January 8, 2017 – “Do You Need a Little Salt?”

January 8, 2017
Sermon: “Do You Need a Little Salt?” —Rev. Steve Anderson
Matthew 5:13-20

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like everything that you lived for was gone; perhaps as you stood at the grave of a spouse or a child?  I remember a friend who lost their family’s farm in the 1990’s.  The time when Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus was written was a period of great loss for the for Hebrews.  The temple had been the center of their religion and their culture.  This is where they met and felt close to God.  But the temple had been destroyed.  All they had left was the law that Moses brought down from Mt. Sanai.

By this point, the 10 commandments had grown into 613 rules as people tried to understand and interpret the plan God had for every situation in our lives.  The Pharisees were a sect that tried to live out all 613 rules in everyday life.  The Sadducees enforced violations to the rules.  Of course one of the 10 commandments had to do with not working on the Sabbath.  Of course, the first question is always, but what it work?  Is playing golf work?  Well, if you’ve ever seen me play, you’d think it was.  What about changing a baby?  My experience is that there are times that a baby needs to be changed regardless of where and when it is.  You could not carry a burden on the Sabbath.

Of course, a burden to some people is a light load for others.  Finally it was determined that a dried fig was the limit.  In later years, when women wore large broaches, there was a great deal of debate about broaches that weighed more than a fig.  And of course the debate about people transporting their false teeth which were heavier than a fig as they walked across the room.  Unfortunately, too many religious folks have missed the point of making time for God in our schedule.  Even healing was forbidden on the Sabbath.  You could do enough to prevent someone from getting worse and dying, but you could not do anything to make them better.

If we had an English version of these laws and their explanations, it would be over 800 pages in length.  It was not that they were bad people.  They had just lost the core of what God was trying to teach his people; rules that would help us live better with others.  Jesus said that he was not trying to abolish the laws; in fact, he said that he didn’t want to change a single letter.  Now, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reinterpret things so they are more accurate to Jesus’s time and more understandable in our day.  I love to see things that are not the way they should be restored to their original condition, especially houses and cars.  Jesus did not come to repeat or continue the original laws.  Instead, he came to fulfill them—to make sense of them, to get to the bottom line, to understand the spirit of them.

In this fulfilling process, Jesus lifts the burdens the laws sometimes placed on people.  The 10 commandments, you will remember, dealt with having respect for God and others.  So much has changed in 2,000 years.  It’s tough sometimes to stay true to the principles God gave us as we get along with others and “flavor” the world by our words and deeds.  Part of the problem is that many followers of Jesus have lost their saltiness.  Without a flavor that changes things around us, what good are we?

If we are supposed to change our world like salt changes food and light changes darkness, what good are we if we don’t do that?  If we aren’t bringing hope, joy and peace into our community, what are we doing?  We forget that for hundreds of years, salt was used to preserve meat, to keep it from spoiling.  As God’s people, we act like a cleansing antiseptic which by our presence and conduct defeats the corruption of our world and makes it easier for others to follow God’s desires and design for their lives.

Salt does no good in the shaker.  Without contact there is no impact.  Jesus also compares his followers to light.  What would the world be like without light?  I’m sure there would be more accidents and more looters.  It would be impossible to read or do our jobs.  Many of us like to shine our light around the church, but what happens when we step outside the door?  Some quickly reach for the off switch.

Jesus doesn’t say that we should show our light just in this building.  We show our light by how we treat waitresses and sales clerks, employees, neighbors and family.  It is played out as we drive our cars, in the language we use, the books we read, the websites we visit and the games we play, even on the golf course.  The prime function of light is not to be seen, but to help other things to be seen.  Light is a guide.  It makes it easier for people to find their way.  Most people see Christians as people who are against certain kinds of people, certain kinds of activities, and certainly most anything that is new or different.  Instead of spending our time fighting against things, how can we help people see that God’s way of living is really a better way to live?

Light gives warning and tells people to stop when there is danger.  Many of us have friends that are involved in risky behavior.  How do we walk alongside of them and help them see the danger they are in and the consequences that they will have to face if they are not going to alter their course?  I think that it is important that we don’t do this in an angry or hurtful way.

We all know people who forget that our job is to shine light before people so they can follow the right path and not stumble and fall.  It does no good to shine light on people to show their flaws or in their face to blind them.  Another thing to remember is the source of our light.  We do not produce our own light, but allow God’s spirit to shine through us.

Faith has to be interpreted in order to determine what’s at the very core.  Notice that Jesus didn’t say that we should work toward becoming salt and light.  He said that we already are.  Through our priorities and choices we are communicating something to others.  We are pointing to something, but what is it?  Are we living in genuine ways that match and fulfill our purpose?    

In my Christmas letter, I quoted the prophet Micah when he said that God wants us to be merciful, show people justice and walk humbly with God.  In Luke 10:27 Jesus says it a little differently when he says that the most important thing that we can do is love God with all that we have and love others as much as we love ourselves.  In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells us that the next step is to tell everyone what you have experienced.  The worst thing that can happen to a congregation is when it forgets that it’s mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Many people are strong enough to do what they are called to do and be, but if we set an example, it will be easier for other people to follow our example.  

How many remember how we shared our faith back in the 70’s and 80’s?  Remember all the religious bumper stickers like — I found it, one way, fish?  Some would have a sticker on their car bumper, but then we prayed that no one would ask us about it.  Remember Amy Grant who was a Christian recording star in the early 80’s when she won a Dove Award?  In 1986 her popularity plummeted when she was accused of losing her faith because she recorded a “crossover” song?  Her response was, “Some people think that I should stand in the light and give my witness, but I believe that God has called me to stand in the darkness and give off my light.  I know that there is danger in the dark, but God’s word has told me that I’m alright as long as I don’t lose sight of the light.” I agree with Amy that we must not withdraw from the world but that we should always keep ourselves from reaching down to its standards.

We are not salt and light by pretending to be something that we are not.  Be what you are.  This ability to alter things around us comes from what God has done in us,not what we have done ourselves.  It happens when we center on God, not ourselves, and is based on reverence for God, not approval of people.  It happens as we move beyond obedience to laws to the point that we are living the principles upon which the laws are based.  It happens when God’s spirit is deep within us and we tell everyone how God has changed us and made us more like God’s design for us and how this can happen in their lives as well.