Being Salt and Light
Yesterday we went to see an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection entitled ‘play well’. One of the installations is a video which I found I couldn’t take my eyes off of. The film shows a room with a number of artworks. Gradually 11 boys are sent into the room, one at a time. The boys are told to resist touching anything for as long as they can, but once they have touched something, it is ok to continue doing so. The tension grows as the boys resist touching the art. And then suddenly they can’t resist any longer, a set of football sized balls fall off one of the installation and suddenly everything is falling over. Some of the children run around waving sticks, others take bits of the former artworks and try to create something of their own. The purpose of the video, a piece of art in its own right, is to show how these children, in this context where they have been given the freedom to do so, have explored this space fully, both visually and physically.
I remember when the girls were very young, I would be asked if they were good. Initially I was confused by the question what it meant was do they sleep at night, do they cry? I still find it a difficult question, to me the girls were inherently good just because they existed. In the creation story good is about whether something is fulfilling its purpose, for example in the video of the children at the exhibition I went to, the children were being good because they were doing exactly what they were meant to they were exploring the space they were in within the boundaries they had been given.
Lets look at it another way, a designer designs a new light fixture to fit to the outside of a steam engine cab. The fixture had been designed to shed light, and to fit with the style of the engine. After a week, the first of these new fixtures breaks off. The designer went and watched the steam engine being operated and realised that in order to gain access to the roof the driver needed to stand on the light fixture. The designer’s first response was to say – that isn’t what it was intended for, but while that wasn’t its primary role, it couldn’t fulfil its purpose if it wasn’t robust enough for its context. In a way the designer was expecting everything around the light fixture to serve the light fixture, it had all the appearance of a good fixture, but in reality it wasn’t right for the job.
In today’s gospel Jesus is imploring us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and in so doing gives us two well recognised metaphors of salt and light. The word that is used for the salt losing its taste could be more literally translated as ‘to become foolish’. Foolishness in this case is to forget what its purpose is. The salt makes the other flavours come alive, it has no other purpose in cooking, if it fails to do that it becomes worthless, like the light fixture hanging off the side of the train. When we are being the Salt of the earth we are helping the world around us to become truly alive with it’s identity, as part of God’s creation, declared good by God, because it is loved by God.
The second image is of the person who lights a lamp and then puts a basket on top of it. Ok, this definitely sounds foolish, and potentially a fire risk. But again, Jesus is reminding us not to hide who we are.Jesus isn’t just talking about our own individual gifts. He is talking about our purpose as the church. We are to be light shining before others, so that God can be glorified. Again, light reveals what is often hidden. The light of God is there to reveal the love of God which is hidden in plain view for all to see, if only they could. But how are we that light? how do we become salt? In our reading from the prophet Isaiah the people are warned about the danger of performing acts of righteousness for their own benefit. Fasting out of a desire to be the best at fasting. Humbling themselves out of a desire to be the most righteous. We all do it at some point. We all get caught up in the pride of thinking we are doing better than somebody else, because we are always at church or because we are the one who gives more, or works harder. But that isn’t the point. Isaiah warns us that what God wants is not for us to do those things to make ourselves feel better about ourselves
We do those things so we can care more for others.
As a church community we have lots of things going on, each of them seeks to engage with our local community, to offer pastoral and practical help. We do these things because we believe that by showing the love of God, by being salt and light, others might know that they are loved, which in turn helps them to be fully alive, to flourish. But, if we were disingenuous, if we were doing these things only so that we could convince some more people to come along on a Sunday so that we could get our numbers up and feel more important, more relevant and less alone, then we too would be worthy of Isaiah’s correction.
Instead we need to remember that we are relevant because our purpose, our vocation, is to be a living, breathing, visible community of faith. A community whose faith in the God who calls us to feed the hungry, to tend the sick, to welcome the homeless, and to free the bonds of injustice. If we remember that, and do it, then the light of God will break forth and the glory of the Lord will be our rearguard.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Morning Prayer in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Christian Meditation Wednesdays at 9.10am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
Please note that Public worship has been suspended, you can therefore participate in these services via Facebook live stream
In a way every mother who receives the gift of a child is called to gradually let go of them
We all make assumptions about other people, or about the way things work. But every now and then we get interrupted in our assumptions and have to take a step back and think it through.
I remember getting off the bus at 4 in the morning next to a major highway with the rain pouring down and being so completely disorientated as to where I was. Even though I was surrounded by people I felt completely isolated and alone.
Of course, sometimes it is the most unlikely places one finds the encouragement and support one needs in life.