THE SALT OF THE EARTH
6 September 2009
-- turn in Bibles to Matthew 5
13. "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 by men.
14. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15. 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.
16. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
-- I'm not sure how much you know about the process of becoming a pastor in the Methodist Church, but one of the things that a new candidate must do is to have a psychological profile conducted before they appoint you to a church -- I guess the Methodist Church must know that anyone that God calls to be a pastor must be out of their mind -- but, anyway, it is a requirement -- so about 10 years ago I went over to Columbus to the psychologist assigned by the Conference and took a battery of psychological tests including the Myers-Briggs Personality Test
-- when the tests were over and the psychologist was going over the results with me, I was highly surprised that he said that my results showed that I was a rebel in regards to authority -- that just did not sound like me -- I am a very compliant person -- I tend to do whatever the authority above me tells me to do -- I do what my boss says -- I dutifully fill out all the paperwork that the Methodist Church sends me -- I follow the rules -- the last word I would use to describe myself would be "rebel"
-- but, lately, I've started wondering if this test wasn't more accurate than I first believed -- I have found myself at odds with my doctor and I have made the decision that I am just not going to do what he has told me to do
-- several years ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol -- my doctor put me on medicine for both and told me to lose weight -- and I've been trying to do that but obviously not making much progress -- but, here's the thing that I'm just not going to do -- my doctor told me that I needed to cut salt out of my diet -- and, honestly, I tried -- I bought salt substitute and I tried eating my food without salt -- but I quickly decided that this was not for me
-- I kind of felt like Mark Twain -- one time Twain decided that he should quit smoking and drinking -- but it only lasted one hour -- Twain said that after one hour he came to the conclusion that life just wasn't worth living if a man couldn't have a cigar and a glass of wine from time to time -- he said he would rather die first -- and that's kind of how I feel about salt
-- have you tried to eat grits without salt? -- how about corn on the cob -- or mashed potatoes -- or eggs -- you just can't do it -- those foods are inedible without salt -- they have no taste -- it's like eating sawdust -- and I quickly decided that I was just going to rebel against my doctor on this one -- I would take my medicine -- I would try to lose weight -- but I was not going to cut salt out of my diet -- that was just not going to happen
-- and, honestly, I think Jesus understands -- He knows the value of salt -- He knows how necessary salt was in a person's life
-- you know, in Jesus' day, salt was even more valuable and necessary than it is in our own day -- we use salt primarily to season our food today -- to enhance the flavor of the food we eat -- to bring out the quality of the food -- salt just makes things taste better
-- but, in Jesus' day, salt was necessary for life -- in a time without refrigeration, salt was used to preserve food and to store it for long periods of time -- kind of like we do now to some extent with salt-cured ham and pickles -- but in Jesus' day, it was the only way to preserve food -- if you didn't have salt, you had no way to store food for winter or to keep food in your pantry during the lean times of the year
-- the people in the first century AD used salt for a variety of purposes -- in addition to preserving food and enhancing flavor -- salt was used to purify and cleanse wounds -- it was used to line the bottom of their clay ovens to keep mold and mildew and germs from growing inside -- farmers would add salt to their soil as a type of fertilizer
-- in fact, salt was so valuable that some Roman soldiers were actually paid with salt instead of money -- that's where we get our English word "salary" from -- it comes from the Latin "salarium," which literally means, "an allowance of salt given to a Roman soldier" -- it's also where we get the phrase, "not worth his salt" -- if a Roman soldier was derelict in his duties, the centurions would refuse to pay him because he was "not worth his salt"
-- people needed salt -- they couldn't live without it -- I think that's one reason why Jesus used salt as a metaphor here in verse 13 to describe Christians
-- so, let's take a few moments this morning and consider what Jesus was trying to get across to us in this passage about salt and light
II. Scripture Lesson (Matthew 5:13-16)
-- these verses come in the context of the sermon on the mount -- the synoptic gospel writers -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- tell us that early in Jesus' ministry that he went up on a mountainside in Galilee -- more likely just a tall hill -- and sat down and delivered this sermon to teach what it meant to truly follow Him as His disciple
-- it's in the first twelve verses of the sermon on the mount that we get the Beatitudes -- the short teachings from Jesus that start "Blessed are those who" or "Blessed are the poor in spirit or the meek or the pure in heart"
-- the Beatitudes are about character -- about how a follower of Christ is to think and believe and live in their hearts
-- but here in verses 13-16, Jesus shifts from character to the influence of character -- He shifts from talking about "those who" to specifically saying "you" -- before, Jesus described what the character of a Christian should look like -- now, He shows us how the character of a Christian is supposed to influence and change the world around us
-- He does so by giving us two word pictures in these verses that illustrate the same point -- salt and light -- things that were both necessary for life -- things that both were needed and that both had a purpose -- things that we just couldn't live without -- rather than looking at both salt and light, let's take a few moments and consider what Jesus was teaching us by comparing us to salt
-- look back at the first part of verse 13
13. "You are the salt of the earth.
