Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Salt & Light - Discipleship as Lifestyle

Sermon based on Matthew 5:13-16

During the course of this year we are exploring what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
To be a Christian is not just about coming to church on a Sunday, it is about being a fully committed follower of Jesus.  That is why Jesus called people to take up their cross and follow him.  If we are serious about following Jesus, then it should affect every aspect of our lives, including how we use our time, money, possessions, how we relate to other people, what our values and priorities in life should be. 

To be a committed follower of Jesus means putting Jesus at the centre of our lives.  Of course this is easier said than done, but through prayer and worship, and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within us, we should become more like Jesus.  To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is about whom we are and who we are becoming.  It is about our identity as individuals.

This idea of our identity, of who we are in Christ, is picked up in our Gospel reading.  Jesus describes us as the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.  Notice that he doesn’t say, we should be, or should try to be the salt or the earth and light of the world, but that we ARE. 


Salt has many uses. 

Before the days of modern refrigeration salt was also used as a preservative, to prevent meat from spoiling. 

As Christians we are called to act as a preservative, to uphold and fight for God’s kingdom values.  For example the Government is trying to redefine marriage, in order to legalise gay marriage.  I believe it is really important that as Christians, we speak up in defence of the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a women, and that we resist attempts to redefine marriage.  It is about upholding the biblical understanding of marriage, which has been the bedrock of our society for hundreds of years.  A survey commissioned by Catholic Voices last month should that 70% of the people interviewed agreed with the statement "marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman". A spokesman for Catholic Voices said "British people believe that gay relationships should be recognised by the state through civil partnerships. But they are clear that marriage is a unique institution which needs to be promoted because of the benefits to children of being raised by a mother and a father.”

There are also moves to try and legalise euthanasia.  But many Christians as well as Doctors groups are gravely concerned about the consequences of such an action.  If euthanasia was legalised, what safe guards could be introduce to protect the most vulnerable people within society? 

These are just two issues, but there are many more, where we as Christians need to stand up and make our voices heard, speaking on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people within our society, and those who have no voice.  Protecting & preserving the values of justice and fairness within our world.  The prophet Micah reminds us what God requires of us, ‘To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.’ (Micah 6:8)  This is what it means to be the salt of the earth.


Salt is also used to bring out the flavour in food.  Without salt some food is bland and tasteless.  We need to help bring the best out of life, to give taste to life.  Jesus came into the world so that people can live life in abundance.  As Christians we need to help people to understand and experience what this means, and to experience and know God’s love, grace and mercy.


Salt also has healing properties, if dissolved in water it can be used to wash out cuts or wounds. As Christians we are called to bring healing to our world, and to work for that healing.  People need to know the reality that broken lives can be made whole again in Jesus.

But in this passage, there is also a warning.  ‘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.’  If a seasoning has no flavour, it has no value.  If as Christians we make no effort to have an effect on the world around us, then we are little value to God.  If we are too much like the world, we face the danger of becoming worthless.  As Christians we are called not to blend in with everyone else, instead we should affect them positively, just as seasoning brings out the best flavour in food. 

The challenge is how we different are we from the world around us?  Jesus taught that Christians would be recognizable by their distinctive behaviour - specifically, by the way they love others and how their lives reflect their spiritual values and beliefs. But research by the Barna Group in the USA shows that faith has a limited effect on most people’s behaviour.  Are we as distinctive as we should be?  Or are we in danger of losing our saltiness?  Paul reminds us that we should not be conformed “to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)  To be a committed disciple of Christ, means being prepared to go against the flow, which at times can be tough, but that is part of the cost of taking up our cross and following Jesus.

The wonderful thing about salt, is you don’t need much to make a big difference.  A small amount of salt in food, helps bring out the flavour.  Mother Theresa said "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." But those small acts done in great love, like a pinch of salt, can make all the difference in the world. 


Jesus says, ‘You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden’ (verse 14).  Before the introduction of tower blocks and skyscrapers, a church would undoubtedly have been the tallest building in any town or city.  That’s the reason why architects designed churches to have a spire or bell tower, so that the church building would be visible to everyone living in the vicinity. 

That’s just bricks and mortar.  The real church is us, the body of Christ.  As the body of Christ, we are called to reflect Christ’s light and love to those around us.

If we are truly living for Christ, then we will be lights to the world. But we hide our light by being quiet when we should speak, going along with the crowd, denying the light, ignoring the needs of others, or letting sin dim our light. 

We reflect Christ’s light when we:
o   Trust wholly in God, and not in ourselves
o   Show mercy
o   Strive for relationships that are built on trust and love
o   Look to spread peace, and quell hatred and anger

When we do this, people will see our faith in action.  In 2005 there was a famine in the Sahel region of West Africa, in Niger Christians gave food aid to 12 mainly Muslim villages.  The villagers were astounded that Christians were helping them.  One person said: “They used to tell us that the Christians are compassionate, yet we were dubious, but today we believe it.  In all of our history, no one has ever given us food aid.  This time we have been taken notice of.  The Christians are welcome among us.”

Your Kingdom Come

We can’t be salt and light in the world by drawing on our own resources.  We need to depend on God and the experience of his Holy Spirit, it is only then when we do this that we are able to change in the way we act towards others.

When we serve Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brining God’s kingdom of heaven to earth.  As John Ortberg writes, in God is Closer than you Think.

Every time you are in conflict with someone, want to hurt them, gossip about them or avoid them, but instead, go to them and seek reconciliation and forgiveness:

The kingdom of God is breaking into this world.

Every time you have a chunk of money and decide to give sacrificially to somebody who is hungry or homeless.

The kingdom of God is breaking into this world.

Every time you love, every time you include someone who’s lonely, encourage someone who’s defeated, every time you challenge somebody who’s wandering off the path, every time you serve the under resourced:

It’s a sign that the Kingdom is one more breaking into the world.

To add another one to Ortberg’s list:

Every time we shine a light on the injustice of our generation, and working to end poverty. 

The kingdom of God is breaking into this world.


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