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Salt & Light

January 19, 2020

Matthew 5:13-16

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I want to start with a question, and that is, “How do you grow a church? How do you get more people to come? How do we reach the people in our community who aren’t here yet? Those are big questions, I know, but friends, stay with me here, because how we answer and approach these kinds of questions will make all the difference.

So, how do we as a church reach people in our community who aren’t here yet? How do we get more people to come?

Truth is, there are probably a bunch of ways we can answer these questions, but given our limited time today, I want to share with you the two dominant ways or models that churches have answered this question throughout the years.

The first is what is known as the attractional model. And the motto of the attractional church is essentially, “Build it and they will come.” Essentially the strategy is, “We will win people over, or we will attract them through our excellence.” So the goal then is to have the most beautiful music, the best preaching, the friendliest people, the safest and most fun children’s programs, and maybe even the most delicious pastries. The idea is, we just need to offer the best of its kind and when we do, word will get out and the people will come. And so, we invite people to church, saying things like, ‘come hear our beautiful choir, or come listen to our new, or really not so new, pastor, or your kids will love being a part of our kids choir.’ And so long as this doesn’t create an unhealthy consumer mentality among our people, the attractional approach is absolutely fine. In fact, it is in many ways very, very good. Excellence is a good and worthy thing to pursue and we as a church should strive for excellence in all we do. And even more, churches throughout the country have flourished using this model for many years now, helping generations of people come to a living and vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.

But yet, but yet, over the past few decades, as overall church attendance declines nationwide, churches have begun to realize that there’s a flaw in this way of thinking, or rather, there’s a severe limitation in the attractional church model. And that’s because, there is a sizable portion of the population who will never come no matter how good the quality is. That is, there is a portion of our community who never walk through our doors no matter how attractive we might be. And that’s because in their mind, they feel that they don’t need what we’re offering period, full stop. Whether we want to call it church, faith, Christianity, Jesus or religion, they’re thinking, “What difference does it make if what you’re offering is the best of its kind, truth is, I don’t need what your offering period, full stop.”

Now friends, you may be disappointed or disagree with what I’ve just said. But yet, I know that you know people who feel this way. These are our neighbors, these are our co-workers, our patients, our clients, our customers, these are the people we sit next to at restaurants and coffee shops, the parents that we stand next to at our kids sports games, and dare I say, you might even be related to or married to people who feel this way. And the sobering truth is, recent statistics would tell us that this group of people is and will only grow in size in the years to come, in part because it’s especially true of younger generations. And so churches are realizing that they need to think differently about how they do church.

You see, for so many years now, churches have operated out of what my former seminary professor Jim Singleton calls the “Little Bo Peep” approach to evangelism or church growth. Friends, do you remember the words to the nursery rhyme, Little Bo Peep? Here’s how it goes:

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,

And can't tell where to find them;

Leave them alone, and they'll come home,

Bringing their tails behind them.

For many years, this has been our hope and prayer. We just need to offer our best and if we just leave them alone, they’ll come home, bringing their tails behind them. But yet, truth is, so many of them aren’t coming home.

And so churches around the country are having a “Come to Jesus” moment as they look around their sanctuaries and wonder, “Where did all the people go?” and as they realize that they’re not reaching the people that they need to reach. After all, as Christians, we’ve got good news to share that the world needs to hear and how are they going to hear the good news about Jesus if they’re not coming to us?

And so churches have and are beginning to shift away from predominantly an attractional model and moving towards more of a missional one, as churches are realizing, “We can’t wait for the people to come to us.” Instead, we must go to them. And so churches are inviting their people to see themselves as modern day missionaries and equipping their people to live out their faith in their everyday life wherever it is that they live, work, play or learn.

And by a missional, “go to them” approach, I’m talking about a holistic, all-encompassing approach. I’m talking about seeing your work, your vocation, the place where you spend your 9-5 as a place to live out your faith. I’m talking about seeing your neighborhood as your mission field and your neighbors as people to love and serve, I’m talking about opening up your homes as places to provide hospitality and opening up your lives to people who don’t know Jesus, where they get to see how we raise our children and how we relate to our spouses, people who might never step foot in this church. I’m talking about Christians coming together to serve their schools and bless their hospitals, resurrect old businesses and restore public spaces. I’m talking about living beautiful, radically different, countercultural kinds of lives.

Friends, do you see the difference? To go back to the attractional language, rather than initially attracting them through our Sunday morning worship, instead what they’re attracted to are the kinds of lives we live Monday – Saturday. That rather than initially attracting them through what we offer and provide within the walls of this church, instead what they’re attracted to is who we are outside of them.

Now to be clear, this doesn’t mean that we stop worshipping on Sunday morning, no in fact we need to worship on Sundays all the more so that we can be empowered and equipped to be his called and sent people the rest of the week. Instead, it’s simply a matter of thinking differently when it comes to reaching the people right around us, people who otherwise would never join us on a Sunday morning.

