Sermon on Salt and Light

This sermon was preached on Tuesday, April 23 at St. Olaf College during chapel. 

In the Gospels of the New Testament, we repeatedly encounter Jesus reminding groups of humans that they have the capacity to transform the world.

In readings like today’s passage about salt and light, Jesus invites his community to be a presence in the world that empowers people to have the courage to witness reality as it is.

When Jesus says, “You are light” - he’s calling us to be a force of illumination. When we are able to really see at world around us with all our senses - to examine it - to understand it… in those moments new possibilities are created.

Jesus believes in the capacity his followers to be a transformative, illuminating force.

Today’s Gospel reading falls in the midst of a much larger training session Jesus has with his followers. He’s early on in his ministry, and he’s describing to his disciples the core nuggets of what it means to be part of what he’s doing.

He uses two metaphors that were part of every life - salt & light. Salt was integral to life - it was a preservative, a purifier, and it added flavor. Light, too, was central to life and it set the rhythms of each day. Salt and light were central to middle eastern life in the first century.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’d like to become salt….” or “I’d like you to consider being the light.”

He declares, instead, “YOU ARE SALT” and “YOU ARE LIGHT”!

He’s revealing to people a permanent identity they likely didn’t realize they had. He’s saying, “You are a force of illumination in the world. You can help people see reality as it so they can courageously respond.”

It is when we’re able to courageously witness reality…especially life’s difficult realities like racism, gender discrimination, injustice, inequity, a broken immigration system, climate change, and white privilege…When we can witness those realities without defensiveness and fear, transformation happens. When we are able to acknowledge brokenness…and see it…we can then address it with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose.

This is why the influence of illuminators is so important. They help us all to see.

When we stop avoiding and denying and hiding in shame, we can more fully hear the Spirit’s guidance - empowering us to respond to the needs of our communities, world and planet. To be a follower of Jesus is to illuminate the world in such a way that we can collectively and courageously look around without fear.

Here at St. Olaf, you’re doing it.
  • Through poetry and art. 
  • Through music. 
  • Through protest and prayer. 
  • Through your essays and explorations. 
  • Through your questions and contemplation. 
In all these ways, you are being a force of illumination, and you’re empowering one another and those outside this community to see the truth and to be set free.

As a member of the staff of the Office of the Bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, I want to affirm you - for your work. Your courage. Your worship. Your commitment. And I want to say concretely: you are salt and light - and it’s transforming the world. The ripples of what happens here in this chapel, on this campus, in your library and classrooms…these ripples spread and empower us all.

I love this Gospel reading because it’s a commissioning. Jesus has brought his crew together, and he’s getting them ready for real life….a life in which they will be constantly formed and reformed. This passage is a commissioning for us, too.

Within the next month, another school year will wind down. In these next 3-4 weeks, where in your life is the Spirit calling you to be light? To be salt? What about this summer? How will you use this season of your life here on this campus to illuminate the world in whatever chapter comes next?

As you navigate the road ahead, remember this….

When Jesus coaches and empowers his disciples, he doesn’t say “be likable” or “be brilliant” or “be beautiful” or “be agreeable.” He doesn’t describe how they should grow their following and become more successful.

Instead, Jesus proclaims a truth “You are light!” He wants people to recognize that the world is illuminated because of them and through their collective efforts as Jesus’ followers.

Let this truth soak in. The world is illuminated through you.

Thank you for the ways you empower us all to see beyond ourselves. May the Spirit continue to guide and infuse you with all the courage you need as you continue to usher in the kingdom of God in this community and beyond!


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