Sermon 5 February 2017

St Columba’s Church of Scotland

Revd Alistair Cumming- Guest Preacher

Listen Here:


A few years ago a member of the Church of Scotland won over 10 million pounds in the Lottery. He bought a large parcel of land in built himself a large house with outbuildings and houses for his family and friends. Also in the grounds he built 2 Churches.

When someone came to visit him they were taken by the beauty of the first church, tell me he said why did you build 2 churches. Oh, he said pointing at the second Church, That is the one we don’t go to.

How true that story is, How many towns that you come from have 2 Churches and one is always the one we don’t go to. Even in London, the Other Kirk is the one we don’t go to.

While in or gospel reading today Jesus was talking about Salt.

Salt being a preservative maybe it is time for us to stop preserving some of the old attitudes and to bring the Church into the 21st Century. A few weeks ago Angus quoted Rev John Bell, who was suggesting that we should stop looking at Jesus as the baby so gentle meek and mild, if we are to be relevant in todays society and to remain relevant for Lochlan and Gordons generation

What does Jesus story of Salt and light tell us about the relevance of Christ, and Christians in what is an ever increasing broken world.

To try and explain: Let me ask you a question, are you, is the Church a thermometer or a thermostat?

A thermometer reflects its environment, it shows what the temperature is, if its hot outside – it says its hot; if its cold, it says its cold; it exerts no influence on what’s around it – rather it is influenced by it; but not so a thermostat. A thermostat has power, it sets the temperature, it changes things.


It is time for the Church and the people who claim to be Christians to stop being a thermometer and start being a thermostat.


In the Message, the version of the bible translated by Eugene Peterson he puts it like this


13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

So there we have it, we are the salt of the earth and we are also the light of the world. But are we Thermostats or thermometers

Christianity is like an infectious disease.  When you get a good case of it everyone around gets it too.  The only problem is – so many people try to cure it…

People cure faith by stifling it and by ignoring it and by hiding it.  They destroy faith by living like thermometers rather than like thermostats.

It doesn’t take much to be a thermometer you know, all you have to do is be agreeable. All you have to do is to go along with what everyone else wants. All you have to do is think of your own comfort and ease.

When others around you are scoffing and mocking – all you need do is be quiet, to not make waves – you may even perhaps join with them in a gentle put down.

When someone is being racist and intolerant all you have to do is be silent about how in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile.

When someone is hurt and alone, or feeling offended or betrayed, or

simply depressed, all you have to do is walk on by – all you have

to do is go on doing what you were doing before, as if nothing was

happening that needed your attention.


All you have to do to be a thermometer – is go with the flow,


Are you a thermometer or a thermostat.

If you want to know what it’s looked like lately to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Then let me refer you no further than the Women’s March of January 21, 2017. Some of you may have heard me refer to it at the recent Burns Supper.

Regardless of your opinions, observations, or objections, that march right across the world was a testament to and an embodiment of what you do when you truly believe that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

You just do it. You don’t debate it. You don’t second-guess it. You don’t wonder about it. You just go and be it.

That’s Jesus’ point. Jesus doesn’t say think about it. He doesn’t say you will be, you may be, or try to be. No, you just are. You are salt and light. Period. That is what it is to be a thermostat.

We need to be assured of this truth these days, especially the events brought about by the exclusion orders of POTUS.

For too long, especially in the church, many of us have allowed our light to be hidden, even extinguished. And when that happens, so goes the truth of the Gospel along with our own.

The Women’s March was many things for me, but one thing was certain — it may have been the best illustration  ever of Jesus’ words: “you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

As Reverend Amy Butler of the PCUSA says, “Sometimes being nasty is the same as being holy. And protest can be prayer.”

It is time for us to start being a thermostat, we must  no longer stand by and let the Gospel be taken over by those who seem to have a louder voice.

We must no longer hide our light under a bushel afraid of what people might think.

History is littered with instances in which human distrust, xenophobia, and discrimination has sown hatred and conflict; our own desire for self-preservation taken at the exclusion of others.

And yet throughout history the bible has called Christians to live beyond hatred and fear, demonstrating a radical hospitality where the stranger finds welcome and refuge is provided for those who are oppressed.

The Gospel we read today says God needs me. God needs you to be the salt of the earth. The same  Gospel that encourages us to speak up for those who have been silenced or have yet to find their voice.

The Gospel that does not let us stand on the sidelines but pushes me, us into the world that God loves, so that others might know they are loved and welcomed and worthy.

The Gospel that is not a viewpoint. Not an opinion. Not an alternative fact. The Gospel that is a truth-teller.

The Gospel does not censor. It does not silence the already oppressed. It does not cast suspicion on those who are other. It does not act out of fear. It does not bar membership. It does not legislate inclusion. It does not look aside and say that God’s earth isn’t hurting. It does not ban the perceived outsider. It does not build walls to keep others out.

No. The Gospel is a decry against empire, against power abused, against imperialism and narcissism and complicity.

Its time to be a thermostat.

Salt and light are also metaphors for vigilance. They are rarely, if ever, not present. And if they are absent, something is drastically wrong. Both are necessary — for health, for life.

Christians in these times require a kind of intentionality, a certain resolve, a commitment, not unprecedented, but unique.

I wonder if this section of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount needs to be our mantra. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

If you have lost your taste, if your light is barely visible, then you need to ask yourself why.

You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world — and you are called, I am called, to help others believe the same.

With these words about salt, light, and the fulfillment of the law and prophets, Jesus is setting before us, his followers, some very deep truths about what it means to be his disciples.

As the Dr Russell Barr Moderator of the Church of scotland said this week,


It is vitally important that the Church of Scotland shines a light on this injustice, that we pray for all those concerned, and that we act to make our own governments aware of Christs call to care for others, not just ourselves and our own.

So today be the salt of the earth, and let your light shine brightly and be a thermostat and not a thermometer.  Amen