? Am I a light to all other
To help us with our reflection, the first thing
that’s important is to get a sense of what it would mean to be the salt
of the earth.
When Jesus lived, it was before they had refrigerators,
obviously. Salt was very important because it preserved food, it
preserved that which gave life to people. It also added a kind of
zest to the food that people ate, as it does now. It gives taste
and enhances what otherwise could be bland or tasteless.
So if we’re the salt of the earth, we are the
ones who are preserving the message of Jesus, making it real in the world
in which we live right now, making it a message that brings life to people
and enhances their lives.
For us, probably, the symbolism is not as striking
as it would have been for the people who heard Jesus say this for the first
time. They lived in a world where, when the sun went down, it was dark.
It’s not like us where we are used to having light 24 hours a day.
And so to be a light, to push back darkness,
we need to be like the sun that pushes back the darkness of night and then
brings people into the daylight, shows them how to go, where to go, and
how to live.
I read about an image of being the light of
the world that I found very helpful. In large cities, they used to
have lamps that they would light. A person would have the responsibility
of being the lamplighter, going around lighting one lamp after another,
going down one street and up another. And people were watching the
lamplighter doing his work. They could watch him go until the sun
went down and couldn’t see him anymore. But they could see a new
light come forth. And one said to the other, “There is what it means
to be a Christian. Those who are Christians continue to light new
lights and you can follow their path by the lights they leave behind.
They become a light in the darkness.”
And so Jesus is asking each of us to become
that kind of light.
When Jesus said those words that we hear today,
it’s right after he had already proclaimed: Blessed are the poor
in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice sake, blessed
are the peacemakers and so on. Following this, he added, “You have
heard that it was said of old, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ I say to you,
not even to have anger in your heart for your brother or sister. You have
heard it was said of old, ‘Thou shall love your neighbor and hate your
enemy.’ I say love your enemy, do good to the one who hurts you.”
That’s a very hard message.
It’s not hard to draw from today’s scriptures
specific ways in which we are meant to be salt and light. Think back
to what Jesus said last week: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for justice. More specifically, listen today to the reading from
the book of the prophet Isaiah where Jesus drew his own commitment to hunger
and thirst for justice: See the fast that pleases me, breaking the
fetters of injustice, setting the oppressed free. Fast by sharing
your food with the hungry. Bring to your house the homeless.
Clothe the one you see naked. Do not turn away from your own kin.
Obviously, Jesus is saying to us -- if you’re
going to be a light to the world, these are the kinds of things you are
going to have to do.”
Here at St. Leo’s, we can say that in many
ways we are a light to the world around us. People come to us everyday.
Through your efforts, we are able to provide meals for up to 300 people
everyday of the week. We provide clothing and enable people to find
shelter. We even have a parish in Haiti that’s our twin. So
we reach beyond.
In many ways, we are being a light to the world.
But then, maybe, some of us have to ask ourselves: How much do I participate
in those efforts or do I just leave it for others to do it? Am I
really being a part of the light that St. Leo’s is to the world around
us? Or do we have to do some other things besides just sharing our
bread with the hungry or sheltering the homeless poor and so on?
We have to work to break those unjust fetters too.
We’re in a situation in our country where our
president is proposing a budget that is filled with hundreds of billions
of dollars to build weapons, an arsenal of destruction. This will
cut back on services to the poor. Are we going to stand by and just
let that happen or will we do something about it? Demand to talk
to our senator or representative, ask for real opposition to what President
Bush is suggesting.
I think of Pope Paul VI, back in 1976, when
he wrote a statement to the United Nations at the time they were having
their first session on disarmament. He wrote: The arms race
itself is an act of aggression against the poor, causing them to starve,
even if the weapons are never used.
When you expand, as we’re going to do this
year, $400 billion for weapons, you’re robbing the poor, causing them to
starve. It’s an act of aggression.
Now if we’re really going to be a light to
the world, don’t we have to try to do something about that?
In Haiti, this week, our government once more
denied a loan from the Inter-Development Bank for Latin America.
It wouldn’t even come from us, but we have veto power over this.
So even though President Aristide and the people of Haiti had done everything
necessary to get the loan from the Inter-Development Bank of Latin America,
we vetoed it because we don’t like President Aristide. And that’s
what it really comes down to -- President Aristide is too much for the
poor and not for the elite.
We have to protest that. We can send
lots of money or food or medicine to our parish in Haiti, but if we don’t
allow the people of Haiti to build their own economy and to come out of
poverty through their own efforts, all that we give will not be all that
significant. So to be a light to the world around us, we have to
do more than what we are doing.
