God's Life Preservers
A sermon based on Matthew 5:13-20
Sunday, February 6, 2011 – Pentecost 5A
One Peanuts cartoon, (you know, the one with Snoopy and Charlie Brown?), shows Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, "Guess what, Chuck? The first day of school and I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck." To which Charlie Brown replies, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?" And Peppermint Patty responds, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."
As we continue to study Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that we began last week, this morning we hear Jesus teach how you and I are to be a positive influence on others. By rescuing us from our sin, Jesus has also rescued us from our selfish way of life. And now we are positive influencers. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.
Listen again to Matthew 5:13-20, picking up where we left off last week in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and hear of God's life preservers: how Jesus preserves us from hell, and how we in turn, preserve others by our positive influence. Matthew 5:13-20…
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.
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
I. Christ Preserves Us
"You are the salt…" Jesus says, "You are the light…" And in the Greek, the "You" is in an emphatic position. "You!" "You are the salt… You are the light…" This is what you are to be like…
First he says, to be salty. No, we're not to melt the ice and snow on the sidewalks. But we Chrsitians are to be like salt as we enhance the flavor of life, making the world a better place to live. We do this not just in worship, with our church families, or at home, but in the world. We influence others in a positive way to make a positive impact.
And to do that we may need some salty speech. No, not in the sense of being course in your speech, talking like a sailor. But we say what needs to be said. You've heard the expression "to rub salt in the wound," meaning to make someone hurt even more than they do? But do you know where the expression came from? In earlier centuries salt was rubbed into open cuts and wounds in order to prevent infections. It stung like crazy, sure. But it saved lives.
Likewise we Christians are called to (lovingly) point out the sins of others. We do make it sting. Not because it's fun, but because we want to save lives and lead others to repentance and then to the cross. It's not a fun job. But that's what we're called to do. To be the salt of the earth and have this kind of salty speech.
And when they feel the salty sting of the law, we're also called to be lights…
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." In the middle of winter in Alaska you know the importance of lights. They let us see, they give us hope, they save our lives. On Wednesday night I flew on the smallest plane I've ever been on. And as we flew in to Kenai at 10:15 at night, I admit it was a bit unnerving when all I could see out my window was snow and darkness. But the pilot (apparently) could see the runway lights on the landing strip. Those lights guided us all toward a safe landing and literally preserved our lives.
Likewise, we are to let our light shine. By our behavior and actions we're to act like the runway lights, like the light house, that guides people to safe passage. After the salty sting of the law, we are to shine the light on the cross that they might find the comfort of God's forgiveness in Jesus.
And we're not just supposed to be a beacon that says, "Come to the light. Come find us here." No! We are the light of the world! We are to be more like search lights that go and look for others lost in the dark. If we react to the sinful world by retreating from it, of if we react to the sinful world by becoming just like it, or if we react to the sinful world by watering down the truth to make it more appealing, we lose our saltiness. We're like a light without the batteries.
So how salty are you? How bright are you? Do you let your light shine? Do others see your good deeds and know that you're different? Do you always point out the truth of his word in both law and gospel? Or do you sometimes take the sting out of God's law by teaching (by your words or by your actions!) that God isn't a holy God who must punish sin? Do your lives leave others with the joyful flavor of a Savior who means everything to you? Or are you too earthly minded to be any heavenly good or too heavenly minded to be any earthly good?
If you complain about the sins of society and how things sure aren't the way they used to be… well, guess who's to blame? If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unrestrained. The question to ask is, "Where is the salt?" If society becomes corrupt like a stinking fish, there's no sense in blaming society. That's what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is allowed to breed unrestrained. The question to ask is "Where is the church?"
The truth is, we have not been as salty or as bright as our God would have us be. And that's a problem. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law… I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law… Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments… will be called least in the kingdom of heaven… For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
In other words, unless you're more holy than Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or the apostle Paul, or Martin Luther, you will not get to heaven. Later in this same sermon Jesus would sum up the law: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." But the truth is, we cannot do this perfectly. We cannot do it well enough. And so what does God say we deserve?
"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."
The purpose of a Christian, the very reason that we're still around, is to preserve and season the people of this world by means of the gospel. If we don't do that, we're is not fulfilling our purpose. We're worthless and deserve to be thrown out and trampled, an obvious picture of our just judgment. When there's no salt, meat begins to rot. And when we lose our saltiness, we deserve to rot in hell.
