Summary: In order to shine brightly for Christ, we have to gather at church to be renewed and recharged as the church, we are also made to be out in the world working as Christ's presence today!
Despite all appearances and evidence to the contrary, I was not always a perfect young lady (ha); not even close, really. And one of the phrases that sometimes got tossed in my direction in those less-than-perfect moments as a child was, “Act your age!” Now, it was never the case that I was acting too refined and mature for my age, and was being told to live like the child that I was. No, no. When my parents told me to “act your age,” they were sending a clear message that I was not being who I was; I was acting contrary to my nature by being ridiculously immature. My parents might have just as effectively said, “Be who you are!” And this is precisely what Jesus is saying to the disciples in this passage from Matthew, “Be who you are!”
In order to convey to us the idea of what it means to be who we are, Jesus talks to his disciples about salt and light. How many of you like salt? I know some people who really love salt, they pour it over their food with such fervor it sometimes leaves me wondering whether they are eating an entrée supplemented with salt, or salt supplemented with an entrée! I prefer salt in moderation because, in my opinion, too much salt takes away from the taste of the food…not to mention that it makes you really thirsty! It’s not that salt is bad, it’s just salt, and salt is, well, salty. Saltiness is essential to salt, and in just the same way, shining is essential to light. For salt to be what it is, it must be salty. For light to be light, it must shine. And for believers of Jesus Christ to be the church, we have to follow his work in the world. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they have to try harder to be salt and light, but that as followers of Jesus, they are salt and light for the world. The church is the body of Christ, and as such, we are by nature his hands and feet in the world today. This is who we are, and this is what Jesus is calling to be!
The lesson that Jesus teaches the disciples as he talks to them about salt and light is a lesson that extends through the ages to every believer and even to the body that we call the church today. “Be who you are!” So what is the church to be? “Who” is the church? What is the character of “church”? There’s a common hymn, with which I’m sure many of you are familiar. One part goes like this: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people! I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!” I think it’s fair to say that we have a grasp on the fact that the word “church” refers to much more than a building or meeting place. But that doesn’t change the simple reality that the word “church” is a noun, and often when we speak about church, we are talking about what the church is. But how might the conversation be different if we talked about what the church does? What would church be if “church” were a verb?
The word “church” comes from the Greek word, ekklesia. Ekklesia is two words combined: ek, which means “out,” and klesia or kaleo, which means called. Thus, the church is those who are called by God out into the world to serve God and to be God’s people, God’s assembly, those called by God to a mission. God always wants us to do something as his people; it’s not enough to simply be a follower of Christ, we have to be out in the world; preaching, teaching, and helping others become Christ-followers. This is who we are called to be; the gospel always turns us outward to the world. To many, the Christian faith seems dull and boring, not relevant to life. But that is not the gospel at all, that is not the good news of Jesus Christ! The Christian faith is to be bold, to go out and share light in a world of darkness! That’s not dull and boring at all. We can and should be excited and passionate about our role in the church and the church’s mission in the world; it’s in the very fiber of our being as Christ’s body in this world today!
But the simple fact of the matter is that there are many Christians in the world today for whom the excitement and passion of the gospel has not really come alive, or once burned brightly and has now flickered away. There are those that are like flashlights with dead batteries. Do you know what I’m talking about? A few weeks ago, I was connecting some wires behind my TV, and I went to get my flashlight so I could make sure everything got plugged into the right socket. I went to the utility room and grabbed my flashlight, but as I walked back to the den trying to turn the flashlight on, I discovered that there was no light. The batteries were dead. Now, I use rechargeable batteries in this flashlight, but I obviously hadn’t been keeping the batteries charged. And as I continued to do the guesswork of getting the wires hooked up without the helpful light of a flashlight, I thought about the fact that this is what a lot of Christians are like. We are called to let Christ’s light shine through us, but we haven’t been recharging the batteries.