Friday, April 29, 2016

Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A 5 year old girl asked her mom what a Bible verse meant that her class had discussed in Sunday School: "Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Her mom said, "Well, it means that when you are good and kind, you are letting Christ's light shine in your life before all who know you."

The very next Sunday in Sunday school, the little girl got in a bit of a spat with another girl and created somewhat of an uproar.  The Sunday school teacher had to go and find her mother to get her to settle down in class.  Her mother said, "Sweetie, don't you remember about letting your light shine before others?" The girl blurted out, "Mom, I am sorry, I think I blowed myself out."

In our morning lesson from Matthew, Jesus says something astounding, something extraordinary to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”   Prior to this Jesus called himself the Light of the World, but now he declares that his followers are salt and light?

Jesus clearly wanted his followers to see themselves as salt and light in how they lived and how they functioned in life.  To this ragtag band disciples, Jesus’ words must have sounded quite peculiar.  But Jesus saw something in these disciples which they did not see.  And Jesus knew God’s plan for them which they did not know.  And isn’t that true for us as well?  We often don’t see ourselves the way others see us.  And we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us or know the plans God has for us?

Why would Jesus use a metaphor like salt and light for his followers?    Listen to what God is saying to you in this teaching.

Salt is valuable.   Roman soldiers carried salt with them instead of gold when they traveled long distances through arid lands.   It was prized commodity for trade.   Jesus was giving kudos to his disciples.  He was affirming their value by calling them salt. Do you hear Jesus affirming your value, your worth, when he refers to you as the salt of the earth?

Salt is a preservative.  It was used to keep food from spoiling; to keep food fresh.  Sailors in Jesus' day packed food in salt to preserve it on long voyages.  What is God calling you to preserve?  What comes to your mind?  I think of some examples: we are to preserve the gospel, the good news of God’s forgiving love in Jesus Christ and pass it to the next generation; we are to preserve biblical morality like the Ten Commandments; we are to preserve the value of the family and marriage, we are to preserve biblical values like  honesty, truthfulness, kindness, respect, goodness, we are to preserve biblical precepts like loving others, justice, righteousness, we are to preserve the church, the body of Christ and its worship and mission in the community and world.  Sprinkle a few grains of salt and it preserves food.   What is God calling you to preserve?

Further salt is for seasoning, it lends flavor to things.  Food without salt is flavorless and insipid.  Don’t we often use seasonings to spice up our food: garlic, shallots, onions, peppers, paprika and salt?  Now salt alone isn’t very tasty.  Most people don’t enjoy snacking on salt, like a cow with a salt lick.  It’s a catalyst.  Coach Bear Bryant had a sign hanging over his locker room that said, “Make something happen.”  Salt makes things happen.  Salt brings out flavor and adds taste. The late Christian author William Barclay writes:  “Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity lends flavor to life.”  How can you and I lend flavor to life?    By bringing humor in situations.  By seeing the humorous.  By being able to laugh, even at yourself, and getting others to laugh with you.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:  “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted like undertakers.”  Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote:  “I have been to church today, and I am not depressed.”  We lend flavor by having a positive attitude rather than a negative pessimistic one.  By showing gratitude and appreciation rather than complaining and grumbling all the time.   By giving encourgement to someone when he or she is down, rather than criticism.  By bringing enthusiasm, energy and zest to others.

Laura Armstrong is the founder of Chemo Angels, which is a volunteer organization dedicated to adding a ray of sunshine to those undergoing treatment for cancer.  Laura has provided that ray of sunshine by gathering volunteers, called "Chemo Angels," who commit to regularly sending cards, gifts, and other tangible expressions of encouragement.   Here's one mother's note to the Chemo Angels:  "Justin received not one, but two packages yesterday! He was so thrilled. We had a very difficult day at the doctor's office. Then, when we arrived home, there were two boxes waiting for him. It was perfect timing!  It is almost as if someone "up there" is timing the arrival of the Angel packages.  Thanks again for all you and the Angels accomplish. It is truly miraculous! —Lorie.”