And to be completely honest with you, the missional model is and will be more difficult. It will take more courage, more intentionality, and more creativity.

And while this may sound a little daunting and overwhelming, truth is, what I’m sharing with you is really nothing new. In fact, this missional model, the missional church, has been in our DNA from the very beginning. It’s what Jesus has called his church to be from his very first days, when long ago he looked at his closest friends and followers and said to them,

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

This is exactly the kind of good news and inspiration we need for this exact cultural moment, at a moment in history when Christians like never before are going to have to live into this missional mindset, being salt and light wherever we go.

So this morning, we continue on in our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. The last two weeks we’ve looked at the Beatitudes, eight values or character traits of a follower of Jesus, a citizen of his kingdom. Today we continue on, and rather than looking at what kind of character we should have, now we look at what kind of influence should we have.

Who are we called to be, how are we called to live? What should our lives look like to the world around us? What does it look like to be the missional church in this cultural moment, here in Dillon, Montana? That’s what this passage is all about.

And in this passage, Jesus gives us two phrases, two metaphors to describe the kind of influence we’re to have in the world around us.

We’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Let’s go through each one, discussing what each one means and what it looks like to be these kinds of people in every day life.

Salt of the Earth

Jesus begins by saying, “you are the salt of the earth.”

Of course, the key to understanding the significance and meaning behind these two metaphors is to identify what salt and light are good for. What’s their purpose, what are they used for, what do they offer?

As for salt, salt is good for a number of different things. The most obvious use today is as a seasoning to give our food more flavor. This seems to be how Eugene Peterson understands Jesus’s use of the word salt when he translates the verse this way, ‘You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.’ So some, like Peterson, say that when Jesus says we are ‘the salt of the earth,’ it means we as Christians are called to bring flavor, if you will, to our world. That is, to take, what is already good and beautiful in our world and make it better.

Another use of salt is as a healing agent. this was especially true in ancient times and in some cases, still true today, say if you’re at the dentist and they make you gargle salt after a procedure. And so, the idea is that Christians, like salt, are called to bring healing to those who are hurting and are in pain around us.

Both of these paint a helpful and important picture of what it means to be ‘the salt of the earth’, but yet, there is one more use of salt that we must mention, a way of using salt that we almost no longer use it for, and that is, as a preservative.

In a world and time long before the invention of refrigerators, salt was primarily used to preserve food and give it a longer shelf life. And so in the same way that in ancient times peoplewould rub salt into meat to keep it from going bad, we as Christians, as the church are called to preserve the word and keep it from going bad.

Now in a way, I suppose this sounds rather depressing, that we as Christians, like salt with a piece of meat, are called to slow down our world’s seemingly inevitable decaying process. But yet in another way, it’s kind of beautiful, that we as Christians are called to immerse ourselves in a world gone bad and help preserve it into what it was always intended to be.

I recently read a story about how in the 70’s and '80s, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was in many ways a decaying city. Divorce was rampant. Half of all births were to unwed mothers. Single women were the sole providers in 30 percent of homes, with many living in poverty.

A man by the name of Brad Rymer, a local business man at the time, began to learn that so much of what was wrong in his city was rooted in broken marriages and families. And so in 1997, he along with other community leaders founded an organization called First Things First, whose goal was to decrease divorce, help marriages, and reduce teen pregnancies. And so they provided numerous seminars and classes on strengthening the family. Some of the seminar titles were: "How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk," and "Boot Camp for New Dads." And the results have been incredible. By 2006—less than 10 years since the program began—the divorce rate has gone down by 25 percent. Cases of children having children have gone down by 26 percent. Fathers spend more time with their children and are more aware of the crucial role they play. With God's help, First Things First has transformed Chattanooga and restored numerous families, all because Christians were living into their calling as the salt of the earth, stepping into a city gone bad and helping preserve it into the city that it was always intended to be.

Jesus goes on to say,

If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Or as Peterson says, “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” The idea is, if people are going to experience God, if people are going to come to faith in Christ, then we have to maintain what makes us distinct, we have to keep our saltiness, we have to maintain our identity and our calling to bring flavor and healing, to preserve the world for its good.

Given that tomorrow is a day where we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I would be remiss not to mention a man who was one of history’s very best examples of what it means to be salt and light in our world today. Dr. King once said in one of his sermons, "The Christian is called upon not to be like a thermometer conforming to the temperature of his society, but he must be like a thermostat serving to transform the temperature of his society.’

Yes, yes and yes. That’s exactly what Jesus is getting at when he says that we are “the salt of the earth.” We as Christians are called to get out there and immerse ourselves in a world gone bad, being change agents to those around us, preserving it, restoring it, into what it was always intended to be. and like salt is to food, we as Christians are often at our best when we’re spread out, rather that clumped together.

First Pres, you are “the salt of the earth.”

