You Are….So Be it!
My family has now officially experienced two Eastern Tennessee snow storms and we’ve already found things to be exactly how many of you warned us they would be. All the schools are closed for an inch of snow. The grocery stores were packed and the shelves emptied before a light dusting. And some people just simply don’t know how to drive in it. But what really stands out to me are all the piles, not of snow, but of salt.
Without fail, after each of these snowfalls, I drive by about 5-10 fairly large piles of salt on the way to church, randomly placed in the middle of each road and highway, as if waiting to be spread by someone who comes along with a shovel. But as the days go on, they sit there, wasting away, trampled by cars and trucks. Pounds and pounds of useless salt that will eventually work its way into the sides of the road and disappear. Seems a bit wasteful huh?
But then again, not too many people are going to get overly upset about a bit of wasted salt, right? I don’t see people outside picketing the city hall with signs saying “save our salt.” I wouldn’t expect to attend the speech of a famous politician and listen to him go on and on about how badly the world needs more salt. Wasted salt seems unimportant.
So why does Jesus care so much about it in today’s Gospel? He stands on the mount of Olives, and gives us a speech on not wasting our salt, not throwing it out into the roads to be uselessly trampled. But to use it. Because what the world needs today, isn’t more protestors, isn’t more opinions, isn’t more border walls…..what it needs is more salt, Jesus says. Obviously he’s talking about more than bags of ice melt here.
Listen to his first words again, “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 salt. So what does that mean?
We use salt to make our meat taste good, our eggs taste better, and make our veggies tolerable, but not typically to describe ourselves.
Do you know the purpose for salt in Jesus’ day? It was a preservative. They didn’t have maytags or whirlpools to keep their meat cold. So they’d store it in salt. It wouldn’t go bad so long as the salt didn’t lose its saltiness. Salt was the preservative that kept that meat from rotting. And this is Jesus illustration here: You, Christians, are the salt in this world, you are the preservative that keeps this world from rotting. And you are the light, Jesus says, meaning that your words and actions Christians, they are so important, because through them others can see light of Christ.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Well pastor, what kind of difference can I possibly make? I’m only one Christian and I don’t work in a church all week like you do.” Did you know that’s what people in Martin Luther’s day were told too. You see back then the Catholic church told people that only the monks, the nuns, the priests, could really serve God, but everybody else in these “ordinary” callings, were meaningless.
Luther rightly argued that even someone in a lowly position of servant had just as much ability to be salt and light in the world as does a pastor. And Luther was right. Christians, your calling is never ordinary. You’re called to be something more: In your own homes, you’re called to be extraordinarily loving husbands and wives who exemplify Christ’s love, extraordinarily patient mothers and father treating your children with the same patience your God showed you, remarkable neighbors and employees- whose words and actions will be like salt to others, like light in the darkness. You are called to be what God has made you. And your calling is extremely important.
If you want proof of that…look around you! Do you know how different our world today would look if Christians never took these words seriously? Do you know how many hospitals in the United States were originally founded by Christians? Nearly all of them, but of course many of their names have been changed so nobody even realizes that now. Of America’s first 108 universities, Christians founded 106 of them. Who do you think established Harvard? A Christian. In fact, rule #1 in the original Harvard handbook says, “Let every student be plainly instructed … that the main goal of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life.”
Whose ideas were the great charities of our country? Where did the moral authority come from to end slavery? And go back even farther. Go back to Martin Luther who proudly held the purity of Scripture at the forefront of his mind proclaiming to popes and emperors “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise, God help me.” Go back to the Apostle Paul who sat in prison rejoicing at his sufferings for this Gospel. Go back to Stephen who was murdered by Paul himself, crying out his faith, being salty as the Lord made him in his dying moments. Yesterday’s Christians did all that. God chose them to be his light to the world, and that’s what they were. So what about today’s Christians? Isn’t there still a need for salt?
Do you know what percentage of children today are born to unmarried parents? 40%. Do you know what percentage of children were born to unmarried parents in 1940? 4%. It’s not because the world is worse. It’s because there is an answer to the question Jesus asked: “What happens when the salt loses its saltiness?” We’re seeing it in our country, but more than anywhere else, it’s in our own homes, with our own children, and with our own spouse.