-- now, this is important -- this is something that you can easily overlook if you read this passage too quickly -- Jesus says here that we are the salt of the earth -- we are -- we're not being made salt -- we're not in the process of becoming salt -- Jesus says if you are His disciple -- if you have received Him as Lord and Savior -- if He has forgiven you of your sins -- then you are the salt of the earth
-- this simple statement carries with it a couple of profound thoughts -- to say that we are the salt of the earth tells us who we are and what we should be doing
-- first, it tells us who we are -- we are the followers of Christ -- we are Christians -- that word, "Christian" literally means "little Christ" -- it implies that we are imitators of Christ in character and behavior and action -- it implies that we possess all of those characteristics that Jesus listed in the Beatitudes -- it implies that our lives are salted with His presence -- that is who we are -- not who we are becoming
-- this reminds me of a little game that I play with Brooke -- do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? -- do you remember how hard it was? -- how your self-esteem and your self-worth was based more on what your peers thought of you than reality? -- well, when Brooke's having a normal teenager day and she's not thinking very highly of herself, I like to turn to her and ask her this question, "Who are you?" -- and then I give the answer -- "You are a princess -- you are the daughter of the King -- you are God's beloved creation -- and that is how you should live"
-- that's the same thing that Jesus is doing for us here in this passage -- He's reminding us of who we are -- when the world gets us down -- when things and people and bosses and jobs and everything is just stomping on you and telling you that you are worthless -- Jesus says "Who are you? -- You are the salt of the earth -- you are the very imitation of Me -- you have within you My Spirit and My presence -- you are valuable beyond measure -- you are the heirs of the kingdom of God -- now live like the royalty you are"
-- which brings us to the second thought from this statement -- when Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, it tells us what we are to do
-- as I mentioned earlier, salt was extremely valuable in Jesus' day -- it was used as a preservative and to flavor food and to purify and cure disease -- and all of these are the same functions that Jesus is calling us to perform in our lives today
-- as the salt of the earth, Christians are to preserve and flavor the world around us -- the Scriptures tell us that apart from Christ, this world and the people of this world are rotting and decaying -- they have no life -- they have no hope -- they are on a path that is leading them straight to Hell and eternal separation from God
-- it is our job, as Christians, to preserve and flavor the world -- we are to be for them the very presence of Christ -- we are to be His hands and His feet that reach out and point the world around us to life and salvation and eternity through Jesus
-- we are to carry the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ to this world -- to let them know that there is hope -- that there is salvation -- that there is forgiveness of sins and restoration of the soul through the body and blood of Jesus
-- as Christians, we are to live in such a way that we have an impact on our world and flavor it with the presence of God
-- look back at the second part of verse 13
13b. 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 by men.
-- Luke carries this teaching a little farther in his gospel -- in Luke 14:34-35 he records Jesus as saying that when salt has lost its saltiness, it is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile -- those are harsh words, indeed
-- what does Jesus mean here? -- what point is He trying to get across?
-- Jesus has been talking about the impact that a Christian should have on the world around them -- they are to season and preserve and flavor this world with the gospel of Christ -- but now Jesus asks the question, "What happens if the salt loses its saltiness? -- what happens if the salt doesn't do what it is supposed to do? -- What value does it have then?
