Salt and Light

Because of God’s generosity at work through you, we have a shiny new, truly “grand” piano:  6’1”, full to the brim with hammers, piano wire, pedals, keys and such.   It’s a complex instrument (it’s hard enough for me to tune eight mandolin strings!), yet from Mozart to Monk, I think of how simple the most captivating piano lines can sound.  How can something so big sound so small?  

Take the piano as a symbol for the church.  Think of what a complex lot Jesus’ followers have been – even when he appears raised from the dead, some doubt. (Matthew 28)  And yet, earlier in the story, when Jesus first tells us “who we are” as his followers, “tunes us in” to what we’re supposed to be and do, he makes it sound so simple, even small: “you are salt” and “you are light.”  (From the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5)  If being Christian seems more complicated than that, maybe we’ve lost sight of our true calling?

In our three year cycle of Bible readings in worship, this year we hear from Matthew’s Gospel.  This January and February, we hear from the Sermon on the Mount, which you could say is Jesus’ “Discipleship 101” teachings.  I suggest that during worship and between services, we take some time to focus again on these teachings, and in particular the images of salt and light, as a way of understanding our calling today in the world.  

More about salt and light, from Matthew Chapter 5

“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.”

Photo by Mark Schellhase (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The point of salt is to season.  It’s got to get out of the shaker onto the meat, as we disciples are sent out into the earth.  Then again, salt is supposed to be salty.  Our role “out there” in the world isn’t to fit in, but to be distinct, set apart (“holy”) from the people around us: in our way of life, in what we want, what we think.  It’s the contrast between the sharp bite of the salt and the plain dough that makes the pretzel tasty.  

I think of your inspiring stories about living faith in the world, challenged to “go against the grain” of our culture and to live with life’s struggles.  Do we have opportunities to talk to each other about God and daily life, to support each other in our “saltiness” – our distinctness?  Lately, we’ve been trying to point out what may set us apart, the generosity you show through the world hunger appeal, Lutheran Malaria Initiative, Loaves and Fishes and other ventures.  Do we as a congregation know how our neighbors effected by the salty presence of St Luke, and how would we find out and build on that?

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  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.

Photo by C. Frank Starmer, via

Salt is cast out, light attracts (see Isaiah 61).  We have something to show.  As evangelists, it’s not just about what we have to say, but what our actions say: “that they m

ay see your good works,” not works that make us look virtuous or praiseworthy, but works that inspire glorification of God.   When Jesus commissions his disciples after his resurrection (more about this next month) he doesn’t say “teach them,” he says “teach them to obey.”  Show em’ how it’s done – not “what we can accomplish,” more “who we can point to by what we do.”  Love of enemies and prayer may not accomplish much, but they witness to something.

You have seen these deeds in one another, even if we are still beginners.  God has lit the lamp in us, and it needs to be seen!

Books about the life of the church today

It’s no secret that the Christian Church is no longer the well established institution it once was – (well, maybe in the Bible Belt but not California!). So what’s the way forward? Different approaches in the past fifty years have included a focus on fostering healthy social dynamics or utilizing the best in business and management practices. As important as these approaches may be, some of the most exciting conversations today are about finding the heart of our needed renewal within Christian faith itself, with its tradition, wisdom and practices. Our council and liaisons are reading two very good books that have emerged from this “missional church” conversation:
Diana Butler Bass’ book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith is being read by our three ministry liaisons (Judy, Lisa and Linda). A couple of years ago, a few of us reading an earlier book by the same author, called the “Practicing Congregation.” Bass studied fifty mainline congregations (Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, etc..) and says: “I do not deny that mainline Protestantism is in trouble. Some of its institutions, unresponsive to change, are probably beyond hope of recovery or repair. I also believe, however, that lively faith is not located in buildings, programs, organizations, or structures. Rather, spiritual vitality lives in human beings; it is located in the heart of God’s people and the communities they form. At the edges of mainline institutional decay, some remarkable congregations are finding new ways of being faithful – ways that offer hope to Americans who want to be Christian but are wary of the religion found in those suburban megachurches.” She tells inspiring stories of churches practicing hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty.
Anthony B. Robinson’s Transforming Congregational Culture is a book that focuses more on church leadership itself. It is being read by our council. “Programmatic change is not enough. Restructuring is not enough. Neither will go deep enough … Change in the internal life, self-perceptions, and culture of the congregation will be necessary if it is to respond to these shifts in the community.” Chapters include “From Civic Faith to Human Transformation. From Assuming the Goods to Delivering the Goods. Congregational Spirituality: From Givers to Receivers Who Give. From Board Culture to Ministry Culture. From Democracy to Discernment. The Budget: From Ends to Means. From Fellowship to Hospitality.”
Both books are readily available from Amazon and other sources – let us know if you’d like to read along and join in on the discussion!