Title: The Power of Influence
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Thesis: Sometimes Christians think the way to bring about change is power… but what we need is influence.
Power infers the ability to unilaterally produce an effect. Power suggests authority and control. A person in a position of power may make a ruling or issue a command and it happens.
Last Tuesday a Denver Post editorial writer ran a column, Caldwell: at Jeffco schools meeting, everything but the pitchforks. Apparently, former Jeffco Schools Superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, who was leaving her position early, has many supporters as well as many detractors. Caldwell reported, “It was inevitable that the majority elected to the board in November was going to get rid of Stevenson. And they have every right to install a chief executive who is on the same page with them philosophically. In any case, the new majority will get what they want now, and perhaps that is all that matters to them.” (Cindy Caldwell, Caldwell at Jeffco schools meeting: everything but the pitchforks, The Denver Post, 2/10/14)
That is the way power works. Power gets what it wants.
Influence on the other hand produces an effect without imposing force or exertion… it is more of a nudge than a shove. It is encouraging rather than demanding.
“Watch this and you will share this… “ (Clip from YouTube)
Our text today is about the influence of Christians in the world.
I. We are God’s influencers in the world. (Jesus said,”
• “You are the salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:13
• “You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:L14
I am presently experiencing a bit of envy. My brother and sister-in-law are vacationing in the Turk Islands. I assumed the Turk Islands are someplace sunny but as to sunny where, I had no clue. So I Googled the Turk Islands and found that the Turk Islands are approximately 650 miles east south east of Miami. I learned that in the 1600s Bermudians sailed some 750 miles and settled the Turk Islands with slaves and freemen to begin a new salt trade. They built salt pans or salinas where they let in and evaporated salt water. Rakers then raked the residual salt into piles that were transported to trading ships. They say that 1/6th of the salt used in British North America prior to the Revolutionary War came from the Turks. At any rate, the salt trade continued from 1660 through 1960.
That salt was essential to life as a food preservative and as a seasoning.
I think it is safe to say that Jesus’ use of the descriptive word “salt” is intended in a positive way. Our saltiness is neither the insipid blandness of too little salt nor a cardiovascular disease inducing excessive saltiness.
A. “You are the salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:13
Salt is one of the 5 basic taste sensations: Salt. Sweet. Bitter. Sour. [And] Umami. (Umami is a loanword from the Japanese and refers to the savoriness or pleasure of a taste, i.e., mouthwatering.)
“Let your way of life be always full of mouthwatering grace seasoned with salt.” Colossians 4:6
Just as I think it is safe to say that Jesus’ use of the descriptive word “salt” is intended in a positive way… so also the use of the word “light” is intended to be understood in a positive way. Our light is neither a dim light nor a blinding flood light.
B. “You are the light or the world.” Matthew 5:14
Scripture often speaks of how we are called out of darkness into God’s light… which we believe to be a better way. While light does indeed reveal what is hidden in the darkness, light also shows the way through the darkness.
I was amused as I read the Crankshaft comic in the Denver Post a few days ago… apparently the producers of the History Channel contacted the Director of School Bus Drivers in the Crankshaft comic strip (which stars Ed Crankshaft as a grumpy old bus driver) asking them if they would like to star in an upcoming series called Ice Road School Bus Drivers. I mention the cartoon story line only to point out how imaginative the producers of the History Channel programming are… on Thursday evening I watched as two (real life) Appalachian Outlaws who were (being filmed while) poaching ginseng roots in the hills of West Virginia dived into a hole in the ground to escape their pursuers. Fortuitously they had remembered to wear their helmet lights because they found themselves crawling through a sub-terranean pathway that conveniently exited on the other side of the ridge. Without light they would have been frighteningly lost in the pitch black darkness of that Appalachian cave. When light permeates a dark place it is a good and pleasing thing.
As salt and light we have a pleasing influence in the world.
As pleasing influences in the world we make a positive difference.
II. We are to make a positive difference in the world
• Salt seasons - “What good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” 5:13
• Light is seen - “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” 5:14
The text suggests that when Jesus spoke of salt he spoke of it as a flavoring or seasoning.
A. Salt flavors
“What good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” Matthew 5:13
Jesus did not say anything about salt being a preservative or useful in modern day manufacturing or a soil additive or good for gargling or for applying to canker sores. He specifically used the term “flavor.”
This is what happens when salt loses its flavor.
On Tuesday the USA Today newspaper ran a column on the op-ed page asking the question: Can Clergy Regain Respect? The columnist cited a Gallup Poll that came out just two months ago stating that “only 47% of Americans consider clergy to be honest and ethical… an all-time low.” (It is interesting to note that the survey revealed nurses, pharmacists and grade school teachers topped the list while car salesmen, members of Congress and lobbyists are perceived as least honest and ethical.)
He went on to cite, what he believes to be three causes for this fall-from-grace:
1. Politics. Using the political arena to further their agenda
2. Money. Instead of using money to benefit others money scandals lead people to believe clergy is more interested in the almighty dollar than the Almighty.
3. Sex. The sex scandals of the last 20 years and the ongoing stories of sexual abuse of children have left an indelible stain.
The op-ed columnist asked, “Can Churches Change?” He then went on to state, “If clergy are to regain trust, they must lead their congregations to become hospitals of hope and healing. Places where the hungry are fed literally and figuratively. Where people find community, not condemnation. Places to serve, not be criticized.” (Oliver Thomas, Can Clergy Regain Respect, USA Today, February 11, 2014)
The alarming thing about losing one’s saltiness is not only loss but that nagging question, “How do you make salt salty again?”“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away.” Luke 14:34 (We dare not lose our saltiness!)
