Matthew 5:13-20

The Salt and Light Brigade

By The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


There was a father was teaching his son what a Christian should be like. He talked about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world and a few other teachings. When the lesson was over, the father realized he had his work cut out for himself because the little boy asked, “Daddy, have I ever met one of these Christians?” (1)

In a very simple way, like that little boy, Jesus challenges us with two very vivid images of what it means to be a Christian. He uses Salt and Light.


A. First let’s look at salt. Salt is something that is so common that we hardly notice it, unless you’re on a salt-free or reduced slat diet. We put it on everything from eggs to grits to popcorn. Why? Because it makes things taste better. That’s one of the natural qualities of salt. It is a seasoning that enhances the flavor of food.

It’s also a preservative. Before refrigeration or canning, most meat was preserved in one of two ways. It was either dried and smoked or it was packed in salt and salt cured. Packed in salt, meat would last for years. It was a preservative.

Salt is also a curative. It has medicinal qualities. Before the time of modern medicine, salt was used as an antiseptic. It burned like the dickens but salt was often times poured into an open wound to clean it of any impurities. Sometimes a concoction of salt and vinegar was used for the same purpose, to clean and purify the wound so it would heal quicker and cleaner.

B. We’re called to be the “salt of the earth.” In other words, we’re called to be a seasoning that enhances the flavor of life through the living out of our faith. We’re called to be preservatives that help preserve the Biblical standards of morality. And we are called to be a curative. We have a message of hope and forgiveness from a Savior that can bring healing to all of the hurts in this world. We know all of these but there’s one more aspect to salt, too.

A group of young people were discussing the text, “You are the salt of the earth.” They came up with the same answers we did: “Salt enhances flavor. Salt preserves from decay. Salt helps heal.” Then a Chinese Christian girl spoke up and said, “Salt creates thirst.” The room suddenly got quiet. Everyone was thinking, “Have I ever made anyone thirsty for Jesus?”

We’re called to be the salt of the earth. We’re called to season the world with the flavor of Grace. We’re called to help preserve the world preserves from decay. We’re called to help bring healing. And we’re called to make people thirsty for Jesus.


A. Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world.” Most folks today don’t have a clue what darkness really is. We have street lights and lighted signs, porch lights and decorative lights around the house. Ever since Edison discovered the light bulb, we have been trying to physically push back the darkness. Why? Because light exposes the true nature of things.

Have you ever walked into a half lit room in an old house and you think to yourself, “My this looks quaint.” But in the morning, in the full light of day, you can see the cracks in the paint and the walls, the worn carpet and fabric on the furniture and the thick dust on everything? Light exposes our frailties.

Light exposes but light also reveals. I know you’ve experienced having the lights go out. All of a sudden your plunged into darkness and the things in the middle of the floor become dangerous. Even the light from a flash of lightning is helpful, for it lets you see where possible dangers lie. It’s the same with life. The light of Christ exposes our need for salvation; it reveals where the dangers are and it reveals where safety, direction and new life can be found.

B. One of my all time favorite films is Steven Speilberg’s “Schindler’s List.” In this movie Oskar Schindler, a Nazi profiteer becomes an unlikely light in the midst of darkness. Working with his assistant, Itzak Stern, he bluffs and bribes his way through the Nazi hierarchy to save as many Jews as possible. He has Stern type up a list of Jews whom he claims are necessary for “war work” at his factory. At first they are only making simple items like mess kits. But then they are transferred to another factory to make shells for the large guns. In the end Schindler’s instructions to his workers are that he does not want any of the warheads in the shells to actually work. At first, Stern is suspicious but eventually sees Schindler for the benefactor that he is. At one point in the film, Stern comes to Schindler and says: “This list is life.” Schindler fights to retain his employees, and on one occasion, barely saves a shipment of women who had been left off at a death camp by mistake. The stark black and white photography of the film shows the contrast between the darkness of the Nazis and the light that Schindler has chosen to follow and has become for the people on “the list.” (3)

Jesus calls us and challenges us to be the same kind of light in the world today. He calls us not only to be light but to point to the ultimate source of light, Him.


A. There was a mother mouse who decided to teach her children about the world. So she gathered all of her little mice and set out for a walk. They walked down the hall and turned to the right. Then they went down the hall and took another right. And suddenly they found themselves in front of the family cat dozing in the sunlight. The mother mouse was scared. But she didn’t want to give in to her fright. So she signaled to the children to be very quiet and to follow as she began to tip toe quietly and slowly past the sleeping cat. Just as she was about to get past the cat, the cat’s eyes popped open and raised its paw. The little mice were petrified. What would their mother do? Well, just as the cat’s paw started to come down, that mother mouse looked the cat right in the eye and started barking like a dog. And do you know what? The cat was so startled and frightened that it jumped up and ran away! The mother mouse, wiped her brow, shook a little and then turned to her little mice and said, “Children, I hope you learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes it’s good to know a second language!”

It’s the same way with us. It’s good to know a second language. Salt and light are the language of God; the language of Grace; the language of hope and love. And when this language is translated into action it becomes the most beautiful language ever spoken. We’re called to be salt and light and to speak the language of God as we live our faith. We’re called to live the Word.

B. Three students were discussing various versions of the Bible. One said, “I like the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It is easier to read than the older versions.” A second student said, “I like the Jerusalem Bible. It’s easy to read and it’s poetic in its style. I can use it in my daily prayer.” The third student surprised them all and said, “I like my mother’s version the best. She translated the Bible into action I can use in my daily life.”

That’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to be salt and light and translate the Word of God into action so others can see and taste how good God is through Christ Jesus.


You might call this portion of the sermon the charge of the light brigade or the call to pass the salt and be salt shakers in the world. You know the challenge. And sometimes it’s hard. But today we come not just to see and to hear. Today we come to taste and see that the Lord is good. Today we come to feast at the banquet table of our Lord and to be filled with the bread of life. This bread will fill us and empower us to be salt and light for the world so that when someone describes a Christian no one will ask us, “Have I ever seen one?”

Come and be fed. Come, taste and see just how good God is.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. The Pastor’s Story File (Platteville, Colorado: Saratoga Press), February 1989

2. Parables, Etc. (Platteville, Colorado: Saratoga Press), April 1989 3. LectionAid, Volume 7, Number 1, 1998 (LectionAid, Inc., Wichita, KS)

Copyright 1999 Billy D. Strayhorn. Used by permission.