Every one of us sheds light just by being a human being created in the image of God. As Jesus puts it: 'You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before others, that they may see, and give glory to God.' (Matthew 5.14,16)
Pastor Steve Garnaas Holmes, a Methodist minister from the States, writes of this text:
Maybe Jesus doesn't mean some special light— your faith, your righteousness, your goodness.
Maybe he just means you. Your self. Who you are, your creatureliness, fashioned by God's delight, coming into being through the Word, granted life, the light of all.
God said, "Light," and it came forth in the little paths of your nerves, the villages of your hands, the beauty in your eyes,
the continents of your mind, the great sea of your soul. (Once, every bit of you burned in stars.)
Let the light of yourself shine, he says, all of who you are, created by light.
Shine in people's darkness, so they can see, and glorify God. '
There is real humility and real wisdom in what Pastor Holmes writes. For too often I think we act as if it is all up to us. But that does not allow space for the grace of God. How can we best let the light shine? Is it by doing some special, amazing thing for God? Well 'no', rather it is by being ourselves and living as best we can. Our light shines in the accumulation of small things done well and faithfully. It shines in the refusal to allow small things to be done in a way that brings darkness rather than light. It shines in the daily, hourly choice of honesty, care, justice and love in our regular dealings.
This is the kind of advice Christ is giving in this gospel reading today. It is no good being a lamp, if you hide your light away. You need to use the light you have been given, even if you think it is only small and weak, to give light to those around you. So the first thing to do is humbly to recognise that we have light to share. In every human being the light of God shines, but when we acknowledge the source of that light in God, then our light gives glory to God. Our light will shine out whenever we see to it that truth is told, that justice is done, and whenever we exercise mercy, compassion and love. It does not have to be in big things, but it needs to be as far as possible in everything. For this is the point of Jesus's other image, that of salt. Salt pervades everything, it doesn't just stay in one spot. So it's not just a case of being salty on a Sunday morning at church. It is about how we treat others every day of the week. Salt above all is useful, in a steady, everyday kind of way. Yet it's usefulness generally depends on what it is mixed with or given to. Salt does not work alone and nor should we. We are effective as salt and light in the world, only in so far as we work with God and we work in and with others to make a difference.
This relates to the words of Isaiah from our first reading.
'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break very yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn!'
Our light shines out when we look to the needs of those most oppressed and in need in our community and seek to address them. We may only be able to do a little, but every little sheds more light, makes our community saltier. We all know what is meant by the expression,'they're real salt of the earth people'. Such folk keep the good alive in our world by their genuine, humble attitudes. They are of course exactly the people Jesus just described in the preceding verses,
which we call the beatitudes, the poor, meek, mourning and persecuted ones whom he called blessed. These are the ones to follow Jesus is saying. We are to seek to be like that, and little by little the world will fill with light. Note well too: we do not have to be the whole meal, all the food. We just have to be the salt. We do not need to be the whole of a room, or the whole of a city, or the whole of the universe. Christians simply need to let their own light shine and let God do the rest.
The great poet and mystic Thomas Merton reminds us that we are 'the image of God, not the shadow of God'. By that he means that we are not some pale imitation of God. Rather we have real substance, in some sense we are a symbol of the God who makes us. That is if we allow ourselves to radiate the light that is in us. When we don't do that, we can become mere shadows of our true God-shaped selves, and lose our saltiness and light. However when we pray and worship, study and above all practice the Christian life we share in Christ together, and are constantly renewed and replenished as the salt and light of God. In the Name of Christ, Amen