You are the salt of the earth. but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by people. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can not be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put in under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everything in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your God in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
This particular passage that is attributed to Jesus comes in the Gospel of Matthew as a part of the “Sermon on the Mount”. I had never noticed that before. I have used this passage in funeral after funeral. I have used this passage to uplift the family of the one dead, to assure them the deceased was indeed the spice of life. That their light was there for all to see.
While I stand by those messages, I have taken a closer look at these words…more specifically the “who” of whom they were spoken to. I have started asking the question of “who” was Jesus talking to a lot these days. Especially in the light of the onslaught of hate and outright evil that is being slung at our community today by religious “Reich” and the mainline church it self. Yes, this evil and hate is even being protected by our own community when we fail to ask that question of “who” and than defend the institution as trying to be open to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people and yet slam the door squarely in their face with in-fighting, bickering, name-calling and rigid positions of “my truth is right because I have a degree.” I think I need not dwell on “those” in our community who do this harm to us, except to say they know who they are and that I believe they too have gotten trapped by forgetting “who” Jesus was talking to.
So, in this sermon that day or days depending on who you believe, in the interpretation of when and how these words came to be was Jesus talking to. Who was sitting on the hillside or in the meadows listening so intently to the words of one who seemed to understand their hurt, their need, their hunger? Understanding, the “who” will change the message and its impact. Understanding the “who” can and does effect how we relate to our God and to ourselves.
For the sake of simplicity, I am going to write from the point of view that this was one sermon at one particular gathering. The reader needs to be reminded that I have no proof this sermon was done this way. I have just the way the author(s) presented it translated from an old language into a newer and modern language. This raises all kinds of issues that are better suited for a different article.
Gathered that day, were people who in this time were the outcasts of society. Yes, I suppose their were main-line people there, but probably for the purposes of seeing if Jesus took any missteps on traditional teaching. Listening closely that day were the lepers. These were the people affected by a disease that was not understood and contagious. They were not allowed sanctuary within the mainline tradition of the temple. Instead, they were suffered off to some far corner of society to fend and make due for themselves.
There were prostitutes, in an act of survival sold themselves to other people so that they would have food to eat. They served a need of the rich, but they too were thought of as the dregs of society.
There were those women who were childless and therefore considered outside the realm of blessing by a God who demanded procreation as that sign of blessing.
There were the poor, who by their lack of money, land or prestige were outcasts in a society that demanded one have these things in ordered to be heard and to be genuine contributing member of that time.
There were the blind, the deaf, the emotional distressed, the physically handicapped. All of whom did not measure up to the standards set by the religious leaders to be worthy of God.
There were the outcasts of the society because they were not married. There were those who were not pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough to be considered worthy of the great institution care and or concern for their welfare.
Yes, God forbid, there were practicing homosexuals both of the men and women type, and those who expressed their sexuality in ways that no person in their “right” mind would tolerate much less include as a part of the proclaimed good of society.
OK, so even if we are homosexuals how do we relate or claimed to be all those other people that were there?
Are we not a people who are affected by a disease that is in reality little understood, is contagious and thought to be of our own doing a curse by God? Before you object remember there are people in our own community who say AIDS is about our lack of sexual responsibility and promiscuity and therefore we reap what we sow.
Are we not a people who prostitute ourselves to eat? Are we not a people who look for the rich, the famous, the influential to feel good about ourselves. We can prostitute ourselves in many ways aside from our sexual encounters. Are we not accused of not contributing to society through the act procreation? Yet at the same time accused of gathering and influencing children to our side and denied the ability to give a child a home that is safe and loving?
Are we not a people who are poor? We can’t afford or get health insurance for our partners. We can’t protect our property and pass on to our loved one without a fight and at the cost of huge amounts of money that no other married couple is expect to expend?
Are we not blind both spiritually and physically to the world around us? Are we not told we are blind for not seeing the only right relationship with God is to follow the traditional teachings and beliefs? Are we not emotional distressed by broken relationships, unacceptable relationships, broken families, unacceptable families? Are we not physically handicapped when we are denied the ability to defend our country, denied access because the cost is prohibitive?
Are we not outcasts because our relationships do not meet the standard definition of “marriage” and therefore are denied the benefits afforded to those who meet that definition? Is not our love for each other defined as a perversion and sick?
Oh yes, are we not in many cases considered not pretty enough, muscled enough, young enough, or working in the right field to be considered worthy not only by main-line society but our own people as well?
Are we not a people who within the scope of our own sexual practices scorned each and everyday by our own people who say things like: “all they show on TV are the bad parts of our community, the drag queens, the leather people, the dykes with their exposed breasts, and all those strange people with wild hair color and body piercing and tattoos.”
Yes, my friends, each of us are sitting on the hillside and listening to the words of Jesus. We are the “who”! He in fact is speaking to each and everyone of us. He is in fact telling all those people (us), that we are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world! We are right there for all to see. We are all there to experience a new day a new message. How you say? How can it possible be? Remember these words of Jesus are spoken to you, you are on the hillside. Jesus is talking to you.
Salt is a common commodity today and it is relatively in expensive. Yet at the time of Jesus it was very costly. In Rome a main road is named via salaria or the way of the salt. That name is said to have dated from ancient times when a roman solider could have been paid with salt. Salt in these times and having access to it was the difference between life and death. Salt was preservative, it kept food from spoiling. It added flavor and zest to that which otherwise was ordinary. Salt gave its recipient character and integrity. Salt was not potential but rather reality.
When Jesus called those persons on the hillside that day “the salt of the Earth” he paid them a high compliment. He pays us today a high compliment. We are the people who add a spice and a zest to life. We by virtue of who and what we are the preservative of life, that which gives flavor and zest to that which is otherwise ordinary.
Salt by its very nature gives to rather than extracts from. We as gay, lesbian, BI and transgender people give to our society rather than take from. In being ourselves we give and contribute to the beauty of creation rather than take from. Just as salt adds and enhances everything that it touches so do we. Our people have added the beauty of incredible art, expression of love, expression of emotion not found anywhere else in our society. We add zest and flavor to life itself. We have even taught the world to die with dignity and grace.
Salt becomes a part of everything that it touches. Despite what some would have you believe…we are apart of everything. We have touched, influenced, and participated in every part of creation. We can not be extracted by laws, beatings, or even killing. Because we have penetrated life itself, our world is having new discussions around sexuality and what it means. Our world is discovering new ways of looking at relationships, how the roles of men and women in relating to each other are important. How roles within a relationship can be redefined to include and meet the needs of both partners. Because we have penetrated the world in which we live, there are new ways of defining modes of dress, architecture, honesty and integrity. Oh, yes, my gentle friends, we are giving to the world in which we live, not taking from it.
It is because of this zest, this spice, this giving that indeed we are the “light of the world!” Jesus that day told us to not hid who and what we are, rather let it shine so that all may see. In other words we are not to be ashamed of who and what we are but rather a bright light so that our world may see clearly that God created diversity, differences, and tolerance of that diversity and differences to bring about wholeness rather than brokenness.
My sisters and brothers salt penetrates and preserves. Light brings sight and penetrates that which is dark. We are those on that hillside, we are receiving these words today right this moment. We are indeed that which gives rather than takes away. Let us not forget this day we in all of our vast differences are the “who” in this message. We indeed are “the light of the world!”
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980s and have been legally married since 2015.