I’ve shared this stat with you before, but I’ll do it again: One out of every two marriages end in divorce. Do you know how many marriages end up in divorce for families that worship together every weekend? One out of every 50. Do you know how many marriages end up in divorce for families that worship together every weekend and also have regular family devotions at home? One out of every 1105. Being salt starts at home, starts with your most important calling.
Now our natural inclination to hearing that is to respond, “Boy, I have to do more. I have to put in more work. Every weekend I should be in church. I should at least pray with my kids at night before they go to bed.”
But that’s the problem. You see, so many Christians view going to church and studying the Bible at home with their families as “extra work.” But Jesus says those things are just a part of who you are. “You are the salt of the earth.” But is that always how we act? In a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm, you see neighbors helping each other out, strangers pushing each others cars out of a snow packed intersection. But Jesus didn’t tell us to be the “only-in-case-of-emergency salt,” he also didn’t tell us to be the “only-when-people-are-looking light.”
And that’s the hard thing about being the salt and light. Jesus said these words immediately after he listed off the Beautitudes, which means he was saying that you have to be salt and light even when you know that nobody is going to care; to consider yourself blessed even when you are poor, meek, lowly, persecuted and insulted. Jesus expects us to be salt on the most trampled streets and to be light in the deepest darkness. He expects men to lovingly and sacrificially lead families that never respect them, and women to respect and submit to their husbands who never do anything romantic for them. He expects you to keep working faithfully when nobody appreciates you, and to bend over backwards to love kids who never say “thank you,” to “be joyful always” even when people insult you, and even to pour salt in the wounds of someone living in a sin even though you’re afraid they’re going to hate you, to keep getting up and going to work every day for people who are never going to benefit you.
You see, living as salt means never asking “What’s in it for me?,” never wishing that people treated me differently, and never saying that “I’ll start feeling better about myself and doing more good when more people start caring about me.” It’s being determined to live as a blood bought child of God – not just some of the time – but all the time, and get none of the glory. “In the same way,” Jesus said in verse 16, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise …” not you, but “your Father in heaven.” “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Jesus admitted in Matthew 20, “but to serve,” even on a day when his salty life of service nailed him to a tree.
Basically, you have to ask yourself today: Do I think I deserve better treatment than Christ? Because every moment, every decision, every action, shows people only one of two things – love for yourself or love for him who died for you. In verse 19 Jesus said, “Anyone who breaks one of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called the greatest.” Did you catch that? Whenever you break a command, you’re also teaching someone else to do the same. Whenever you keep a command, you’re also teaching others to do the same. You see how we can be salt, or lose our saltiness. You see how we can be light to others, or hide our light.
As the apostle Peter emphasizes, “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits.”
I’ve got a coffee mug at home that says, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It basically means, “Let your actions show others what your Savior is like.” The story is told of a homeless man who walked into church. He didn’t look like he belonged – wild hair, t-shirt and jeans with holes in it and no shoes. On the day he went, the church was packed and he couldn’t find a seat. As he got closer to the front, realizing there was nowhere to sit, he just squatted down right on the carpet. You could cut the tension with a knife. Finally, an older member in his 80s, wearing a three-piece suit – a very godly man and very dignified – began walking with his cane down the aisle toward him. Everyone was thinking to themselves that you couldn’t blame him for what he’s going to do. As he walked towards the man, the church was totally silent, except for the clicking of the cane. It was like the whole room was holding its breath. Finally, the man reached him. He drops his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to him and worships with him so he won’t be alone. The old man was Jesus for that person. I’m not sure the people remembered the Pastor’s sermon that day. But they would never forget the elderly man’s sermon.
When you look at the world, what do you see? Do you see the darkness of sin and unbelief? Could you imagine that God loved that world so much that he gave his Son for it – for you? And now he loves that world so much, that he gives it, YOU, to be its light, to be its salt. That is who you are. And God expects nothing of you except to be who you are, who he has made you, his child, in Christ.
You are….So Be it!
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