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Message for 5 February 2017–“Wise Salt, Spirit Light”

Today’s message combines the lectionary selection from Matthew 5:13-20 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-16. The great themes are the wisdom of God’s Spirit and how Christians should share symbolic salt and light.

In Corinthians, Paul talks about a special type of wisdom, what he calls a “secret and hidden” version possessed by spiritually mature persons (1 Corinthians 2:6-7).  The great wisdom of which Paul speaks comes from God’s Spirit (or essence). Receptive individuals are those spiritually awakened people who have struggled to achieve a maturity, arising from their redemption, forgiveness, and illumination. The wisdom Paul cites is not the same as what is widely recognized in the world, but rather it is a form of wisdom which comes from being lit by God’s Spirit. It is through sensitivity to and awareness of the Spirit that we can build our spiritual muscles into spiritual maturity.

Some people are put-off by Paul’s tone because they perceive some sort of religious elitism in his mention of spiritual maturity. After all, to think that there are both spiritually mature and immature people in church isn’t altogether comforting. However, rejecting Paul because we’re offended by the reality of people in various stages of their development only hurts ourselves. Turning away because we don’t feel spiritually mature is the surest way to remain immature. To not lose Paul’s insights we must avoid anything which discourages us from welcoming challenges (many of which can make us stronger). Paul emphasized that even Christians have room for growth. As we learn more about who and what we are, and face difficulties with the great attitude of overcoming them, then and only then can our faith advance. There’s nothing wrong with meeting hurdles because if we don’t have something toward which we’re striving then we’re stuck in the mud.

Spiritual enlightenment accompanies redemption/salvation. Knowing that we need God’s forgiveness is the beginning of our spiritual awakening. Our journey starts with our desire, which then proceeds through a growing awareness of how we can navigate the path of righteousness. Paul is a prime advocate of spiritual wisdom, which is special insight available to God’s children after God redeems them.  A group of early Christians known as Gnostics emphasized special knowledge above everything else, but this was a critical mistake. Facts and information are great, but without placing love first we cheat ourselves. The Gnostics went too far in their quest for secrets and got lost in a swamp of their own creation. Nonetheless, spiritual wisdom is fantastic, especially as we prepare ourselves through loving attitudes and actions.

The usual way of thinking in the world doesn’t achieve God’s spiritual wisdom because earthly ways divorce God from the very life people seek to enhance. Without God’s Spirit all is lost. We are set free from the world’s traps as we begin to mature, which is another way of saying that we are growing stronger through meeting challenges, even if we don’t overcome them. Internalizing God’s Spirit doesn’t guarantee that we’ll know the universe’s mysteries but we’ll certainly know more about how to receive and share love. And as many spiritually mature people have attested through the ages, there’s the likelihood of bonuses, gems of insights and life enhancements that accompany a superb spiritual journey. Paul hints at this, and it is good to know that we can expect wonderful, life-enhancing blessings on our faith odyssey.

Now we turn to Matthew 5:13-20, where Jesus discusses salt and light. Jesus plainly stated that his followers are both “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13,14). As with much of what Jesus said, the core, practical truth is more symbolic than literal. After all, it’s not likely that someone would want to be turned into a glowing salt stick. The point is that as metaphorical salt we add seasoning and as metaphorical light our faith shines. Jesus declared that our salt and light must be shared, and this constitutes outreach, which is more traditionally known as evangelism or sharing Jesus’ Gospel.

Salt is versatile. Not just for making the soup taste better, salt is also used for preserving food that would rot more quickly without it. Meat can be packed in salt brine and transported to help prevent a more rapid spoiling. In ancient times, this was a major method of food preservation. And as anyone knows who has had salt put in a wound, it stings!  What it means for God’s followers to become salt is that we help people live a better life by spiritual seasoning, which is whatever we can do that will help lead people to God through spiritual awakening. Sharing our seasoning or “salt” also means that we’ll be providing a crucial spiritual ingredient that helps people travel life’s roads with palatable, nourishing food for their souls.

Sharing the light is like sharing the salt. The world without God is known as a dark and foreboding place. Darkness is the powerful mental image describing the lack of spiritual enlightenment. We are supposed to let our light shine, which is the same as saying that we must live in a way that demonstrates God’s love and truth. This means that we must not hide or conceal God’s spiritual wisdom. We are invited to project ourselves into the world, boldly and unashamed as we shine in all directions. Imagine a lighthouse with a mighty, huge lens that focuses and shines a life-saving beacon over treacherous waters. So it is with us, we are the lights that God has lit to help save other people caught on the rocks, tossed to and fro while drowning under life’s crashing waves. As mature and maturing people of faith, we guide seekers to God’s safe harbor, the life-saving place of God’s love, mercy and grace. Now that’s a wise choice!

–Reverend Larry Hoxey