The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - February 5, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:13-20  
Sermon Title:
“Salt and Light

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I think it was 1983 or 84.  My father was a pilot for TWA airlines, and at that time TWA had a division that did tours of other countries.  You would fly there, and then you would ride around on a bus, with tour guides showing you the sights of the different countries.  I don’t know what the deal was on the actual vacation, but since we could fly for free, as long as there was room, it made these trips possible.  Now before you say “That is awesome, you could fly anywhere for free” this was space available.  So our plan for this trip was to fly from New York to Paris to Tel Aviv.  But since there was no room on the plane to Paris, we saw one leaving very shortly, a few gates down, to Frankfurt, Germany and jumped on that one.  At least got us to the right continent.  From there we spent about 8 hours in the Frankfort airport then were able to get an El Al, Israeli Airlines flight from Germany to Israel.  We rarely took vacations where we got on the flights we wanted, and I did learn how to sleep in airports at a young age.

     Now seeing Israel was really cool once we got there, but I was only 13 or 14.  I had been through Sunday School, maybe even confirmation by that point, but it would mean a lot more for me to go back today.  We visited a lot of mosques, synagogues and churches.  I remember for the mosques you took off your shoes, synagogues you covered your head, and in churches you didn’t have to remove or add any clothing.  Looking back, I can still say “Oh, I remember seeing that” but it would have been fun to know at that time the stories behind what I was seeing. 

     One day we went down to Masada, which was a city built by Herod the great, taken over and eventually everyone who lived there killed themselves around 75 AD.  That is the short story.  But, the City of Masada, which is on the top of a mountain overlooks the dead sea.  This was just about the only thing that I thought I knew about.  I had seen the pictures of people floating in there and reading a paper.  My sister, in preparation of this day, had shaved her legs.  Finally we went down, and the two of us started to walk into the water, when we got about knee deep she turned and walked back to shore, quickly looking for a shower to wash the salty water out of all the little nicks that you get when you shave.  I ended up going in deeper but was not too impressed.  As a 13 year old kid, who probably weighted about 50 pounds, you don’t really float.  I am guessing if I had some more mass, like I do today, I might be able to float better.  So if I went in water over my head and stopped kicking, I could look up and my face would be out of the water.  But any sort of ripple and it would wash over my face. 

     And that salt, yuck!  I am not a huge fan of swimming in the ocean.  The waves are fun, and it is kind of fun to play, but when that salty water gets all over your face, up your nose, in your mouth.  Yuck.  And the dead sea was much worse.  No waves to play in, just really salty water.  And my sister could not even experience it with me, which was kind of a bummer. 

     Now I do realize that salt was and is important.  Before refrigeration salt was used to preserve food.  As I understand it, the salt absorbs water, bacteria and mold need water to grow, so salted meat stays fresh or safe longer.  And it still used today.  The day after Easter in North Carolina was always one of the busiest days of the year on the ambulance.  Those wonderful American hams,  or salted hams, were really popular down there.  All of our COPD patients would eat a bunch of ham at the family dinner on Easter and then call between 4 and 6 the next morning when they were full of fluid and could not breath.  Some of you may remember taking salt tablets on really hot days, the thought was that when you sweat you release salt, and so taking that tablet helps keep your electrolyte balance right.  Salt can certainly be good or bad, really depends on what circumstances it is in. 

     Light, on the other hand we normally consider good.  Remember Thanksgiving 2014?  It was when we had that snowstorm.  The church in Mason where I was, had started to work with the church in Brookline, just about 9 miles away on some services.  Mason would hold a summer service and Ash Wednesday, and Brookline would hold Maundy Thursday and Thanksgiving eve.  Day before Thanksgiving in 2014 I called the brand new minister in that church and said “What do you think?”  We did end up canceling it.  I remember saying to Keri that I think this storm might be an issue, so I would go out and make sure our generator was ready to go, if needed.  Sure enough, got that working, and a couple hours later the power went out.  Now we are prepared, I lived in Connecticut where a strong breeze would knock out the power.  We lived in North Carolina where you could count on no power during a hurricane and for at least a day or two after.  So if power went out, and we would turn on our gas stove.  It is really decretive, but when turned up puts out quite a bit of heat.  We had flashlights, we have a cooktop that is gas, no oven, but that is OK.  After a few minutes of sitting in the dark, when we realized the power was really out and not coming back on, I brought out the generator and ran the extension cords into the house.  We are not prepared enough to have it wired into the house, still do the extension cords, but it works.  Fridge is running, stove is going, and a lamp.  The rest of the house was dark, but that one room we had light. 

