5 sunday A - Be Salt and Light for the world

From Sermons now:

There are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton hadn't won a game in eight weeks. A critical press was suggesting that he be dropped from the starting lineup. The future looked bleak, and Sutton felt terrible. Then, before a game, Dodgers manager Walter Alston tapped him on the shoulder. "I'd like to speak with you, Don," he said. Sutton prepared himself for the worst.

"Don," said Alston, "I know how the past couple of months have been for you. Everyone's wondering whether we can make it to the play-offs . . . You know there's a lot of pressure . . . I've had to make a decision." Sutton had visions of being taken off the mound. Then Alston continued. "If the Dodgers are going to win this year," he said, looking Sutton in the eye, "they're going to win with Don Sutton pitching. Come what may, you're staying in the starting job. That's all I wanted to say."

Sutton's losing streak lasted two more weeks, but because of his manager's encouragement he felt different about it. Something in him was turning around. He found himself pitching the best ball of his career. In the National League pennant drive, he won 13 games out of 14. 

There are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people. We can do it through guilt, through fear, through shame. But these were not Jesus' methods. Jesus motivated through positive messages of hope and encouragement. 

Consider our lesson for today. Jesus says to his followers, "You are the light of the world. . . ."

What's your favorite color? Is it more 450? Or do you tend towards 600? Maybe even 700?

In case those numbers don't immediately mean anything to you, on the visible spectrum scale for light 450 nanometers means "blue," 600 is yellow, and at 700 nanometers you are seeing red.

But we don't "see" numbers, do we? We see the beautiful, variable, illuminating colors that light takes on as it is refracted and reflected before our eyes. We don't experience nanometers. We bask under a blue sky? Or we bath in wonder at the beauty of a sunset that melts from orange to red to crimson and purple. Whether we catalogue light as 550 nanometers or perceive it as "green" is all a matter of perspective. Are we dissecting the idea of "light" into its most basic components (measured nanometers)? Or are we responding to the expression of that light as we experience it in the world (colors)?

In Matthew's account of the "Sermon on the Mount," immediately after Jesus lays out his "blessed be" Beatitudes, he lifts up two metaphors of how disciples of the kingdom will be known to this world. They will be the "salt of the earth," they will be the "light of the world," a light that will "shine before others." Salt sharpens flavors. Light sharpens both sight and insight. Jesus is calling would-be followers of the kingdom to sharpen lives by living on the sharp, the cutting edges, the places where new perspectives, new tastes, and new visions are embraced.

Light does not just banish darkness and illuminate corners and crevices. Light also works to provide a new perspective...
Humor: The Language of God

There was a mother mouse who decided to teach her children about the world. So she gathered all of her little mice and set out for a walk. They walked down the hall and turned to the right. Then they went down the hall and took another right. And suddenly they found themselves in front of the family cat dozing in the sunlight. The mother mouse was scared. But she didn't want to give in to her fright. So she signaled to the children to be very quiet and to follow as she began to tip toe quietly and slowly past the sleeping cat. Just as she was about to get past the cat, the cat's eyes popped open and raised its paw.
The little mice were petrified. What would their mother do? Well, just as the cat's paw started to come down, that mother mouse looked the cat right in the eye and started barking like a dog. And do you know what? The cat was so startled and frightened that it jumped up and ran away! The mother mouse, wiped her brow, shook a little and then turned to her little mice and said, "Children, I hope you learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes it's good to know a second language!"

It's the same way with us. It's good to know a second language. Salt and light are the language of God; the language of Grace; the language of hope and love. And when this language is translated into action it becomes the most beautiful language ever spoken. We're called to be salt and light and to speak the language of God as we live our faith. We're called to live the Word.

Billy D. Strayhorn, The Salt and Light Brigade 

Reflect the Light
In an article entitled "Reflect the Light," Roble Nebres tells about the time he drove to the summit of Mt. Haleakala. After watching the sunset it became dark and he became anxious about the descent down the steep, winding road. When he left the parking lot the median strips on the road suddenly came alive with reflectorized lights. They provided a much needed directional guide on the mountain road.

