Column by Mary Lee Talbot
Jesus was sitting on a mountainside, in the position of a teacher. “It is a moment between the teacher and the student and he talks about salt, light and the law,” said the Rev. Daisy L. Machado. “It is a rather odd combination, but Jesus is explaining what it means to live the life of a disciple.”
Machado preached at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Of Salt and Light,” and the scripture reading was Matthew 5:13-20.
In Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 5 begins with the Beatitudes, which Machado characterized as eight blessings connected to the life of discipleship. In verses 13 to 20, Jesus continued to describe the life of a disciple.
“Jesus did not say, ‘You should try to be salt,’ or, ‘You could attempt to be light.’ He said, ‘You are light, you are salt,’ ” Machado told the congregation. “Jesus was not commanding them; he was describing what we already are and need to do in the world.”
In English, it is hard to distinguish the singular pronoun “you” and the plural pronoun “you,” but in Greek, it is clear that Jesus addressed the disciples with the plural “you,” Machado said. “Y’all are the light of the world. The full community needs to be salt and light.”
Salt is needed to maintain life. “The Talmud says, ‘The world can exist without pepper, but not without salt,’ ” Machado said. The English world “salary” comes from the Latin “salarium,” the part of a soldier’s salary paid in salt.
“Salt is a preservative. It has its own flavor but it also enhances flavor,” she said. “Once you put it on food, the food will never taste the same. For Jesus to describe the disciples as salt is appropriate because those who dare to follow Jesus embody the power and grace of God and are changed forever.”
Salt is not good if it is never out of the saltshaker. Machado told the congregation, “When we talk the talk, we have to walk the walk and meet people where they are. Faith is not good if it is not mixed into life.”
Salt in the right amount adds flavor, and disciples with the right amount of salt provide a gradual, consistent way to change the world.
“As the salt of the world, we are a reminder of God’s love and care,” Machado said.
But salt that has lost its flavor gets thrown out. In Biblical times, salt was mixed with gypsum and other minerals, and if the salt got washed out the whole compound was thrown away. “If we are to remain faithful to what we have received, we have to put our faith out into the world,” she said.
While Jesus is the light of the world, disciples derive light from Jesus. With that light, disciples can make an impact in the world. “Followers of Jesus are not separatists who avoid the world, but they go to the dark places and light them up — to feel the pain, express mercy and speak truth to power,” Machado said.
A lamp belongs on a lamp stand and it does not magically end up under a bushel, she said — “it only gets there if we put it under the bushel. Tan loco, that’s crazy. We are not victims; we are drained by the bushels we have created. But the light is only covered up, it is not snuffed out — but it is ineffective because it is covered.”
Jesus used salt and light to describe the world here and now. “Disciples cannot just sit back and have an abundant life,” Machado said. “Jesus was talking about making a difference in the world. We must have a distinct and peculiar character as Christians. We have to reject self-interest and self protection.”
Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. The way to fulfill the law is shown in how Christians live in community. Jesus does not ask for blind obedience but asks disciples to show the intent behind an action.
“Disciples embody care and love, welcoming those who have been wandering to a bushel-free community, to speak out against principalities and powers. Disciples share food, shelter and clothing; this is how the law is fulfilled by action,” Machado told the congregation.
Martin Luther King Jr. asked: “What are you doing for others?”
“We have made a world of greed, of haves and have-nots, where we slaughter Indigenous people and allow slavery, a world where guns are more important than children,” Machado said.
She continued, “Jesus says to all of us here that if we choose to follow him, we have to make a difference in the world. You are salt, you are light. Y’all are salt. Y’all are light. You all are the hope of the world. You can experience the intangible and attempt the impossible.”
In a challenge to the congregation, Machado told them, “Dare to be different, to be bushel-free, be salt and light, speak the truth, love, forgive and welcome. Jesus is counting on you, ustedes son. Are you ready? Dare to make a difference.”
The Rev. J. Paul Womak, co-pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church and daddy to Scooter the wonder Dachshund, presided. Melissa Spas, vice president for religion at Chautauqua Institution, read the scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “Pange Lingua: Récit du Chant de L’Hymne précédent,” by Nicolas de Grigny. The anthem, sung by the Motet Choir, was “Seek Ye First the Kingdom,” music by Marques L. A. Garrett and words from Matthew 6:31-33 and Psalm 23:6. The choir was directed by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist. The choir sang a cappella. The postlude was “Pange Lingua en taille à 4,” by Nicolas de Grigny, played by Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.