5th Epiphany 2011
Matthew 5: 13-20
Are you salty?
This week I heard someone ask this question about the church, it asked, “If your church was removed tomorrow from your neighborhood, from the community, would anybody notice?” I know YOU would notice, but what about the people in our community?
I thought about it, and realized that we would have some Parents who might notice if they tried to drop off their kids for Sunday School and we were gone, that’s an important need in our community that we as a church are trying to meet.
Then I asked myself, and I ask you this morning; “If you were removed from your neighborhood, and from the community, would anybody notice?” What would people miss the most about you? What would they miss the least?
In Matthew 5:13-16, we read, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
In this passage, Jesus gives us no explicit explanation of the word pictures of salt and light that he uses in these verses, unlike the Parable of the Sower in chapter thirteen, where he tells us exactly what he wants us to understand. Here the reader is left to come to an understanding of these images on the basis of how these things are used in the world around them. We must then seek to understand “What Is It That We Are To Understand About Salt, And How Are Christian’s Like Salt?”
First, Christians Like Salt Are Of Infinite Value.
Jesus said to his followers “You are the salt of the earth.” But we miss something in the modern English translation; the KJV translates this verse “YE are the salt of the earth.” Now “Ye” is a good Southern word, it means “Ya’ll” (that is “you all” for you people that are not of Southern origin). Jesus is saying, “You all are the salt of the earth.”
Jesus refers to his handful of basically uneducated disciples and referred to them as the salt of the earth. What great dignity Jesus bestows on his followers. What a great compliment! Because in Jesus’ day, salt was a necessity of life and thus great value was attached to it. Salt was so important that it was sometimes used for money. The Roman soldiers of Jesus’ day were at times paid with it. In fact, our word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salarium” which referred to the payments to the soldiers with salt. We still use the phrase saying that someone either is, or is not, “worth their salt.” We don’t think much about salt today because we can get as much of it in pure form as we want. It is just that little bottle with holes in the top on the table. But when you are completely dependent on salt to preserve your food, and when it is so valuable that it is used in the place of money, you get a completely different perspective on salt.
Let me explain this. Because we live in a part of the world where we have a wide variety of food we don’t understand the limited diet of those who lived in Jesus’ day. Today if you were to travel to a third world country you could get a better picture of what Jesus is speaking of. In a great portion of the world rice is the common food, three times a day. In part of Africa today the main food is corn meal, at every meal. Without salt to make it palatable, it would be difficult to continue to swallow the same old food, time after time. In Job 6:6 the Bible says, “Can flavorless food be eaten without salt?” For this one reason alone salt is indispensable.
Christians Like Salt Are Of Infinite Value and…Second, Christians Like Salt Act As A Preservative.
Salt was important for survival in Jesus’ day, because it was the only way they had to preserve meat. Obviously, they were not as privileged as we are with refrigeration, so salt became very important in their ability to preserve their food. The salt was rubbed into the meat before it was stored. The Salt was to arrest or at least to hinder the process of decay, so too Christians are given the task of arresting the decay of our world.
Christianity has in fact had a profound positive effect on the world. The most dramatic impact of Christianity on the world is that it has attached new value to human life. Almost every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in the United States has Christian origins, founded by Christians for Christian purposes. The same could be said of orphanages, adoption agencies. Many of the oldest medical facilities in the US (like Johns Hopkins) have Christian origins; the list goes on and on of dramatic impact of Christianity in our world.
Christians today should continue to have a positive benefit on our world. Christians keep the corruption of society at bay by opposing moral decay by the way they live their lives and their words.
But there is a horrifying new trend today. According to George Barna, the church statistician, research shows that, “… the average Christian in the average church is almost indistinguishable from the rest of society. The fundamental moral and ethical difference that Christ can make in how we live, is missing. When our teens claim to be saved, get pregnant and do drugs at the same rate as the general teenage population - when the marriages of Christians end in divorce at the same rate and in many cases higher than the rest of society - when Christians cheat in business, or lie, steal, and cheat on their spouses at the same statistical level as those who say they are not Christians - something is horribly wrong.”
If we as Christian’s lose the qualities of being like Christ that make us distinct and become like the society around us, we will no longer have a positive impact. We become a hindrance instead of a preservative to society.
Third, Christians Like Salt Are to Promote Thirst.
In arid climate and in athletic competitions salt is used to promote thirst. Christians are to make Christ attractive and desirable. Whenever we as Christians are introduced into a setting, whether it is social or work related, the unbelievers should see evidence of the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. They should be able to look at us and say, “I don’t know what they have, but I want it.”
HOWEVER, According to Jesus, the Christ, our salt can lose its flavor if we are not careful. Once that happens, our influence in the world becomes useless! Jesus said that we are in a vulnerable position - susceptible to what the Old Testament calls "back-sliding" - so, we must be on guard to protect our status as "salt" in the world! The Apostle Paul put it this way in his first letter to the church at Corinth and to us: "If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin."
Now the way to stay strong is to stay in the Word of God - to continue in prayer constantly - and, to keep on doing what Jesus, has asked us to do! It really is as simple as that!
So Christians, like salt can lose their usefulness and….
Fourth, Christians, Like Salt, Must Have Contact To Have An Influence!
As we have already noted, the Christian is to be a preserving force in the world wherever God has placed them. But the salt never did any good when it was sitting on a shelf some place and the meat was some-where else. To be effective, the salt had to be rubbed into the meat. In a similar way Christians are to allow God to use them wherever he has placed them. Whenever the church becomes a salt warehouse, it has missed out on the lesson that salt must make contact to have an affect.
Another part of this contact that is needed comes in the form of healing. Salt was used for healing 2000 years ago there wasn’t a drug store on every corner. If a soldier was hurt in battle, if a farmer was gored by a bull, if a child fell down and scraped his knee there was a common treatment. The wound was bathed in salt and water. And it proved to be an excellent sterilization agent. As a matter of fact saline (AKA salt water) it’s still used in emergency rooms of hospitals to clean wounds today. Or for that matter, how many of us were told growing up to gargle with salt water when we had a sore throat?
The church of Jesus Christ needs to have a healing ministry in today’s world, and not just spiritual healing either, but physical and emotional healing as well. There needs to be a ministry of reconciliation. We need to help in the healing of broken bodies, broken hearts, broken homes, and broken hopes and dreams. Let’s get this straight though we don’t do the healing Jesus Christ does, but he needs us to work through.
So in Conclusion, I want you to notice what Jesus says, and does not say about salt. He does NOT SAY, “You all CAN be the salt of the earth.” Nor does he say, “You all SHOULD be the salt of the earth.” Jesus says “You ARE the salt of the earth” and in the Greek translation of the Bible it is literally translated “You and you alone are the salt of the earth.”
To be salt, we do not have to be spectacular
To be salt, we do not have to be sensational
To be salt, we do not have to be successful by the world’s standard’s
To be salt, we just have to effect our little corner of the world
So let me pose these questions that each and every one of us should ask ourselves: Am I living as a person who understands that God values me? Am I using my life to influence others for good? And, finally, Am I taking my responsibility to be ’salt’ seriously? So to use a phrase we usually use at dinner, “Please Pass The Salt!”