The reflectors illuminated the way for Nebres, who made his descent safely down the treacherous mountain road. The reflectors, however, were useless without his headlights shining on them. The light they gave depended on the light from another source. Otherwise they could not help him see.

When Jesus told his disciples they were the "light of the world," he meant they were to be reflectors of the light of God. God is the illuminating source. God provides the light that is reflected from us. And God needs us to be reflectors of God's light to a world of darkness.

Keith Wagner, Are We Hiding Our Faith?

The story is told of a little girl who went to visit her grandparents. It seems as though they held Sunday as the Lord's day, and holy. They thought it should be a day of quietness, to walk, not run in it, and that the Bible was the only book that should be read. The granddaughter could not swing nor gather the flowers that grew in the pasture. While grandpa was taking his nap, she asked for permission to walk to the gate, and received it. Along the fence she stopped to watch the old mule, standing with his head bowed and his eyes closed. Reaching through the fence, she said, "Poor old fellow, have you got religion, too?"

Unfortunately, that is how many view Christianity. They are completely turned off by the legalism which has crept in unawares. Worst of all, perhaps, is the fact that we Christians are guilty of thinking of it as a virtue, rather than a vice.

Bob Deffinbaugh, The Fatal Failures of Religion: #2 Legalism
The Temptation We Face Everyday

"One night at the end of a special Saturday night worship service," writes Warren Hudson of Ontario, Canada, "a thunderstorm unleashed a bolt of lightning that plunged the church into darkness." With the congregation seated in total darkness, the pastor felt his way to the kitchen to find some candles. The pastor handed out the candles to everyone present. Persons lit their candles in much the same way as many churches do on Christmas Eve, each person lighting the candle of the person next to them. The worshipers then made their way through the church's winding hallways to the front door.

"Peering out, we could see the rain coming down in sheets," Warren remembers. With traffic snarled, people were running for the nearest shelter. Looking around they realized that the entire city was in darkness. "There in the darkness we stood," Warren writes, "a little band of Christians, each clutching a light, not sure whether to venture out into the storm or stay inside the church in hopes that the storm would soon blow over."

There in the darkness the light of truth struck him. In this most dramatic way he realized what it means to be the "light of the world." He writes, "It occurred to me then that this is the temptation I face every day. It is easy to play it safe and be a good Christian in church. It is a lot harder to venture out in faith into the storms of the world."

Warren Hudson, adapted by King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
A Better Influence
One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, "Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck." He said, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" She said, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."

Eric S. Ritz, Salty Christians 
Where Is the Church?

John Stott, from Great Britain and a leading Reformed theologian, has these challenging words to say to the church today:

You know what your own country is like. I'm a visitor, and I wouldn't presume to speak about America. But I know what Great Britain is like. I know something about the growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, the diminishing respect for human life, and the increase in abortion.
Whose fault is it? Let me put it like this: if the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That's what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, "Where is the light?"

If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, "Where is the salt?"

If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there's no sense in blaming society. That's what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is "Where is the church?"

John Stott, adapted by Adrian Dieleman, The Salt of the Earth
Humor: Do You Sell Salt?
In his book Led by the Carpenter, D. James Kennedy writes:

"A man walked into a little mom-and-pop grocery store and asked, 'Do you sell salt?'

'Ha!' said Pop the proprietor. 'Do we sell salt? Just look!' And Pop showed the customer one entire wall stocked with nothing but salt. Morton salt, iodized salt, kosher salt, sea salt, rock salt, garlic salt, seasoning salt, Epsom salts, every kind imaginable.

'Wow!' said the customer.

'You think that's something?' said Pop with a wave of his hand. 'That's nothing! Come look.' Pop led the customer to a back room filled with shelves and bins and cartons and barrels and boxes of salt. 'Do we sell salt?' he said.

