"Being Salt and Light in Christ"
August 2, 1998
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Christ our Lord is "Light of Light," as we confess in the Creed. But here He declares to His people, "You are the light of the world." How can both statements be true? Well, of course, they can both be true because the light of Christ and of Christians is one and the same. It is His light alone that the church is given to shine in the world. The light of believers is a reflected light that originates from Jesus. As I have preached to you before, it is the same relationship that the moon has to the sun. Just as the moon has no light of its own but only reflects to the world the light of the sun, so also we, who have no light of our own, only reflect the redeeming light of the Son of God.
We must clearly recognize that this light of life with God does not come from within us, from some divine spark that dwells within our hearts. The light of life comes to us only from outside of us, through Christ alone. The Scriptures make it very plain that on our own we are in the total darkness of sin, like the pitch blackness of the dark side of the moon. We are wandering aimlessly in the night, distancing ourselves ever more and more from God. In the Epistle, St. Paul spoke of the unfruitful works of darkness, which are shameful even to speak about. Those are the works of your sunless, benighted heart. They may not always manifest themselves outwardly, but they are there inwardly nonetheless. This is the grim and shadowy condition of mankind and of the world.
But God the Father has shined the Light of His Son into this dark world in order to rescue and restore it. The world did not receive Christ or come to Him; for light exposes the ugliness of the deeds of darkness, like a kitchen light does to cockroaches in the middle of the night. But still Jesus humbled Himself for this task, so that those who would repent and believe in Him might receive His saving light. Having shined His words of truth and His works of mercy during His life, Jesus then submitted Himself to the powers of darkness on the cross. You will recall that when our Lord was crucified, darkness covered the land for three hours. For He was taking upon Himself the gloom of the whole world's sin and the blackness of the resulting judgment. And yet, through His death, Jesus swallowed up that darkness. For His cross destroyed the power of sin and bought forgiveness for all who take refuge in Him. By the radiance of His resurrection from the dead, Christ now shines the everlasting light of life on His people that nothing can put out or overcome.
You have received that light of Christ through His Holy Gospel, as we say in the Catechism, "The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts . . ." Through Holy Baptism you were called out of darkness into Christ's marvelous light. And His words continue to be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. This enlightened path is described by St. Paul in the Epistle. He says, "Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)." The light of the Spirit of Christ is now at work in you to do that which is good and right and true. Truly, then, Jesus is "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of (His) people Israel," as it is written, "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord."
The same sort of thing is true when Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth." We are salt only in Him who is Himself the Salt of the earth. You know that traditionally salt was used not only to flavor foods but especially to purify and preserve them and keep them from spoiling and perishing. So it is that Jesus came into this world for that very purpose of purifying us from our sins by His holy crucifixion and preserving us in His grace so that we might not perish but have everlasting life. As we abide in Christ and in His church, as we are connected to Him by our baptismal faith, He tells us that we, too, are salt, that we also have that same purifying and preserving effect on this earth.
However, Jesus speaks a word of caution here as well. He warns us to be careful not to forsake or forget what He has made us to be. We must be constant in hearing Christ's words and receiving His Supper, so that He may continue to dwell in us to be salt and light through us. And we must not be conformed to this dark and savorless world; for we have been made to be salt and light in Christ precisely for the world's benefit. Jesus said, "If the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men." If the salt is no longer salty, that is, if Christians are no longer distinct from the world, if the church no longer has its preserving and seasoning and purifying qualities but is just there in the "stew," what use is it any more? It is like a stale and worthless spice that is simply thrown away.
Likewise, Jesus said, "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." A lamp is of no use if its light is constantly covered up. So also, what good is it if the light of Christ is constantly hidden by us once we leave this place? Such a flame is in danger of being snuffed out.
You've probably heard before of solar eclipses. There's also such a thing as a lunar eclipse. This occurs when the earth comes directly in between the sun and the moon and leaves the moon in its dark shadow. This is a great danger for Christians, that we will let the world and its shadowy glory come between us and Christ our Light, tempting us to walk in the ways of darkness. But we are not of the world. Rather, Christ has called us to be in the world and to be light for the world; for we are His body, His hands and feet. We are not here to go along with the crowd but to attend to the needs of the crowd. We exist to be instruments and channels of Christ's life and His love in service to our neighbor, to be that enlightening and preserving and purifying presence of our Lord on earth.