-- any housewife -- for that matter, any cook or any scientist -- will tell you that salt doesn't lose it's saltiness -- sodium chloride -- table salt -- is such a stable compound that it is very difficult for it to be broken apart and lose its character and its flavor -- in other words, salt just doesn't lose its saltiness
-- Bible scholars have suggested that the salt in Jesus' day was different -- it wasn't pure table salt -- instead it came from the Dead Sea -- it was often mixed with impurities, making it less salty -- and that there were conditions in which the salt could be leached out or made less effective -- possibly through exposure to water or the air -- excessive sunlight -- or even other chemicals
-- and the scholars say that when once the salt content had dissolved or drained away, the residual mineral would be salt that had lost its savor -- and it was good for nothing other than being thrown away and trampled by men
-- but that's really missing the point that Jesus was trying to make here -- the issue isn't whether salt can lose its saltiness or not -- the issue is whether the salt is fulfilling the purpose for which it was made -- is the salt being made available to this world to preserve it and season it and purify it?
-- not too long ago, I knocked our saltshaker off the cabinet and broke it -- Kim went out and bought a new saltshaker -- this was one was made out of aluminum so I wouldn't break it
-- shortly after she bought it I was cooking supper and the dish needed more salt -- so, I grabbed up the saltshaker and shook it over the dish and tasted it again -- still needed more salt -- so, I grabbed the shaker again, shook it over the dish, and tasted it -- no difference -- nothing had changed -- I tried one more time -- and then I noticed something
-- this saltshaker has a plastic cap that covers the holes on the top -- it didn't matter how hard I shook it -- until this cap was removed, no salt was coming out -- it was unavailable -- it was not fulfilling its purpose
-- when we're trying to understand this verse, let's not get caught up on semantics or argue about whether salt can really lose its saltiness or not
-- the point that Jesus is trying to make here -- the question that He's asking us this morning is, "Are My people actively involved in the affairs of this world to the point where they are having an influence on the people around them?" -- or, to make it more personal, "Are we living out our character in such a way that we are preserving and seasoning and purifying those we come into contact with?
-- are we available to the world around us or have we lost our saltiness?
-- remember what this verse is all about -- Jesus isn't challenging us to become salt -- He's not saying that if we follow Him that eventually we will become salty in our nature -- no, Jesus says that we are salt and that we are either fulfilling or failing to live out the responsibility that goes along with it
-- either you are living a salty life by preserving and seasoning and purifying everything and everyone that you come into contact with or you are not -- there is no middle ground -- and Jesus offers harsh words for those who have lost their saltiness
-- what good are those who have lost their saltiness -- who have made themselves unavailable to the world -- Jesus says they are not good for anything
-- in one of his messages, John Stott quoted Robert Bellah, a sociologist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley -- Bellah's focus of research is on the influence of religion on a community -- in other words, can a community of faith have an effect on those around them?
-- In an interview in Psychology Today Bellah said, "We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world -- the quality of a culture may be changed when [just] 2 percent of its people have a new vision."
-- we have more than 2 percent of the population in our community represented here this morning -- so, why aren't we having more effect? -- why aren't we having more influence?
-- any cook will tell you that it just takes a little bit of salt to change the entire flavor
of a dish of food -- if we are salt, as Jesus says we are, then why aren't we having more of an impact on the world around us?
-- have we lost our saltiness? -- are we keeping our salt in the shaker away from the world that we are called to minister to?
-- we need to start thinking of this sanctuary as a salt shaker -- we can come in here once a week -- we can fellowship with all the other salt -- we can worship together and have a good time and think that our job is accomplished -- but really, we're just sitting in a shaker with the cap on
-- God wants us to be available to this world -- He brought us together in this place as His salt so He could shake us out on the world around us -- He wants us to be an influence for Jesus -- He wants us to preserve and season and purify this community for Him
-- the question that I want to leave you with this morning is this -- have you lost your saltiness? -- is your Christianity only lived out inside this salt shaker of a sanctuary?
-- salt sitting in a shaker has lost its saltiness -- it can't fulfill its purpose -- it will never exert its preservative and curing effect until it is shaken into the world around it
-- Jesus called us salt -- He wants us to permeate and penetrate every level of society and to season this world -- but you can't do that sitting in a shaker and just coming to church every Sunday and doing nothing more
-- as I close in prayer, think about these questions -- are you sitting or are you shaking? -- have you lost your saltiness or are you living as the salt of the earth?
-- let us pray