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Are, Not Should
February 4, 1996

MATTHEW 5:1-20

"Don't should on me!" retorted a colleague. When told what he should and should not be doing, he replied, "I don't appreciate being should upon!" Our text this morning contains no shoulds. The passage immediately follows what we call The Beatitudes or The Blessings. Jesus had been speaking in the third person, Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, but then he switched to the second person. To the crowd and his disciples, Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world."

Notice how Jesus said, You are, not you should or you ought to be the salt of the earth, but you are. Jesus did not use the imperative mood, You should; but he used the indicative mood, You are. Jesus is telling us who we are, not whom we might become, or what our goal should be. Jesus is announcing, indicating who we are.

A lot of people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find out who they are. "Who am I?" they ask as they study their navels. I'm telling you this morning who you are. Isn't it a relief to know who you are? You can be about the business of living, because you know who you are. I'm telling you this morning not whom you should be, but who you are. My source is Jesus. My authority is Jesus. Sisters and brothers, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Wow! What a mission.

Perhaps you ask, how can I be sure? How do I know I am the salt of the earth? How do I know I am one of Christ's disciples, called to be the light of the world? You know because you are here this morning, because you are hearing the words of Jesus, because you are here in the church, because you are part of God's family, because you have been baptized, or will be baptized, because you are chosen.

Perhaps you are or will be a great star, a big stone in the puddle. Perhaps you will be famous and do something earth shaking. I don't know about that, but I do know you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

I wonder why Jesus used salt to tell us who we are. Could it be because salt in itself is so ordinary, so common? Salt doesn't draw attention to itself. In fact, salt is not significant in itself. Nobody eats just salt. Yet, when salt is absent, everyone realizes how significant it is, how important. How many here are on or have been on a salt-free diet? You know what salt does! You know what food is like without salt. Thursday morning, when we discussed this passage at the Men's Prayer Breakfast, Lloyd Hall said he didn't realize what salt does until he made a pot of beans, and put in no salt. He said you don't want to eat beans without salt!

Salt adds zest, flavor to food. How can we find words to describe the value of salt? Put it this way. Without you, the world is like a pot of beans without salt! Without you, the whole earth would lose its zest. Without you, life would be boring, insipid, flat, even unpalatable. But, sprinkle a few of you around in places like your neighborhood and your workplace, no telling what flavor, what zest, what joy, what salt you add.

You are the light of the world, said Jesus. Again, not you should be the light of the world, but you are the light of the world. Jesus said, Let your light shine. Not somebody else's light, your light. Be who you are. Living the life God gives you adds salt to the world, and illumines the darkness. What light does is enable us to see. What your light does is enable the world to see. You are the light of the cosmos. Without you, the world cannot see what it is. Unhappy people don't know they are unhappy until they see a happy person. Disoriented people don't know they are disoriented until they see someone who has his/her head on straight. People who are not focused don't know they are not focused until they see someone focused. Non-Christians don't know there is something missing in their lives until they see Christ in you.

A college student made a decision not to use alcohol in order to have a good time on the college campus. He decided he didn't need artificial help. He decided he was okay in himself. What surprised him was how threatening his behavior was to everyone else. People he hardly knew came up to him at parties and made wisecracks, calling him "Miss Goody Twoshoes." Was it because the light he was shining made them uncomfortable with their decisions, uncomfortable with their dependence on a drug so they could have a good time at a party? The best parties I go to are with Christians who don't need to drink to laugh so hard their stomachs ache!

Our middle son is married to a southern California woman from in Pasadena. She is a beautiful woman and a beautiful person. Her uncle told us at the wedding reception that he really liked our son, and was very happy to welcome him into the family. He said, "You folks are from the Midwest, where what you see is what you get." I think he was saying there is a lot of pretense and make believe in the Hollywood life style, airheads we call them-- lots of fluff, but little substance. But, people don't know they are superficial until they come face-to-face with someone who isn't, face-to-face with someone where what you see is what you get, face-to-face with people who are shining their light, not someone else's light, not some pretend light, not some artificial light, but their light, their life, their values, their beliefs, their comfort with themselves.

You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Isn't it mind-boggling to know that your life is caught up in some vast, cosmic program of Jesus. You are enlivening the whole universe. The little things you do, little things like the way your spend your money, the words you use to speak to other people, the way you treat your body and other people's bodies, the jokes you tell, the manner in which you spend your time are transformed from being purely personal matters of your individual lifestyle into salt for the earth and light for the world!

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris