4. Salt and Light
"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.
Without question one of the most iconic film series over the last 40 years has been George Lucas' Star Wars. The most recent installment, Episode VII, which was released just this past year, has earned over $2 billion around the world. One of the reasons that the Star Wars franchise has become so popular is because, although it seems to be in the genre of science fiction, the story it tells has an almost mythological feel to it.
The story goes like this: "A long time ago in a galaxy far away, an evil king rules over an empire, kept under control by the forces of darkness & evil. But there is a small band of men known as the Jedi knights, who seek to overcome the dark forces, & restore the goodness that once ruled over the galaxy.”
However you may feel about these kinds of stories, I believe they are in a sense, a modern retelling of the story of our own Planet earth.
Because the Bible tells us that this is, in fact what has happened to the human race. CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, explains the story of the Bible this way: “Ever since the dawn of man, a dark prince has ruled over this planet, keeping us subject to disease, death and sin. But one day, the rightful king landed in disguise in enemy-occupied territory, & established an underground resistance against this evil prince. Altho the prince tried to kill him, he overcame death, & by doing so destroyed the evil prince's power. Even though millions of people are still enslaved by Satan, the dark ruler of this world, Jesus, the true king, is now calling people to throw off their chains, & join him in the new kingdom he is establishing.“
Which brings us to the SotM, which we have said is really Jesus’ "Kingdom manifesto": it describes what it means to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven over which JC is king. As we have been going thru the Beatitudes, which introduce the SotM, I hope that what has come thru very clearly, is the marked contrast between what values are important in this new kingdom of heaven & what is important to the world. Jesus teaches us here in the Sermon on the Mount, that there will be a radical difference between the Christian & the nonChristian, between the church & the world. And because the world is still under the power of the evil one, Jesus, in seeking to establish his kingdom, encountered tremendous hostility & resistance, & as we see in the very last Beatitude, we as his disciples, can expect the same when we try to live by the values of the new kingdom.
Because of this tension between the church & the world, Christians have often yielded to one of 2 temptations. On the one hand, there is the temptation to establish & promote the kingdom of God through political & temporal power. To try to impose it by force on people.
This is what the church tried to do in the middle ages, as it gained political influence, & literally tried to destroy anyone who opposed it.
But the opposite extreme, & perhaps the more tempting one, is for us to try to isolate ourselves as much as possible from the world, so that we will not be contaminated by it's influences, or hindered in our desire to live out the kingdom's values. And if you look at the history of the church, this is the strategy that some Christians have chosen (the Amish people for example), in setting up a closed community which is insulated from the world around it. And while in many ways we can admire their desire to live apart from the world, I personally don't believe that this was ever Jesus’ intention, for his people to isolate themselves from the world around them.
Instead, in the SOTM, Jesus describes what our rel'ship to the world around us is to be, by using 2 very graphic metaphors. As he so often did, Jesus uses very common everyday images here to communicate what he is trying to say:
1. "You are the salt of the earth": What is Jesus trying to tell us here?
If we think about some of the purposes & functions of salt, it may help us to understand better what Jesus meant here. Obviously one reason we use salt is for flavoring. Think how bland & boring food would taste if we never used any salt on it. My wife always says I put too much salt on everything. But it's amazing how just a little salt can give that extra bite, that extra taste to the food we eat.
It seems like so many people live lives that are "salt-free". By that I don't mean just their diet.. Sure they exist from day to day, but they know in their hearts there's something missing- they lack the flavor, the fullness that Jesus wants to give their lives. Jesus said "You & I are the salt of the earth" because it should be Christians, more than anyone else, who should be showing the world what it really means to live a full, rich life. Conversely, if our lives are dull, boring and insipid, that’s not going to attract anyone to Christ.
When you read about Jesus’ life in the gospels, one of the things that strikes you is how people were so quickly drawn to him. Whether he was in a big crowd of people, or just with a few friends; whether he was walking along the seashore or attending a wedding party, people just seemed to like to be with him. Ever wonder why that was?
We could say a lot of things, but when it came down to it, I think it was because he just loved people & they knew it. They sensed that he was approachable & open, they felt like he was one of them.
He didn't try to impress people or make people feel threatened.
He wasn't flashy, or sensational or impressive.
But he was able to develop a rapport with people that made them feel very comfortable around him
What about you & I? Are people attracted to us because they sense that love of Christ in us? Maybe that's part of what it means to be "the salt of the earth"
2. Salt, of course, has another effect as well: it makes you thirsty. Maybe you're watching the hockey playoff game later today, & you're eating all those salted peanuts & pretzels, you'll start to get pretty thirsty. And so as the salt of the earth, we are also to cause people to become thirsty for God. As we identify ourselves before the world as Christians, we will accomplish one of two things: We will either push people further away from him, or we will draw them closer. They will look at the things we do, the things we say, & they may think to themselves: "If that's what it means to be a Christian, I'm not interested!" or instead they may say: "That guy or that gal seems to have something that I know I don't have: I'd like to know what it is."