But thank God, then, for his life preserver, Jesus. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to teach it as it should properly be understood. In other words we still need to be perfect. But Jesus also came to fulfill the law not only in the sense that he made it's proper understanding full and complete, but that he made it's keeping full and complete. Jesus fulfilled the law by keeping every one of God's commands.
He was salty in his speech calling a spade a spade. He perfectly shone the light of the gospel to those living in darkness. In fact, Jesus himself was (and is) the light! He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." He is the runway lights that shows the way to heaven. He shined with light at his transfiguration to show that he is true God. And as true God his death on the cross to pay for our sins counted! He rose again! And his light shined bright on Easter morning as he rose again! And like a search light he came looking for us. He rescued us. He preserves our life still as God's perfect life preserver!
And the blessed result? We are at peace with God! We are preserved from death itself through Jesus! By the preserving salt of his gospel we won't rot in hell! And that changes us right now! Jesus didn't say "You will become salt and light." He didn't say, "I want you to be salt and light." He said, "You are the salt… You are the light…" It's not a command, but reality. This is what God has made you…
II. We Preserve the World
Now, just as Jesus has saved us and become our life preserver, we, in turn, preserve the lives of others. We are the salt of the earth.
Cookies and pies are good and fine. But in my opinion, the really good snacks are the ones with salt. Give me the chips, the flavored crackers, the popcorn and the pretzels. Of course, without the salt, well… you can have 'em. In the same way, we Christians are what make the world full of flavor to God. And we do preserve the world. The only reason God doesn't destroy the world, the only reason that he's delaying judgment day, is because he's being patient, waiting for us to season the world with his grace and bring others into God's family.
So be salty! Rub salt in the wounds! Proclaim the harsh law of God: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." just as Jesus did! For only the sting of the law will prevent the infection of a self-righteous reliance on one's own good behavior that finds no need for a Savior. Then, shine the light of the gospel. For, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."
When I went to Israel in 2008 one of the highlights of the trip was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. And as we were out on the boat the sun was setting. And the lights of the nearby villages slowly came on. One city named Sephora, very near where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, was lit up as the street lights and house lights came on. And that city that I'd never hear of, that I couldn't see in the daylight, could be seen clearly from almost anywhere on the Sea of Galillee.
That's what you and I are to be like. To let our light shine clearly no matter where we go. And we can't help it! A light can't not shine. It would be like having a cold heat or a dry water. We must shine. It's who we are! So we become the light house, the runway lights, that guide salted sinners to the certain hope of the cross. We bring out the search light and go to seek the lost, not waiting for them to come to us!
At home, we speak the truth in love. At school, we live our faith and show that we're different. At church, we love one another deeply from the heart. At work, we are faithful, not to be noticed, but because we work for our Savior. Through our offerings, we help to shine the light of the gospel around the world! And by our salt, we preserve the world. By our light, we expand the kingdom!
A few years ago I admired a painting of a little girl out in the open sea, in the middle of a storm, clinging to a rock with both hands as her ship is sinking in the background. It's a neat picture of Christ our rock who rescues us from our sin, who we cling to in the Word. But later, I found out that the artist did a second painting almost identical to the first. The second painting has the same girl, the same rock, and the same ship in the same storm-tossed sea. But in the second painting, the little girl clung to the rock with only one hand. With the other, she was reaching into the ocean for a little boy who was struggling to keep his head above water.
That's a neat picture of what God has made us. We live our lives in the hopes that by our actions and by our words, we might be instrumental in saving others from the storm of sin and from drowning in hell. We are to them God's life preservers.
And make no mistake. They're watching.
A pastor was in his yard making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that neighbor boy was watching him carefully without saying a word. Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the pastor finally said, "Are you trying to pick up some pointers on gardening or carpentry?" "Neither," the boy replied. "I'm just waiting to hear what a pastor says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."
Your friends, your family, your co-workers, are waiting to see how you, dear Christian, behave, to see how you respond when things don't go so well for you. An what an opportunity you have! Now, having been rescued by Jesus with your life preserved in his grace, now live such lives that they can't help but ask, "What makes you so different?" Then by your words, by shining the spotlight on the cross, you can preserve others… from death, from rotting in hell. So, go. Be salty! Be bright! And let's get to work, having fun while we save souls from hell. In Jesus name, dear friends, "You are the salt of earth… You are the light of the world…" You are God's life preservers. Amen.