“This Little Light of OURS…”

Feb 05, 2023

Sermon 2-5-23
Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Later today we’ll be singing, “This Little Light of Mine,” which is one of those songs people love to join in on, even if they do not catch the scriptural references. The lyrics are easy, the tune is memorable, there are hand motions to go along with it. Who doesn’t like to sing, “This Little Light of Mine?” Well … perhaps some people …. Commentator Chelsey Harmon tells a story about a man in one of the congregations she served who would regularly compel the entire congregation to sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” He often felt prompted to do so after people had shared reasons for being thankful to God as a congregation. Some of his fellow members found it frustrating and childish, but Pastor Harmon noted that having heard witness of the goodness of God, that man wished the congregation to commit itself to that same goodness, to be salt and light in a broken world and hurting earth. (1)
     Actually, annoying or not, that man was on the right track. That’s because, although we sing, “This little light of mine, the scripture passage on which it’s based says, “You are the light of the world,” and the you is consistently plural. So, we should sing, “This little light of ours, we’re going to share it now,” or something similar to that. In other words, as Jesus speaks these worlds in the Sermon on the Mount, the focus is on the body of believers, the Christian community, that which we call church, and its corporate witness in the world. It’s not each individual’s ability to shine that is being focused on, but the power of the collective.
     Now, I do not know what you think, but that gives this familiar passage a different flavor in my mind. Speaking of flavor, Jesus is not only saying that we are light, but, also, salt. Let’s take a look at the text.
     Jesus is speaking to the crowd, but particularly his disciples. He has introduced his sermon with what we call “The Beatitudes,” proclaiming that the meek, the grieving, the poor in spirit are among the blessed, even though that does not seem to be the case. It’s a way to introduce the reality that Jesus will take the conventional way of viewing the world and of living in it and turn it upside down. This becomes clearer as his sermon unfolds. In this sermon Jesus is preparing his disciples for the reality that they will represent how life is lived in the Kingdom of God. At the end of today’s reading, Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of the law, the culmination of all that God desired to teach and convey through the giving of the law and the words of the prophets in the days of ancient Israel. They will display that fulfillment in their words and actions. WOW, that’s no small thing.
     But, before he gets to the especially challenging teaching, he tells his listeners who they are – not who they can be or will be. He says, “You ARE the salt of the earth…. You ARE the light of the world….” As in, all of you together, “don’t try to go it alone” is implied. Keep in mind that salt is most effective when it is used with other elements; we think especially of food. And, for light to be effective, it brightens that which is poorly illuminated or that needs light. So, those who follow Jesus should not sit back and savor their saltiness or bask in their own light; they should make a difference for others in the world.
It’s interesting to consider that even a small amount of salt or light can make a difference. I love an image of this that is painted by the Rev. Phillip Martin.  He tells a story about needing as little light as possible to sleep. In fact, he is convinced, he said, that if he does not get good sleep it is because of the little green light on the printer at the desk five feet from the bed. He says that although it is the size of the head of a pin, when he wakes up in the middle of the night, it is bright.
     “You think I’m crazy,” he writes, “but that teeny, tiny green light ruins the darkness.” So, he rephrases Jesus’ words to be: “You are the teeny, tiny green light that will ruin the darkness.”
     Another commentator, Amy Oden, summarizes Jesus’ words in a humorous way, saying that WE must be tasty and lit up! I’ll quote her, “We are the tastiness that adds salt to the lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice way of the kingdom of God. Jesus says we must be tasty and lit up in order to make a difference for God in the world. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out.” (2)
     It is important, then, that we do not lose our flavor or dim our light. Think about the bushel basket that Jesus mentions; the focus is not on the fact that it’s a bushel, but that the container is large enough to put over a lamp. In other words, the light is not snuffed out, but purposely covered up. In a similar way, to have salt and not us it is foolish; it cannot enhance the flavor of food sitting on the counter. You may as well toss it out the window if you are not going to use it for its purpose.
     These metaphors give us as a congregation, or as a community of like-minded people (Scouts) the opportunity to consider ways we block the light or fail to use the salt. After all, lamps do not magically end up under baskets and saltshakers cannot shake themselves. Unfortunately, the list of possible ways to block the light is long. Included are: apathy, conflict, lack of many things, including confidence, focus, creativity and grace. Then there is fear of change, self-centeredness and misplaced priorities. The list could be much longer than that, but it all adds up to that which gets in the way of OUR being salt and light.
     I’ll share an example with you: I am aware, in myself, after 20 years of ministry here, and being in my 35th year of ministry overall, of a tendency toward what I call, “we’ve already been there, done that,” syndrome. Perhaps it’s a program, a ministry, a focus we tried that did not succeed, or something that succeeded for a while, but the situation changed. Even though we have already been there and done that, if it is something important to the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, then it is time to evaluate, revise and try again.
     The church is an interesting setting because we are not a bunch of you(s), but one big YOU. We come together from different points-of-view, circumstances and by the power of the Holy Spirit can still be Light and Salt together, reminding the world of God’s love. “This little light of ours, we’re going to ….” Well, it’s a work in progress! AMEN
  1. “Matthew 5:13-20 Commentary” by Chelsey Harmon, February 5, 2023, www.cepreaching.org
  2. “Commentary on Matthew 5:13-20” by Amy G. Oden, www.workingpreacher.com
  3. “Ruining the Darkness” Epiphany 5A, Matthew 5:13-20, by the Rev. Phillip W. Martin, Jr., 2020, “A Sermon for Every Sunday”