Paul puts it this way in Colossians: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." What he means is, as you interact with people, ask yourself: Am I making Christ attractive to them, am I generating a thirst in them for God, or am I pushing them further away?"
3. But there is yet another way that salt functions, & this may actually be the main idea Jesus had in mind. Before the age of refrigerators, & modern packaging, salt was primarily used as a preservative, to keep meat & fish & other foods from spoiling. Salt slows the down the process of corruption in food, and Christians are meant to have a similar function in the world we live in. In the 1st chapter of Romans, Paul describes how the world, because it has rejected God, is on a downward spiral of moral decay. We don't have to look far to see the extent of that erosion in our society today. And so God strategically places his people in the midst of a world that has gone rotten, so that they might be salt in that situation- so that they might help to slow down the process of deterioration, to demonstrate that there is a better way to live. And so, for eg, where the Biblical family structure today seems to be falling apart, Christians can help to stem that tide, by seeking to build strong, healthy families. Setting a positive role model to help people to see that yes, there is still a future for the family in our country. Or where the school system seems to be losing its direction, Christian teachers, and principals, and parents can be salt in that situation, by helping make those schools a better place for children to be nurtured.
But Jesus goes on to say, however, that "if the salt loses its saltiness, then it is useless, it is no longer good for anything."
Salt becomes tasteless when it becomes too diluted or contaminated by other chemicals or impurities. When Christians are absorbed by the world around them and simply adopt the values of the prevailing culture, then they have lost their distinctive flavor, they have lost their saltiness, & they are no longer useful in attracting people to Christ.
The 2nd picture Jesus gives is different, but it is very closely related to the 1st one. "You are the light of the world" I don't think Jesus’ meaning here is too hard to figure out. When people are groping around in the dark, what they desperately need more than anything else is a light. And so Jesus has scattered his people here & there all over the world, to shine some light into the darkness
A couple of things Jesus reminds us about light here:
1st of all, Light is always stronger than darkness. "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" When you’re driving down the QEW towards Fort Erie at night, you know you’re getting close when you can see that glow of the lights of Buffalo, even though you may be still many kilometers away.
And it doesn't matter how dark the night is, if you suddenly light a candle, or switch on a flashlight, then suddenly the darkness is dispelled. Sometimes we're so overwhelmed by how dark the world is, we think our little light won't do much good. But one small light can overcome an awful lot of darkness.
2nd, Light is meant to be displayed, not hidden. v15: "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." If you hide your light under a bushel, then it is not going to do anyone any good. But that's often what we do: we are afraid to let our light shine. We don't want people to know who we are. We don't identify ourselves as Christians, because we're worried about how people will react. Certainly there's a risk involved in doing that. People will begin to look at us differently. But if our faith is genuine, and if the way we live is consistent with what we say we believe, then people will begin to see the light & they will be attracted to it.
In closing then, how we can we become better salt & light in the world we live in. Let me make a couple of suggestions:
1. Don't be afraid to let your light shine, to let your salt out of the saltshaker. Don't hide yourself under a bushel. Make sure people know you are a Christian. Without being preachy or self-righteous, try to let the people at work or at school or in your neighbourhood know you are a follower of Jesus, that you go to church, that you read the Bible. Then go out of your way to be friendly with people, to help them out: Shovel your neighbours driveway, help your friend at school out with their term paper. Jesus says "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Sure some people will criticize you for being a goody-goody, or a BIble thumper, or a hypocrite. Don't worry about it!
Remember people criticized Jesus too. But you have no idea sometimes what kind of impact a simple act of kindness & love in the right place at the right time can have on someone. It may be that small seed that starts them on a journey towards Christ.
2. At the same time, don't overdo it! Salt is good in small quantities, but if you put too much on, it will ruin the food. In the same way, if the light is too bright, it will hurt people's eyes, & they will turn away. So don't overwhelm people, or scare them away. Sometimes a little salt, a little light is more effective than piling it on. Make them thirsty to know more about what makes your tick.
3. Finally, work at getting to know Jesus better, & getting closer to him. The closer you are to him, the more brightly his light will be reflected off of you. We need to remember that our light is only reflected light. Jesus said "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12)
Jesus was the true light, who came to dispel the darkness. But here in the SotM, Jesus says "You are the light of the world." And so just as the moon only gives off light because it is reflecting the sun's light,. our light is only a reflection of Jesus’ light to the world around us.
To the extent that we have been in his presence, to the extent that we have absorbed his nature & character, that's how strongly his light will shine thru us.