An early church father named Diognetus put it this way, "What the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world." God serves the world through His people, especially in bringing it the life-giving Gospel, and conversely He preserves the world for the sake of His people. Were it not for the church, the world would cease to exist. Just remember the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. Before their destruction took place, God told Abraham that although these cities were terribly wicked, yet He would still preserve them and not bring judgment on them even if there were just ten godly people found within them. So it is that the world continues to go on to this day because of the presence of Christ's holy church within it. I am convinced that many potential catastrophes have never happened and much trouble and chaos in the world has never occurred because of the gracious, preserving hand of God over His people, whom He has made to be the salt of the earth. Even in the last days, when the Scriptures say that there will be much upheaval in the world, they also say that those days were shortened for the sake of the elect, for the sake of believers, Christians.
So then, the world continues to exist because of the church, and the church exists to serve the world. Salt and light, after all, are servant materials. They are not there for themselves but for other things. The salt is there for the benefit of the food. The light is there for the benefit of the room. Likewise, you are there in Christ for the sake of the world. You are servant material for the benefit of others. God Himself has placed you into your various callings in life-as a Christian husband or wife, as a parent or grandparent or child, as a citizen, a worker, a neighbor. He has done so precisely in order that you may be salt and light in those concrete, ordinary areas of real life in the real world.
Let us be careful, then, not to wall ourselves up into our own little comfortable worlds so that we don't have to deal with others. After all, how are we going to be salt and light to the world if we keep trying to escape from the world? We must not be afraid to let our faith have contact with regular life and real people. The temptation is always there for us to insulate ourselves and especially our beliefs from the messy realities of day to day life. But we must resist running away from the world into which God has placed us. For that is nothing else than the seduction of the devil. Satan tries to lure you to ignore or forsake your God-given duties and stations in life in favor of other self-chosen things and a self-styled way of life. One of the tempter's best tactics is to busy you so much with all sorts of extraneous thoughts and pursuits and activities that you end up neglecting your family or your job or the needs of your neighbor. The devil wants to turn your attention away from those people whom the Lord has given you first and foremost to serve and to love.
And he'll sometimes even do this under the guise of what seems religious. For then the deception is more powerful. That's the problem with most monasteries and convents. Beneath a veneer of piety and holiness, they separate themselves from the world and from what God has instituted and given them to do. And, ironically, that's also the problem with a lot of what's going on amongst the Protestants and Evangelicals. With all of their various "ministries," so-called Christian TV and videos and music and bookstores and jewelry, Christianized nursery rhymes for children, Christian amusement parks, Christian business guides-what they end up with is a new monasticism, a new way of insulating themselves from the world through religion. The salt of the earth then never really gets out of the salt shaker. The light of the world never really gets switched on.
We must admit that we are susceptible to that ourselves. After all, how often haven't we thought that it's holier to be on some humanly created evangelism committee or church board than it is to be faithful in one's divinely created vocations in the world? That, of course, is not to put down serving on church boards and committees-not at all. But it is to say that the primary place where God intends for you to make a difference is in your homes and your workplaces and your communities. By your conversations, by the way you conduct yourself as a Christian in the fulfilling your tasks, by being self-giving, Christ's light will reflect from you to draw people to Himself.
We must learn to recognize again that it is a truly holy thing to love and honor your spouse, to care for your children and be with them and raise them properly in the Lord, to show respect to your parents, to be a diligent and faithful worker at your job, to fulfill your civic duties, to be a good neighbor, to regularly attend the divine service of Christ's preaching and His Sacrament, to meditate on Christ's Word day by day. Those things are truly holy because those things grow out of the callings which the Lord has given you. It is there first and foremost that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is there that the Lord's will is accomplished through you. It is there, in the ordinary, uncontrived moments of life that others can receive you and your faith as being authentic and real, that genuine witnessing and outreach can take place. In those vocations you will find more than enough to do-indeed, more than you ever could do-to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
Dearly beloved of God, you are in Christ. And therefore, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You have been made one with Him who has enlightened and purified you purely out of His grace and His love for you. Even now He feeds you the salt of His Supper to cleanse you and to pour into you His life that was poured out for you on the cross. God grant that the flame of faith may continue to burn in you by His Word and Spirit, until that day comes when you will see with your own eyes the light of the glory of Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
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