What do you need to do to season your witness?   The letter of Colossians 4:6 counsels when talking with unbelievers: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”    I'm not talking here about using salty language.  But in finding positive and constructive language to share your faith and hope in Christ.  Jesus calls you and me to bring out life’s flavor.  If we make no effort to positively affect people around us, to bring glory to God, we are like Jesus said, “salt which has lost its saltiness.”  We are of no use to God.  We should not try to just blend in with everyone; but rather to bring out flavor in life.

Jesus is saying bring out the abundant life which God offers all people, bring out the joy of life in Christ, bring out purpose by helping others to discover God’s plan for their lives, bring out hope to those who are experiencing emptiness, brokenness,  and hopelessness.

Sprinkle a few disciples here and there, sprinkle some of you around in places and no telling what God will stir up, no telling what flavors you’ll bring out, or what you will preserve.   The highest calling we can have in life is knowing God used us to accomplish His plans and purposes.  Someone said: “Unless salt gets poured out of the shaker, it remains a mere table ornament.” Are we salt shakers or table ornaments?

Jesus further said you are the light of the world.  Light is life.  Light is fundamental to humanity and all creation.  In the book of Genesis, God said: “Let there be light, and there was light.  God saw that the light was good.”  God created light on the first day. In our New Testament lesson, Jesus, the Light of the world, came to bring humanity out of the darkness of sin and into the light of God.   Jesus declares to his followers something astounding:  “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts in under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine, before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Jesus says you are to glow brilliantly, to burn brightly, to blaze intensely.  Jesus asserts that as Christ's followers, through our faith and actions, filled with the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we reflect the light of His glory to the world.   For the purpose of light is to illuminate.   As lights, we are to witness to the one true light in our daily lives.  We are not the source of the light; we are reflectors of the light of Christ.  Jesus' light shines in and through us so He can be seen.   Are you hiding Christ’s light or reflecting it?

A Chinese proverb says:  “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” In the face of adversity and disappointment, it is more worthwhile to do some good, however small, than to complain about the situation.  But, I know, because I've been there, it's much easier to curse the darkness.

Jesus words cause us to ask:  “Who me?”  Does that question cross your mind at hearing Jesus words?  How to do we reflect the light of Christ?  We radiate light when we inspire courage in those who are paralyzed by fear, when we help others to find a solution to their problems, when our words and actions inspire others to place their ultimate faith and trust, commitment and obedience in God.  And what an honor, what a privilege to be a means of someone's coming to faith or renewing trust in their faith.

We radiate light when we light the path of others.  When we are a guide, a leader, a mentor to someone.  We are a light when we make the time and take the time to spend with someone who is lost or aimless or confused and needs light to open up his or her path.

We radiate light when our words and actions inspire hope in others.   When they begin to believe that possibilities exist, that there is a pathway out, that the future is open, and that they are not alone, but there is another who is with them.  The Bible says “Through Jesus Christ, we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

We radiate light when we truly love others in Christ without thought of recognition, acknowledgment, credit or compensation.

I think of an elderly woman at my former church in Monument, CO where I served as pastor.  She was a Registered Nurse, long retired, well into her 80's. She volunteered at the local high school as a tutor/mentor for students who were having academic difficulties.  She was well known, respected and beloved.  She went a couple of days a week to the high school, and tutored one-on-one with young people having difficulty with some subject like math.  And she made it clear why she is there, she not only loved kids, and wanted to use her talents, but she found ways to witness to Jesus Christ.  I saw and heard how she brought the light of success and understanding and love to students who were struggling with the darkness of failing in school.

Are you hiding Christ’s light or revealing it?  God’s eternal light shines in you.  The highest calling any of us can have in life is making the world a little brighter because of the way we live and move and have our being.

I close with these words from the late artist Thomas Kinkade: “I believe we all have a greater purpose to our lives than merely existing day to day.  Each of us in our own unique way is called to let our light shine.” I believe it too.  Others are to see our good works, which are meant to draw attention not to ourselves but to God. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.”    Amen!

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