'Unbelievable!' said the customer.

'You think that's something?' said Pop. 'Come! I'll show you salt!' Pop led the customer down some steps into a huge basement, five times as large as the previous room, filled floor to ceiling, with every imaginable form and size and shape of salt, even huge ten-pound salt licks for the cow pasture.

'Incredible!' said the customer. 'You really do sell salt!'

'No!' said Pop. 'That's just the problem! We never sell salt! But that salt salesman? Hoo-boy! Does he sell salt!'"

Phil Thrailkill, The Privilege and the Price
Changing the World
It was during the early days of television. A workman was placing television transmitters at the very top of the Empire State building in New York City. Seeing him at work up there, so far off the ground, a reporter thought this would make a fascinating human interest story. So, when the workman had completed his task and had returned to the ground, the reporter approached him and asked, "Aren't you frightened to work under conditions like that that? Isn't it dangerous to work so high off the ground?" The workman replied, "Yes sir, it is dangerous." Then he added...“But then, how many people can say that they have changed the skyline of a city like New York!”
After relating that story, James McCormick comments: God offers us the privilege of changing the skyline not of a city, but of the world. We can help make this world healthier, more humane, more harmonious, and more blessed. God made a good world. Now He wants us to help Him make it good again. We can do that. By God’s grace, we really can do that. If we can, surely we must. The skyline of New York City can be changed by workmen building up the Empire State Building or by terrorists
tearing down the Twin Towers. All it takes is the vision and the determination to do it. The same can be said of this human society. Yes, God made us all good but we have to decide what we are going to do with God’s good gifts. 
All too often, I hear decent people talk and act as though evil is more powerful than good. What a lie! As St. Paul once said, where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. When good people give evil so much power, they can let themselves get by with shirking their responsibility to change this world.
Sure, it is not easy once we and our society have become so immersed in sin. Sure, it is a burden to fight off the habits of selfishness and fear and vengeance and sexual abuses and greed and comfort seeking and polluting or you name any other of the modern-day deadly sins that have us in their grip. However, as the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said, it is a “splendid burden.”
The victory can be won. We can change the “skyline” of humanity. And, as McCormick said, “If we can, surely we must.” Never again let good people entertain the lie that we and this world are just the way we are and we cannot change.
Love, Fr. John
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet speaks plainly about what is expected of the true believer. In earlier Jewish history, fasting and fast days were part of the liturgy, in which rich and poor ‘humbled’ themselves before God. The rich fasted and expected a divine reply in the form of greater prosperity. They asked why God did not answer their prayer. In today’s reading the prophet tells them that for fasting to be acceptable to God it must be meaningful. Genuine fast before God requires the social awareness and concern spelled out by the prophet. “Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, clothe the man you see naked….then your light will shine like the dawn.” It is by such actions that genuine worship gives glory to God.

Be not simply good…

Alexander Solzhenitsyn recalls, as he says, ‘with shame’, an incident he witnessed when he was captain in the Russian army. “One day I saw a sergeant of the secret police on horseback, using a whip on a Russian soldier who had been captured serving in a German unit. The man, naked from the waist up, was staggering under the blows, his body covered in blood. Suddenly he saw me and cried out: “Mister Captain, save me!” “Any officer in any army in the world should have put a stop to this torture, but I was a coward. I said nothing, I did nothing. This picture has remained in my mind ever since.” He could have brought light into a dark situation but he didn’t. “Be not simply good”, says Thoreau, “be good for something.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