So as salt applied in pleasing and positive ways, we make the world a better place by having a savory influence. The most distinguishable thing about salt is that it is a delicious seasoning. And as salt we bring a savory seasoning to the world in which we live.
Similarly, as light we are a positive influence.
B. Light is seen
“…like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14
The most distinguishable thing about light is that it is visible. A city that is all lit up on a dark night is a splendid thing that you cannot miss. Though I dislike flying I always marvel when flying into DIA at night and see the dazzling array of lights along the Front Range. Light is something you cannot miss… it cannot and ought not be hidden.
[But] what about the tension? So what are we to do about what Jesus said about being seen in acts of piety? In Matthew 6 Jesus specifically tells his followers we are not to do our good deeds publically, to be admired by others. He cites things like giving and praying and fasting as examples of “what not to do” to be seen. There is always the temptation to wish to be seen and admired as devout. So ultimately the doing of good deeds is really about one’s motivation. There is a difference in the motives of the person who wishes to be seen as spiritual and the person who does a good deed in order to bless others and honor God.
I am reading “Say Please, Say Thank You.” Its author, Donald McCullough has a master of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the president of San Francisco Theological Seminary but his book is no lofty theological treatise. It is a simple reminder of the power we have to make the world a better place. The Washington Post described his book as “A charming, insightful, and very funny look at the importance of simply being nice…”
Listen to some of the chapter titles, chapters chock full of ways we may distinguish our lives in the world of good deeds. Don’t Be Late; Don’t Wear Red to a Chinese Funeral; Apologize When You’ve Blown It; Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears; Be First to Reach for the Tab; Leave a Tip Worth Leaving; Kneel Down to Speak to Children; Don’t Leave a Messy Campsite; Keep Card Companies in Business; Pretend You Don’t Notice When Your Dinner Partner Drools; Be Quiet in Church… woven into each chapter are practical examples of kindness and good deeds.
In Men’s Bible Study yesterday morning one of the guys described the doing of goods deeds to be “Random Acts of Kindness.”
Being salt and light is the way God wants us to be a blessing to others and honor him.
III. We bless others and in so doing bring glory to God
• Good deeds bless others, 5:16
• Good deeds glorify God, 5:16
A. Good deeds benefit others
“Let your good deeds shine out for all to see…” Matthew 5:16
Isn’t it interesting how Jesus did not say, “When they see your beautiful sanctuary?” or “When they hear your pastor?” or “When they see your web page? ” or “When they read your Statement of Faith?” Jesus said, “When they see your good deeds…” or “When they see the way you live, they will glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”
Apparently doing good deeds is a primary way we Christ-followers are distinguishable in the world. It’s one of those “they will know you are Christians by your love” things.
Gandhi once wrote of Jesus Christ, “It is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of his teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known.” Gandhi often spoke of the influence and example of Christ in his own life.
One day as Gandhi was boarding a train one of his shoes slipped off and dropped onto the tracks. Unable to retrieve it he calmly removed his other shoe and tossed it back toward the other lost shoe. An amazed passenger asked why he had done that, and Gandhi simply smiled and said, “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.”
While the good of others is important in the doing of good deeds, as Christians we do good deeds so that others will glorify God.
B. Good deeds glorify God
“…so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16
“The point of ministry is more than…
“The point of ministry is more than simply doing good. Ministry is an act performed in God’s name.” (James C. Fenhagen, Mutual Ministry, A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, P. 88) When asked it is a simple thing to say, “It seemed like something that would please God and help others.” Or “I felt this was something God wanted me to do for you.”
I have a friend I met at George’s Café. My friend is one of the kindest people I know. He has a business but does not seem to be all that interested in making a killing. In fact he often takes time out to help elderly or disabled people. He gives Christmas gifts to all the wait staff at George’s. He regularly has breakfast with an elderly man from his church… not because he’s a blast to be around but because he knows he is lonely. He cares for a brother-in-law who is in a healthcare facility. He is just one of those remarkably humble and caring people.
Some time ago I heard that he used to be the most obnoxious and nasty person on the planet so one day when we met for breakfast I just asked him about his transformation. When I did, his eyes teared-up and he said, “God changed my life. I give all the credit to God.”
I wonder what it would be like for us to all be so humble and kind and generous and thoughtful and gracious and good that people would be prompted to ask, “Why are you such a kind and thoughtful person?” “Why do you do the things you do?” “Why are you so considerate of others?”
I sometimes wonder about the influence Heritage has in our community. Some people do not know we are here… But some know us as the place they used to play basketball when they were kids. Some know us as the German church. Some people know us as having a pretty sanctuary good for weddings. Most people know us as the church with the big bible out in front.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote Sonnets from the Portuguese, a poem likely to Robert Browning. The poem asks, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”
As we make our way as God’s people may we find ourselves asking, “How can I express my love to others and to God? How can I love you, let me count the ways I may my light shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise our heavenly Father?”
This morning I am reminded of the challenge Joshua posed: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” It seems an obvious choice… but then having settled on the “whom” we ask you, “How?” So it is this morning we ask that you will so occupy our hearts and minds that in all the great and small choices we will make this day and in this new week, that we will choose to be salt and light. May we find ourselves, compelled at the inner urging of your Spirit to bless others and bring glory to you in all
This we pray in the name of Christ who taught us to pray:
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.