But of course, that’s not the only calling or metaphor Jesus gives us, he also says,

‘You are the light of the world’

And this too paints a vivid picture, because like salt, light is good for a number of things; as a heat source, or it can be used to bring beauty, whether through a sunrise or sunset, but above all, the primary use of light is that helps us see, it helps us see our surroundings.

A few weeks ago, Callie and I hit the road to catch a flight of Bozeman bright and early on Christmas morning when we had a fresh foot of snow, and so we left town well before the sun came up, and somewhere between Twin Bridges and Whitehall, Callie said ‘deer.’ And soon realizing that she wasn’t affectionally calling my name, I too saw the deer and drove out of its way. Our headlights helped us see and miss that deer, or maybe the light was what attracted the deer in the first place … it doesn’t matter … that’s not the point. The point is, light helps us see.

So what is it exactly that light helps us see?

Well consider this, Jesus not only said that we are the light of the world, he said that he is the light of the world. And so, in a way, you and I are like little flashlights pointing to a greater light. Jesus wants us to live lives that when people see us, they see Jesus. That we would be the hands and feet of Jesus, showing the world what God is like.

Friends, do our lives shine light, do the radiant hope and point people to Jesus himself?

A guy at my previous church, I’ll call him Brian shared about how he was taking an Uber (which is essentially a taxi) to the airport how he ended up having a pretty meaningful conversation with this Uber driver all by asking some really basic, normal questions. And so Brian asked, "How long have you been driving Uber?" which then led to "Why did you start to drive Uber?" And the driver told him a long story about a lot of relational problems he'd been having, a lot of financial problems, health problems he'd been having, and he needed money to deal with all of that so he started to drive for Uber. And so Brian then asked, "That sounds hard; how's that been for you?" And the driver said, "It's the worst season in my life." He said, "I'm not religious, but I try to think positive thoughts, but it's just been super, super hard."

By this point they were at the airport, and so Brian just went for it and said, "I follow Jesus and he helps me carry my burdens, so I'm going to carry your burdens on the plane to Jesus in prayer and I'm going to ask him to help you out." And the driver just said, "Right on. Cool."

And that was it. Just a simple, everyday moment, where Brian was a light to this Uber driver, pointing him to Jesus in a gentle and winsome way.

Now, notice a couple things about that story. Brian didn’t begin the conversation by asking, “Have you acknowledged Jesus as your Lord and Savior? No, he just asked, ‘How long have you been driving uber?” and took the conversation from there.

And also, think about this how much time did this conversation add to Brian’s day. None. He was already going to the airport. Some of us might be thinking, seriously, I’m a parent, a spouse, a boss and a student, you want me to be the light of the world too? But friends, here’s the thing, so much being a light of the world isn’t necessarily about doing more stuff it’s about doing what we’re already doing, differently.

So for example, two weeks from today, millions of people around the country will come together for what has essentially become a national holiday, yes, that’s right, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday. What might it look like to be the light of the world during the Super Bowl? After all, you’re going to watch it anyway. So who could you invite? Who could you show hospitality to? Maybe the college students next door, or a widow across the street. You don’t have to give a sermon during the halftime show. Simply have people over, provide good food and ask them about their life, and take it from there.

And this Wednesday, at our weekly dinner and bible study, we’ll continue to dream and brainstorm how we can be salt and light in our everyday life in the things we’re already doing.

Last thing I want you to see in this passage, and that is, “What’s the purpose of all this? What do we hope to see happen when we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world?”

Notice what Jesus says,

‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’

That as our light shines, as people see our good works, the purpose is not so that they look at us and say, “Wow, you’re amazing.” No, it’s so that they may give glory to our father in heaven.

This is where these metaphors of salt and light play off each other. No one puts salt on their steak only to later say, “Wow, that was some amazing salt.’ No, they say, “Wow, what an amazing steak.” May the same be true of us as salt and light, that the world would not look at us and say that we’re great, but rather Jesus is.

Where we are living so differently, so radically on mission, that non-Christians would see the way we live and begin to ask, “There’s something different about you. What is it?” and for us to have the opportunity to tell them about our faith in Christ and maybe even ask, “Hey, I’m wondering if you’d like to come to church with me this Sunday?”

We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, this is what it means to be people of influence in the kingdom of God, this is what it looks like to be God’s people on mission here today.

And I’ll finish with this.

Jesus: The Light of the World

Throughout his ministry, Jesus called himself a bunch of different things, what in John’s gospel are called the ‘I am’ statements.

Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, Living Water, Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd and of course, as we mentioned earlier, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”

And what’s remarkable about all this is that this is the only one of those names that Jesus gives of us too.

And this connection is also a reminder that Jesus is ultimately the source of our light. And the only way we can be the missional church, the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, the light of the world, is if he is leading the way.

And just like a battery is to a flashlight, we need the power and presence of his Holy Spirit to work mightily in us and through us, so that we can be who he calls us to be wherever it is he calls us to go.

So Jesus, may it be so that people would see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.

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