The other area, it seems clear to me, where
we have to stand up against the world in which we live and the political
structures in our own country is in the continuing war against Afghanistan
and all that is still happening over there.
Today, I read an article in the paper where
our government is finally addressing the problem of discovering how many
civilians have been killed in Afghanistan because of the bombing.
I was surprised to see this on the front page of The New York Times
because we have been so careful to deny this -- we have these smart weapons
and they don’t kill anybody other than the soldiers we are targeting.
Well, finally, they are beginning to examine
whether we have killed civilians. Yet, as you read the article, you
discover we’re not really going to find out very much. Our government
and military forces don’t really care that much about the number of civilians
killed. While they are asking how many have been killed directly by the
bombing, there’s nothing in the article that is asking about those people
in the refugee camp that I spoke about a few weeks ago where 100 people
die everyday because they have had to flee their homes and don’t have access
to food and are freezing to death as well as starving. And that’s
only one refugee camp. The country is filled with refugees who are
dying because of the war.
There are those who have been a light in this
regard and I’ve mentioned before one person who was so clearly opposed
to the war even though her brother was killed on September 11. But
today I thought I might share with you something from another person, who
has also been very active in the effort to get our country to take the
approach of Jesus, where you don’t return evil for evil, hate for hate;
where you love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you.
This young woman, whose name is Amber Amundson,
has two young children and her husband Craig was killed on September 11.
From the very beginning, Amber has been working to end the violence.
In a public letter she wrote to our national leaders, she explains from
where she draws her own inspiration. Amber was formed in the thinking
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I think this is very appropriate for
us to be aware of during Black History month. She wrote to our national
leaders, quoting his words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness,
only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can
do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and
toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Amber read those words a long time ago as she
was formed by that spirit of Dr. King and she’s trying to teach it to her
own two children. She says she does not want her children to grow
up thinking that anyone was killed because their father was killed on September
11. She doesn’t want her children to think that our country was going
to bring peace into the world by killing other people, just as their father
was killed. She wants her children to grow up knowing that you don’t
overcome violence through violence, hate through hate, or darkness through
darkness. You have to transform hate into love, darkness into light,
violence into nonviolence.
Amber has not only written to the president
and to our national leaders, but about a month ago she joined in a march
with a large number of people that was formed by the group known as Voices
in the Wilderness. They marched from Washington DC to ground zero.
It was a long walk and they prayed and had rallies along the way and so
on. It was to protest the sanctions against Iraq because she understands
that that’s another form of violence. It’s not bringing freedom,
not bringing life to the people of Iraq, but is bringing violence, suffering
And something happened on that journey that
I think is also a way of understanding today’s scripture and seeing how
sometimes that scripture is truly fulfilled. Remember the part of
the first lesson today where Isaiah said: When you break unjust fetters,
undo the thong of the yoke, share your bread with the hungry, shelter the
homeless poor, give clothing to the naked -- when you do all these things,
what will happen? Your light will shine like the dawn and your wound
will be quickly healed over.
For Amber, that really happened during that
march to New York. Along the way, they stopped in Baltimore, near
a place called Jonah House that is built right next to a cemetery.
Amber stopped and walked through the cemetery on her own, quietly praying.
She was missing her husband very much and then she shared this. She
said, “For the first time, I really felt I had a powerful connection to
the presence of God and that I had Craig’s spirit with me. Deep in
my own spirit, I realized that death, which is so final for us when we
are grieving and deeply saddened and wanting Craig back here so badly,
on that day, I understood that he is still here with us. There is
more to our existence than our physical world.”
So, in a very beautiful way, she found healing
for her wounds and the loss of her husband whom she loved so very much.
And I’m sure that what God promises can be true for any of us.
All of us are wounded in one way or another
and very often it is because we are too selfish. We want too much
for ourselves. We give in too easily to hate, to vengeance, to retaliation
and so on. If we really tried to follow the way of Jesus and stopped
to pray and reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it, I’m sure
that for each of us our own wounds would be healed. For us, the light
would shine like the dawn and it would make us better able to continue
to be for the world around us a light and the salt of the earth.
Today, then, especially as we prepare to begin
the season of Lent, a time that should be deep renewal for every one of
us, I hope we’ll find how ‘I’ can respond to the message Jesus gives me
this morning. You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth.
How will I find, during the season of Lent, the ways to be that, knowing
then at the end of Lent, once more, I will be deeply renewed, my wounds
will be healed over, and for me the light of Jesus will be a reality more
deeply and more clearly than it’s every been before?
Each of us, I hope, will heed the words of
Jesus: You are the salt of the earth, light of the world.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.