Sermon – 6 February 2005

The gospel reading that we have this morning tells us a great deal about the relationship that Christians are coming to have in the world.

At one time, it could be assumed that the world was basically a Christian kind of place and that everyone in it was a person of faith, to a greater or lesser degree.

It was something that we call Christendom, and it is something that we can look back on as being in the past.

Some look back fondly on the norms of Christendom as though they were a golden age. All the churches were full, people had a respect for authority; children all knew hymns, Christmas carols and the Scottish Prayer Book or great reams of the Bible by heart; and everyone knew their place.

We are living through a time that some are beginning to call the death of Christendom. For these old certainties and assumptions are past.

Or perhaps they never were.
Hard minded clergy like me will ask whether the days of borstals, seemingly unending war in Europe, workhouses and rampant British colonialism were really the golden age of Christendom at all.

That is the point. That is the difficulty. There will always be people nowadays who want to challenge simple assumptions. I?m one of them. This is the world in which I have learned to think for myself.

The world is changing and though we try to think for ourselves, we don?t know what to make of it.

Certainly, the assumption that the world is basically Christian is one that we can no longer make. We are moving from an age of Christendom to the age for Christians of Salt and Light.

Ah yes ? the gospel reading. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

We are moving into a time where Christian people must face up to the fact that we are not necessarily in the majority. We must face the fact that if God is to have any influence in our society, that influence cannot simply be assumed, but must be worked for and earned by God?s people.

You are the salt of the earth. Think about it. Jesus is saying that we are to be the people who give taste to the world. Salt is two things in our diet. It is something that we cannot get by without and it is also something which enhances the flavour of other tastes.

And so it is with the way in which we live in the world. Our saltiness is essential. Without salt, we become weak. Without salt we die. So it is with God?s people. Without God?s people alive and active in the world, the people of the world would grow weaker and all kinds of good things would start to die.

And we are a taste enhancer. A sprinkling of salt brings out all kinds of nuances of taste and flavour which a meal would be poorer without.

You are the salt of the earth. Essential and tasty.

And you are the light of the world.

It is interesting to ponder that for a moment. Many of you, I assume will know Holman Hunt?s picture of Jesus the light of the world. (Though the assumption that you all know that picture is one of the assumptions of Christendom that preachers will not be able to make for very long, if they can even make it now). The picture is of a Christ standing outside a doorway and knocking, waiting to be let in.

Yet the biblical picture that Matthew paints in his gospel portrait is quite different. For Jesus is the artist or storyteller in this version. Jesus is not the light of the world in Matthew?s gospel ? something which may come as a surprise when you think about it.

No, Jesus is not the light of the world. Neither is God the light of the world. No. Jesus is quite clear. You are the light of the world. You, not him.

You see, we are moving into a world in which God?s people will provide saltiness and brightness, tastiness and illumination. Jesus is calling us to be his people and not to be ashamed of bringing good things out into the open. Saltiness. Brightness.

You are the light of the world.

And then he goes on to talk about his coming not changing one little stroke of the law. (In the old version, not a jot or a tittle ? jot and tittles are the smallest marks you make when writing Hebrew text).

What does he mean? Does he mean that we must keep kosher laws. Usually, Christians have resisted most of the kosher laws.

(Surprisingly, although not that bothered about food laws, some Christians try to insist that the rest of us keep kosher laws of sexuality and relationship which many Jews have long since come to see as being part of their historical context). This seems to me to be as likely to succeed as trying to stop Christians swallowing whelks, eating black puddings or wearing clothing made out of mixed fibres, all of which are forbidden under the kosher laws.

So what can it mean for us to read about Jesus?s passion for the law. How are we to understand all this?

Some will preach that it means that without some kind of bargain with God we will all be judged for all time as though we had failed to keep the Jewish law and punished accordingly. I think that is theological nonsense myself, so the burden still falls to me to answer why Jesus might have said these things.

It seems to me as I think about this that the keeping of the law for the religious Jews of the day was not really just about keeping the law, it was about a way of life. To be Jewish meant to consider being one of God?s people at any given moment of any given day. The point of the law was not lawkeeping, but living as though every moment matters to God.

And though the walls of Christendom may be crashing down all around us, I have a hunch that this truth will last. That every moment matters to God. And that he still calls on us to be salt for this world’s blandness; light for this world’s darkness.


Speak Your Mind