Contact Matthew 5:13-16 (Wednesday Night Reflection)
We live in a nation that is hurting right now…we are reeling from one thing right after another…from Harvey to Irma to Maria…from Charlottesville, Virginia to Las Vegas, Nevada. Closer to home we find ourselves confronted with folks far too young to be dying being laid to rest because of drug overdoses, and others across every socio-economic and racial barrier finding themselves trapped in the web of addiction. We have neighbors whose children go to school hungry and seniors whose cupboards are bare. There are loved ones who receive unexpected and dire diagnoses. There are families we know whose lives are completely disrupted and shattered for one reason or another.
What is our first instinct? Usually it is to reach out and send folks a message and let them know in some way, “we’ll be praying for you” or “you’re in our thoughts and prayers.” We hear pastors and others tell us to remember a given situation, a person, or a group “in our prayers.” And that is a good and powerful thing. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in petitioning God to act in unmistakable ways in places where there is hurt and pain, and I have faith that God will respond. However, if that is where our response to these tragic events end, there is a problem—and it is a problem that I have been guilty of, maybe all of us.
James confronts us, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[i] Another way of putting it would be, “If all we are doing is offering up words, offering up lip service, then what good is that? The folks need more than that—they need salt and light—they need contact.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”[ii]
Some of us are now wondering how each of these connects to the other…what do “thoughts and prayers,” “faith and works,” and “salt and light,” have to do with each other? The truth of the matter is that they have everything to do with one another.
“Thoughts and prayers,” we lift up those in need, here and globally, in prayer, because we believe in the power of prayer. We believe that through prayer God hears and responds wherever there is a need. That belief is the faith that we have that God is good, that God pays attention to our prayer, and that God is going to do something…and God will—through salt and light.
Are we still scratching our heads?
Let’s reverse it as we consider this and ask, “what do light and salt do?”
Light…light should be easy…right now we are only 6.4 miles from our unique Diamond Lady. What does light do?
Light dispels the darkness…light points the way…and light reveals danger.
Salt...if you are like me…we love salt. What does salt do?
Salt seasons and adds flavor…salt preserves…salt can remove danger (such as melting snow and ice on roads and driveways—or preventing their freezing if pretreated).
What do they both have in common? They have to have contact with that which they are seeking to dispel, show, or reveal…that which they are trying to flavor, preserve, or remove. For light to dispel darkness, it has to shine into the darkness. The light has to contact the darkness in order to remove it. The light does no good if it simply is shone into an already lit room or already lit place. In fact, when it is blazing in a place that is already lit, it is hardly noticeable or seen. When we would vacation at Atlantic Beach, on a bright sunny day, the light from Cape Lookout was never seen…it was shining…but it was not seen. However, stand on that same spot at night, as the light came in contact with the darkness, and it was clearly visible. Light has to shine into the darkness in order to be useful. Light has to shine on the places of danger in order to warn folks of the danger.
Another thing about light, even in the darkness, it has to be pointed the right direction. We always do it, probably because they always beg so much, and when I say “we” I mean all of us, because if Anita and I are the only ones who have ever done this, I’ll be shocked. There have been times when we would go walking at night as a family, often it has been when we would vacation at the beach. It never fails that if we have a flashlight along, one of the kids would want to hold the flashlight we are using to light the path. Everybody knows the problem that causes, right? That flashlight usually shines everywhere but where we are walking. Light has to shine in front of us to show us the way, it leads us forward—and does no good shining where we’ve been or anywhere else.
We are to be light in the darkness…
And then there’s salt. Salt is a lot like light. For it to do any good there has to be contact. If I am trying to season my food and rather than shake the salt on the food I shake it on my napkin, what good is that going to do…if I want to use salt to preserve or lengthen the life of my ham or other meat I want to cure, and I pour it out on the ground instead of rubbing it into the meat, what good does that do…if I want to use salt to melt the ice in my driveway, but instead pour it out under my carport, how does that help? The salt has to make contact with the food, with the meat, with the snow, ice, and sidewalk for it to be of any use.
We are to be the salt of the world…
Thoughts and prayers lifted up should move us to action. They should move us to be salt and light.
We become salt and light when we not only pray for those affected by the hurricanes, but by the offerings we have received, and the items that we are collecting for flood buckets and health kits. Those traveling to Goldsboro two and a half weeks to prepare these and other items for shipping will be salt and light for those who are hurting. Those who might make trips to repair or rebuilt homes will be salt and light…in the face of these and other disasters.
We become salt and light when we move from thoughts and prayers about the hungry in our community to distributing food at the EMS building on fourth Wednesday or packing the backpack blessings for the school kids each month.
We become salt and light when we so flood the world with the love of Christ for each and every person that there is no room left for the hate that filled Charlottesville…that there are none feeling so alone or distraught that they flood a room with a shower of bullets.
We become salt and light when we connect with those who feel so empty that they turn to drugs and reveal to them the “high” that comes from being loved by a God who offered His only Son on their behalf—a love that is not made up of hollow words, but a love that flows from our very hearts and hands.
We become salt and light when we keep company with those who are struggling with their health…
We become salt and light when we become a place of refuge for those whose lives have otherwise been filled with neglect or violence…
Lifting “thoughts and prayers” must call us to action…must call us to contact. To quote my devotional reading from earlier this week, “Prayer may seem at first like disengagement, a reflective time to consider God’s point of view. But that vantage presses us back to accomplish God’s will, the work of the Kingdom.”[iii]
We lift our “thoughts and prayers” to a God who loved us enough that He didn’t just offer His thoughts and prayers when we were lost in sin, but instead came as the “Light of the World” in order to make contact, in order to touch our very lives with His presence…and in doing so, presses us, the Body of Christ, the Living Presence of our Resurrected Savior…to be light and salt that makes contact with the world.
In the Name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.