Jesus says: “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 underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
What is important? What is most important? How can we make sure that we will never forget what is most important?
Last year we commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Martin Luther started a movement that profoundly changed the landscape of Christianity. The Reformation took a firm hold, especially in our Nordic countries. Indeed, it has affected every area of life both in our churches and in our countries. It is difficult to imagine what our Nordic societies would look like today without the influence of the Reformation.
The Reformation’s crucial question was precisely the one I mentioned when I began. What is most important? What is most important in our Christian faith? What is most important in our human relationships? What is most important in our societies and for our role as citizens?
These questions are so crucial they should not be seen only as yesterday’s questions, of the age when Luther first asked them. They should be our questions precisely now, in 2018, because what is important – what is most important – is directly related to our lives and our future.
In human life it is very natural to forget or ignore what is most important. Take Luther and the case he made for the Reformation, for example. Fifteen hundred years before Martin Luther, Our Lord Jesus gave his followers a task, a mission: go and preach the good news of the God who has become a human being in Jesus of Nazareth. Go and proclaim the forgiveness of sins and God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Go and convince all nations that God loves them and that it is most important for us who are human beings to love God and our neighbour. Go and live in peace and harmony with God, with other people and with all creation.
This task never actually disappeared, but was in danger of being buried under various layers of customs and orders, human efforts, which threatened to hide the central role of faith in Jesus Christ. The Reformation urged the Western church to realise once again what God’s mercy is, without any preconditions.
Today the churches of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic church share a common understanding of faith in Christ and of justification. This is truly remarkable. After centuries of disagreement we have come together again to ask what is important.
In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus speak to his followers. This is how Our Lord reveals what is important.
“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 underfoot. “You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
To be a Christian is something that should be felt, tasted and seen. The Christian testimony is something that finds its way to being and action. This would be impossible if we did not live in an intimate relationship with Our Lord, because he is the one who gives the salt its unique taste and whose light we as Christians are called to reflect around ourselves. It is important that through us Our Lord can be felt, tasted and seen.
This weekend we, the leading bishops of our Nordic Lutheran churches, have been meeting here in Iceland. We have participated in the Arctic Circle Assembly, with the problems of climate change as a particular focus. At our meeting we have discussed the biblical notion of the stewardship of nature and its relevance for our times. We have also discussed the Nordic Lutheran churches’ engagement in the transformation of societies and the lifestyles needed to make peace with earth and mitigate climate change, especially with regard to the effects of global warming in the Arctic Regions.
The question of Jesus and of the Reformation is also crucial for the issue of climate change: what is important? What is most important? The Reformation has taken a firm hold in our Nordic countries. We belong to a group of nations that have succeeded in gaining a very high standard of living. A huge number of problems have been solved, and our societies are among the richest on earth, with highly developed welfare systems. But what is important? What is most important? In our quest to have more and to ensure an ever higher standard of living, have we forgotten what is most important? Have we ignored the welfare of nature? Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, the words with which he has commissioned us for a task, a task to make a difference, to be the salt of the earth and to shine as a light before others?
The importance of our planet’s welfare needs no explanation. It has become quite obvious that all forms of life, including human life, completely depend on our planet’s ability to sustain us. The earth is God’s creation. To be the salt of the earth means bearing responsibility. To be the light of the world means facing reality and all its problems, truthfully and fearlessly. And both these tasks mean reflecting the presence and power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is important? What is most important? These questions of the Reformation are always acute. We need questions such as these as we reflect on our relationship with God, with each other and with all creation. As long as we continue asking what is important – and what is most important – there is hope. We have hope.