     Now looking back, I should have bought a generator with a larger gas tank.  Ours has a very small gas tank, only a gallon, maybe less.  So 60-90 minutes and it runs out of gas.  As it goes out, we hear it. Pretty loud when it is running, so suddenly the house gets very quiet, and then suddenly very dark.  We normally keep a candle lit just for this reason.  But that candle light is so little when you lose the rest of your light. 

     We welcome as light is, it can also be bad.  One summer when I was in seminary I worked in a hospital.  Every summer before that I had spent a lot of time outside, this summer I got to mow the lawn every other week.  Other than that, pretty much spent my time inside, often with a dress shirt and tie on.  At the end of the at summer Keri and I went to Mexico for a little vacation.  When we arrived, I put on my bathing suit, took off my shirt and went out on the beach.  Normally by this point in the summer I had a good tan, and could spend hours outside without sun screen.  We spent an hour, maybe two outside on the beach, dinner and then that night I was feeling hot.  The next morning I had the worst burn of my life.  My only relief was sitting in a bathtub of cool water.  I didn’t want to eat, or drink, or do anything that required me to get out of the bathtub.  I spent about two days of that vacation sitting in a bathtub of cool water.  Too much light can certainly be bad. 

     So Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth, and the light that is put on a lampstand and not hid under a bushel.  But salt and light are not always good.  Salt can cause pain, light, at least natural sunlight can burn your skin.  But salt can also preserve food and make our food taste better.  And without light we don’t know where we are going, and bump into things. 

     I have been thinking this week about how much salt and light we are called to be.  Too much, all at once, can kill a person or cause pain.   Too little or too dark and they cannot taste it or see anything.  And it really depends on the person and situation. 

     I think this is probably where most of my friends who are ministers have gotten into trouble in their churches.  They will misjudge their congregation, and prepare a great sermon on something that is controversial.  There will be people who do not agree with them, and therefore their credibility is knocked down a notch.  They may feel like they are being salt or light, and maybe they are, but it is too much for some of those people in those situations. 

     And so we do tone down our message.  In almost every sermon I have written, I have said “Oh, I can’t say that.”  How can I write that in a different way where my message will be heard but is not too much salt or light.

     There is a balance that we all try to hit, not only as ministers, but in our own lives.  Salt hurts when it gets in a cut or scrape.  Light, especially when it is really bright can hurt you.  But it is in that uncomfortable area that we grow. 

     When I was growing up, one year at the church camp I was working at, some of the girls decided that God was not male, but female.  We used these overhead projectors when we sang songs after meals.  They went in one night, erased every reference to God that was male, and changed it to female.  Many of us protested.  It was not necessarily that we saw God as a man, but it knocked us out of our comfort zone.  It was salt, but taking out any reference we were used to was like a little cut, changing them to all female was like salt bring rubbed into the cut.  After a few days we sat down and started to talk about it.  One of the girls on staff that year had a father who left when she was young.  She heard from him, rarely, maybe once a year if she was lucky.  So when she sang Father, it really had a different meaning, and that meaning was not the same as when others of us sang it.  We worked together, where can we change our songs to make them more inclusive, without eliminating all male references to God, but balancing them with female images.  And in that salt in my wound situation, I grew in my understanding of God.  Maybe I did see God as a male at that point, but though our discussions, I grew to see God as neither male nor female, and yet as both male and female.  Somewhere beyond our binary gender understandings. 

     So I encourage you to be salt and light, carefully.  And when you hear someone else claiming to speak in truth, examine it for truth.  Sometimes the salt and light they are sharing can make us uncomfortable, and that is how we grow.  Don’t exclude what does not fit into your world view without considering it.  There are people claiming to be telling the truth and are not, which may also feel uncomfortable.  But I believe it is in that uncomfortable place where truth is determined and changes in our own minds are made.