We are continuing today with our look at what it means to live UpsideDown in the new year. We are studying Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to help us set some goals for the new year. As I mentioned last week, I am giving you until the end of the month to set your resolutions for 2016, so no rush in figuring out what your life will stand for in the coming year. Take your time, and consider alongside one another what it may take to make a real difference this year.
When you think about your life, how you’ve lived in the past, and how you will live in the future, it’s important to realize that this is our go. This life – the one you are living now, is actually your life. This is not some dress rehearsal for what may come in the future. This is the real thing.
There was a pop song written in 2003 title, “Was that my life.” In it, the artist, Jo Dee Messina, sings, “You only get one trip around the Sun.” Her point is taken, thought not entirely true, unless you happen to have only one year of life. But the point is made well, this life doesn’t repeat. This is our one chance to live. It is in this time period of existence that we get our turn.
You wouldn’t be alone if you wished your turn had come at a different period of time. We live in a world that is really messed up. Almost any day you can turn on the news to find stories of death and destruction, civil war and international war. Everyday there is a new story that reminds us just how broken a world we live in.
Jen and I have a couple friends who have been in Lesvos, Greece since Christmas Eve. They’ve been there helping provide for the needs of the refugees who make their way across the Aegean Sea fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and other countries. Refugees are fleeing their homelands because their homelands have become unsafe. People are leaving due to the violence of war, and due to the fear of persecution. These people are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others. They speak a number of varying languages, including a number who speak English.
Craig, our friend, explains that as the weather is getting colder, the sea is becoming more and more dangerous to cross. As the sea becomes unsafe, the wealthier refugees who have either already travelled or who have the means to stay behind, refuse to travel across the unsafe waters. He admits that because of the more dangerous seas, the price of human smuggling across the sea has dramatically fallen. He says, and I quote, “Now the poor can afford to pay the still exorbitant prices to cross a sea with high waves and cold water to an island with soon to be sub freezing temperatures to wait in camps without enough tents or dry clothing, that don’t have covered areas outside the sleeping tents, with lines for registration that can take days to weeks to never depending on your nationality or documents.”
All is not right in our world. Not when people, those who are created by God, experience such daily suffering.
But be you nine years or ninety years, the reality is – this is our go, and our lives go by quickly.
This is our chance – our one chance to live in a way that makes a difference. Not just in our lives, but in the world. And that’s why we’re focusing and thinking about living differently in 2016. Life is too short to simply look at how we can better ourselves – exercising, eating better, saving money – all good things and good talk about caring for ourselves and others. But our focus is how to use the gift of another year – the opportunity for each new day – to live as people who follow the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
We talked last week about how Jesus was and is different, that no matter how hard we want to tame him, make him look like us and act like us, Jesus is Jesus. Jesus is Jesus and he was radically different than the culture he encountered 2000 years ago. Most likely he would shake things up if he came walking in here today. During his years of ministry, he had no place that he called home. In other words, he was a homeless man with traveling clothes, a messy beard, and a strange cast of characters who had joined him in his journey as he moved from village to village.
Following Jesus might not be safe if that means what safe usually means, which is: I get to stay the way I am right now. How would our lives look different if we sought to follow not the Jesus of our culture, but the one we read about in the Scriptures? I haven’t got all that figured out yet, but I’m pretty confident it would look different.
Our text is Matthew 5. Last week we looked at the Beatitudes, the first section of the Sermon on the Mount. Today, we turn to these verses, 13-20. First, Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Last week, we named that the Beatitudes were written in the indicative tense – that is, they define for us how things will be when God’s kingdom is experienced in full. As we continue on in this Sermon given by Jesus, we find that the Sermon (as offered in Matthew’s gospel) transitions from the indicative tense – a guarantee of how things will be – to the imperative tense – defining for us what things that must happen. How things will be – to – what things must happen. They move from promises of God in Christ, to requirements of God articulated by Christ.
These verses calling us the salt of the earth and the light of the world are the transitional verses between the indicative and the imperative. They actually are somewhat of a combination. They begin with the indicative and end naming an imperative. Stay with me …
Christ says, “You are the salt.” This opening clause is an indicative statement. There is nothing you can do to become anything other than salt. Christ is telling you, this is what you are.
Now, Christ does say, you can become unsalty – salt can lose its taste. And if that is the case, the salt is good for nothing. If salt loses its saltiness, it is thrown out and trampled under foot. So, while you can not change your definition as salt – that is a guarantee from Christ – you can lose your saltiness. This then is the imperative – you must retain your saltiness. If you lose your saltiness, then you are no good for anything the scripture says.
So, in 2016, your resolution could be to retain your saltiness. What does that mean?
First, it would do us well to understand the function of salt. Salt does not exist for its own pleasure. Christ could have said, “You are the red pepper of the earth,” or even, “you are the Old Bay of the earth.” But salt has a different function. Given the context of when Christ was speaking, it would do us well to understand how salt was being used in the the biblical era.
Salt was used as a season, just as it still is today, to provide zest to bland foods. Perhaps we should attempt to be not so dull in the coming year. But salt was also used as a preservative. Salt helps foods have a longer shelf life. Perhaps our calling is to preserve life. Salt was also used as a disinfectant. Salt – just as you might pour salt water on a dirty wound – can help cleanse impurities. Perhaps our calling as the salt is to help purify our world of its many infectious and deadly imperfections. And I’m not just speaking of the bacterial and viral kind, but also the people who we come across who are leeches, taking life instead of preserving life.
