Once upon a time a king who had 3 daughters asked them how much they loved him. The first
said she loved him more than all the gold in the world and he was pleased. The second, not
wanting to be outdone, said she loved him more than all the precious gems in the world – and
again he was pleased. The third and youngest who was always so loving and sweet said that she
loved him more than all the salt in the world. He was outraged. What could be more common than
salt. He was hurt and upset and stormed out.
The youngest daughter, realising how hurt her father was – went to the palace kitchens and
ordered the chef to put no salt in the king’s food until further notice. After 2 days without salt in
his food, the king ordered the chef to come and see him – and he complained that for 2 days the
food had been so insipid and tasteless and demanded an explanation. The chef stammered an
apology and bowed deeply and told the king of the instructions he had received from the king’s
daughter not to put salt in the food. It was then the king realised the tremendous compliment his
daughter had paid him. It was he who gave her life its flavour and meaning. The Gospel reading
set for this Sunday (5th February) is from Matthew Chapter 5 which hears Jesus say to the
disciples that they are salt and light.
When my sister and I were small we went to church and Sunday school. For Sunday school, we
had to go down some rather rickety stairs into a rather rundown basement underneath the church
where the windows were so grimy that even on the brightest of days the bare light bulbs had to
be lit. Once we’d gone down the staircase I remember we had to go down a long narrow corridor
painted brown and green. At the end of this corridor was a room where all the children gathered to
have some time together before separating into our different groups for our classes.
There were several things that happened in that opening session of Sunday school. First,
interestingly, we sang ‘Hear the pennies dropping’ as we put our collection into a jam jar that was
screwed between two circles of wood one with a slit in it (isn’t it funny how we can remember
some things so clearly!) Then it was birthday time – the collection jar was still out because, if it
was your birthday you had to take as many coins as your years to give to God in thanks.
A nice idea in a way but it was quite a poor area and there were children who would stay away on
their birthday day – I didn’t understand at the time but I think I do now… After that we sang –
different choruses each week – but always beginning with “Jesus loves me this I know for the
Bible tells me so.” and ending with “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
“Hide it under a bushel, NO, I’m going to let it shine.” we sang – I had NO IDEA what a bushel
was and no-one ever explained! AND I was terrified that Satan was going to come along and blow
my light out! I certainly didn’t want to be there when that happened so wouldn’t it be a good idea
not to let this little light of MINE shine too brightly… I was a very shy child and not very good with
strangers and I could think of no-one stranger than Satan (apart from perhaps Mr Bucknall the
Sunday school superintendent who reminded me of Ebenezer Scrooge with his money jar that he
emptied out and counted whilst we had our stories) I CERTAINLY wasn’t up for doing anything
that might attract Satan anywhere near me so hiding my light under something, maybe even a
bushel if only I knew what one looked like, seemed pretty attractive to me.
Then came the last verse “Shine it all over Coventry (for that was where the church was) – I sang
without much gusto because I’d already decided (as you have heard) that my light wasn’t going to
shine. Many of my friends stopped going to Sunday School – my sister and I couldn’t because WE
lived in the manse. I knew that I was supposed to let the light of Jesus shine throughout my whole
life but I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. I suppose, thinking back, that I was more comfortable
with “Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear, light” because then I could be in my small corner
whilst you were in yours and this shy child didn’t have to have much interaction.It is with this
introduction that we approach the story for today from the Sermon of the Mount.
Jesus was living in the small town of Capernaum, right on the lakeshore of the Lake of Galilee.
I’ve been to Capernaum many times – it’s in ruins now but still an evocative place to be. The
Galilean hills seem to grow right out from the lakeshore, rising up from the lake, and halfway up
the hills above Lake Galilee is where we think about Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount.
and there is now a chapel called “The Chapel of the Beatitudes.” There from that chapel, high on
the hill, you look out across the Lake of Galilee and it is incredibly beautiful. It’s a wonderful place
to sit and remember the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.
Up on that mountain, with his disciples, Jesus was thought of as the new teacher, the new Moses.
As Moses went up to Mount Sinai, he gave the Ten Commandments to people of Israel; so Jesus,
the New Moses, went up the mountain and he gave his followers a new set of commandments, a
new code for living, a new sense of right and wrong. Jesus gave new guideline for life – on the
mountain above Capernaum that day, Jesus was the New Moses and this was the New Mountain
and these were his New Commandments.
Jesus said to his disciples: “You. You. You – You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill
cannot be hid. A lamp that is lit in a house is not put under a bushel. Rather, you put a lamp onto
a lamp stand so that it will light the whole house.” Then Jesus said, “Let your light so shine, so
that all people will see your good works, your works of love, and give glory to God who is in
heaven.” Shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let is shine. Actually – no talk here of Satan
but much talk about the world.
The text for today and the whole Sermon on the Mount is about our relationship to the world
around us. This passage also tells us that followers of Jesus are to be the salt of the earth. The
world is going through moral decay and disintegration – even then – contrary to popular belief
moral decay and disintegration is not a new thing. The world is a corrupt place, says Jesus, and if
you want to follow me you are to be the salt of the earth. You are to be the preservative of my
But that is not enough. Jesus continued. You are not only to be salt but you are to be a light to the
world. It is not enough to preserve the moral fabric of society. More is needed. You are to be the
light that shines on the world. We need to preserve the moral values of God but we need to
expand the kingdom of God to all people, and being the light is part of that expansion. The world
needs more than salt; the world also needs the light of God.
Jesus did not say, “You are to be the light for the church.” The Bible does not say, “When you
come to church, turn on your light. When you come to the church, let everyone see how devout
and pious you are. When you come to the church, turn on your religious energy.” No. When you
leave this church and go home, into your schools, into your work, into your meeting to the shops,
let your light shine. In hospital or at the doctors – with anyone you meet – in the way you are with
other people, in the way you speak to them, smile at them, behave with them – with the people
who serve you, the people who treat you – You, my disciples, are the light of the world – let the
world see your light and come to know Jesus Christ.
It’s important that we recognise that showing the light of Christ shining inside of you is not
showing off – it’s not wearing Christianity on your sleeves to show everybody what a fine Christian
you are. It is not wearing a cross round your neck having a fish sticker in the back of your car to
show everyone that you are religious. No, letting your light shine is much more subtle than that.
Letting your light shine is about being where Jesus would have been, responding to people as
Jesus responded – loving your neighbour as yourself and treating others as you would like them to
treat you. It’s about accepting that no one of us has the whole picture, no one of us has it all right
but it is important that we let the world know that we belong to Jesus. So – how do people see
Jesus in us? How do people come to know more of God through your life and mine? How do
people come to the point where they can say to YOU – by watching you, I begin to understand
They might not tell you about it, but they are watching. To be honest they are often watching out
of the corner of their eye – and they see the good and the bad.
This little light of mine – I am going to let it shine. I have a very different understanding of that now!
Ruth Parry 5 February 2023