Summary: Asking if we are truly light in our communities.
Reflections on understanding the Church.
How do you sum up all the teaching that we have heard in the last seventeen weeks? How do you summarise a book of 14 chapters and 200 pages in one sermon? I could go through each chapter one by one picking out the main points, starting from the first sermon we heard on 6/5 about our business is growing; moving through to sermons like the one we had on 17/6/01 about the Church in good working order. Then finishing with a repeat of last week’s sermon about the bottom line. The only problems with doing this are that first it would get extremely boring; second, it would take a very long time – does anybody fancy sitting here for the next six hours hearing me talk? And most importantly, I would not be anything like as good as the people like John whom you have already heard preach about these subjects.
So how can you sum up all of this teaching? I cannot think of a better way than to see what Jesus said and says about us. It is also good that these words provide a link between the teaching about the Church that we have just finished looking at, and the teaching about the beatitudes that we are going to start looking at next week.
Have you ever thought how art affects the way that you see things? For years, as I have read Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, I have imagined him sat on that mount with a thousand or so people in front of him and there he is preaching to them all. One of the Bibles I read as a child – I think it was the Good News Colour Bible – had a picture of him doing exactly this. There was another picture on the wall of a Sunday school room showing the same thing. As I grew up, I carried that picture with me in my understanding of this sermon and it frightened me. I saw Jesus preaching to a large group of people who almost certainly did not realise yet who he was and he was telling them how they should be and I imagined that he was saying the same thing to me. I imagined Him saying: “Stephen Gladwell, this is how you are and this is how you should be; now change – and I knew that I could never change to be like this. I knew that when Jesus gave this he was not saying you must be poor in spirit or you must be meek or you must hunger and thirst for righteousness. He was saying that we must be all of these things, that each individual must be an illustration of them all. As I said, that is a scary thought, especially when you look at your own life and discover how you cannot even manage to be an illustration of one of them.
It is only fairly recently that God has shown me how wrong my understanding of this sermon has been. Listen to the first two verses in Matthew Chapter 5: “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:” Jesus wasn’t stood up there teaching a crowd of thousands who did not know him, he was stood there talking to twelve people that he had called out of the world to be his followers.
What difference does this make, apart from getting rid of those early pictures in my head? It means that it is almost certain that Jesus was not telling the disciples how they should be, but was stating how they are or were as his followers. He was not saying you must become poor in spirit, he was stating that in Him, we are this way. All we have to do is keep like this.
Now take this further and look at what Jesus says about the Church again:
“You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”
Jesus is not saying to his disciples “Right, I have called you to follow me, now this is what you will become.” He is saying: “I have called you, this is what you are in me.”
Today, Jesus is not calling us to become salt and light, he is calling us to be the salt and light that he has made us into.
Salt itself has two functions, to preserve and to flavour. In other words, it is Canford Heath Baptist Church’s job to preserve or make good the people and place of Canford Heath. Have you ever heard somebody say “things were never like this in the old days”; “things were never as bad as this!” Well if these comments are true, then one of the main reasons for this is because the Church has not been acting like the salt of the earth and preserving and flavouring the world that God has placed it in.