Christ, in calling you salt, names that you are the salt of the earth. You are not called the salt of your house, of your community, or even of your nation. You are the salt of the earth. I am reminded of John Wesley, our founder in the Methodist Church, who claimed, “The world is my parish.” Our calling is not just to provide zest for our local community, our calling is not just to offer life to our friends, our calling is to provide God’s love in all the world.
Christ also says you are the light of the world. Not just a light for your closest of neighbors – but you are a light for the world. Again, the indicative is used here – we have no choice but to be light if we are followers of Christ. For as followers, we are reflecting the light – we are providing a window through which the light is made known.
Scripture offers us these promises of where the light comes. Scripture says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path.” God’s Word – the Biblical story – the manifestation of the word of God in our lives provides the light. The scriptures also say, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” The creator is the one who made light, and instills in each of us the light we are to make known in the world. And Christ says, “I am the light of the world.” The light we are making known is Christ. John 1 reads, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” God, Christ, the Word – this is light.
And naming the indicative, “you are light,” Christ goes on to name the imperative, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” What’s the point, Christ asks, of being light if you will be hidden under bushel basket. You are light – and you have been created and gifted to share the light.
In our English translations, these indicative and imperative statements lose some of their primary emphasis. In English, they read, “you are salt … you are light.” Yet, if you look closely at the Greek text, you find that the pronoun used for “You” is not a singular pronoun. This text is not written specifically about any one person, or even you individually. The pronoun is written in the plural form. It is talking about ya’ll. Back in Atlanta, my hometown, that word is second nature – ya’ll. For those of ya’ll who haven’t been around the southern half of the nation much, let me clarify.
Christ is speaking to us as a corporate body. The call to be the salt of the earth and the call to be the light of the world is not asking for any one us to bear the brunt or the totality of the work. The call is for us as the church – the gathered community of Christ – to work in tandem with one another. Christ was speaking – he was preaching – in the Sermon on the Mount to a large gathering of individuals who had come to hear him speak. The disciples were among them, but they were not alone. And Christ calls on them all – and thus calls on ya’ll – to work with one another to be the zest of the earth – to be the preservers of life all around the world – to be the ones who reflect the Word, the Creator, the Savior who is the light.
So, let’s take a quick step back. Christ says do not become unsalty salt. That’s the imperative. And Christ says, do not hide the light. That is the imperative. So how do we, as a community called to be salt and light, ensure we are not becoming unsalty salt or a dim light? What are the obstacles that get in our way of doing that which Christ is calling us to do? We can’t help but to be salt and to be light – those are the indicatives – that is how it is. But how do we ensure we follow through with the imperatives?
I offer these three suggestions to be considered among your list of 2016 resolutions to ensure we remain salty salt and a brightly shining light.
A) Find time to rest.
Fatigue is a common problem. The world expects you to move at a much faster pace today than I think it ever has before. I don’t know that we were created to process so much information so quickly, but with the advancements of technology and communication, we are no longer given permission to operate at a turtle’s pace, we are expected to be the hare – and we are not given the luxury of break time.
And since much of my life is spent dealing with children, I often relate fatigue in their terms. How do you know if a child is tired? Because they are imploding with disobedience and emotion. For how many of us can that also be said?
I think so often we desire to say the right thing to our spouses, to notice the people in the office who are hurting, and to be the salt and light needed for those around us, but we are simply too tired.
So what do tired people need? Rest! Matthew 11:28 (NIV) says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
If we are tired, the upside down is rest. Jesus says, “Let me give you rest.” How do we remain salty salt? How do we avoid being a dim light? Rest in Jesus.
B) Another reason we can become unsalty salt or a dim light is that we’re hurting.
Our pain, old and new, causes us to react rather to rethink or respond. Our interactions with others and our outlook on life become jaded by our hurt and our emotional pain.
Henri Nouwen referred to Jesus as the Wounded Healer, meaning Jesus had wounds and yet still healed others because of those wounds.[i] In allowing ourselves to be healed by Christ, we become people who—even though we are wounded, in fact because we are wounded—we can be salty salt and a bright shining light. Our living as a wounded healer is a true reflection of the love of God given in Jesus Christ.
How do we become salty salt, how do we maintain a bright light? We become wounded healers.
C) A final reason we can become unsalty salt or a dim light is that we are afraid.
Fear keeps us from being salt and light. Fear keeps us from being change agents and light in darkness. And there is much to be afraid of when making a commitment to follow Christ.
Look at some of the things Jesus taught: Sell your possessions and give them to the poor; Your family will disown you; You will have to carry your cross.
But Jesus says so many times, Do not be afraid…do not be afraid…do not be afraid. In one of the Scriptures where Jesus talks about giving what we have to the poor, he says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NIV). Don’t worry. That’s what he said. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.
How do we remain salty salt? How do we live as bright lights for the world? Trust God, knowing God has given you the Kingdom!
You can spend your life thinking about how to change yourself: eat right, exercise, and save money. You can change yourself in positive ways, and I hope you do, but more important is what Jesus is saying: I will change you – I will make you salt, I will make you a light. You can change the world.
What a resolution to consider: go change the world. Amen.