Today’s gospel speaks of the practical implications of being followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses simple images which would be easily understood by his Palestinian followers. “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” His listeners knew how essential salt was in those days. In fact people traded in salt as they traded in silver and gold. Salt was essential to flavour and preserve food. Its absence in food was immediately noticeable. Light too played an essential function of enlightening, guiding, and making ordinary tasks possible. What Jesus is saying through these images is that his disciples have an essential function to play in the world. When Jesus spoke of letting our light shine among men he was not speaking of parading our good works, or of attracting attention to ourselves. Our good deeds should inspire others to do what needs to be done in their own lives. Our deeds do not have to be spectacular because even little deeds done regularly can make a difference in peoples’ lives. As Christians we have a very positive role to play in the world. Shedding light and witnessing to the light not only makes people see things clearly but it also puts our own life under the spot light; we can be vulnerable and exposed. Just as salt is worthless if it loses its saltiness and light is useless if it is kept under covers, so the Christian life is meaningless unless faith is witnessed in love and concern for others. Religion is no private affair between me and my God. Our lives have to impact others and lead them to God.

“Mr. Lincoln has left his lights on”

A mother and her small child once drove past the restored home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield. It was night and the national shrine of the United States was brightly lit. “Look mama,” the child said excitedly, “Mr. Lincoln has left his lights on.” The mother smiled. “Yes” she replied; “he left them on for the whole world to see.” Although Lincoln has been dead since 1865, he is still a tremendous inspiration to all people. But in a much more true sense Christ, ‘God from God, Light from Light’ remains and will remain to the end the shining beacon for all peoples of all times. Christ has shared his light with us his disciples and asks us to be what we are: 
“the light of the world.”
Vima Dasan

As Dear as Salt
An aged king who had three sons decided to choose his successor. To test his heirs he inquired how much they loved him. “More than the world’s wealth!” exclaimed the first. The second declared. “Greater than all the wisdom the world holds!” The youngest said, “As dear as salt.” Infuriated, the king exiled him and bequeathed the kingdom to his eldest son. Later, fortune favoured the banished son and he became king in another faraway kingdom. But he missed his father and longed to meet him. Years later, he invited his father –very old by then – for a banquet and ordered that sumptuous dishes be prepared, but without any salt. When the old king came to the palace, his son pretended to be away and the courtiers requested the king to begin feasting. The aroma of the food pleased the king, but, when he tasted it, he was aghast- it was tasteless, saltless! Angry, he demanded an explanation for the insult. His son-king appeared in his regalia, and the old king recognized him, realizing his indiscretion. – Jesus tells you, today, that you are not only ‘as dear as salt’ but “You are salt! You are light!”

Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

“Are you God?”

Joe had always been a helpful neighbour and so the lady next door asked him if he could drive her little son to the hospital. Actually Joe had other plans but he did not know how to say no. So he sat the little boy into the car seat, fastened his seat belt, and started off on the 50-mile trip to the hospital. As they were driving along, the little boy slowly turned to Joe and asked, “Are you God?” Startled, Joe said, “No.” The boy continued, “I heard my mommy asking God for some way to get me to a doctor. If you are not God do you work for him?” Joe replied, “I guess so sometimes. And now that you ask, I will be doing it a lot more.” Gandhi said, “If I had ever met a genuine Christian, I would have become one immediately.” Jesus commanded that people must see our good deeds. Jesus did not say we should become the salt of the earth, but we are the salt of the earth. He was telling us the way He wanted to find us daily.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

Let your light shine

A poor Scottish farmer named Fleming heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog and found a terrified boy, mired up to his waste in black muck. Fleming saved the child from what could have been a slow horrible death. The next day a fancy carriage pulled up at his home and an elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming saved. “I want to repay you” said the nobleman for saving my son’s life.” “No I can’t accept payment for what I did.” said the Scottish farmer. At that moment, the farmer’s son came to the door of the family hovel. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes.” The farmer replied proudly. “I will make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education that my son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he will no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.” And he did. Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London University, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered Penicillin. Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin. The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill. Let us be the salt of the earth; and let our light shine before others.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

“That’s a mistake!”

A young lady asked for an appointment with her priest to talk to him about a besetting sin about which she was worried. When she met him, she said, “I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at Church I begin to look at other women, and I realize I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, that’s just a mistake!”

John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’