Friday, May 22, 2009

Sermon II: Salt and Light

Salt and Light
August 31, 2008 – Youth Sunday/Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, Year A
Ian “Ivan” Hyde
First Southern Baptist Church of Pasadena, CA
Matthew 5:13-15
· What does it mean to be salt and light; why these two images?
· When Jesus preached to crowds, he liked to use images and ideas that everybody could identify with, but whenever he told his stories and sayings, they always had a deeper meaning.
· In this passage, the first image he uses is that of salt. In Roman society, salt was invaluable and had many applications. They even used it to pay soldiers’ wages, it’s where we get the word “salary”, but for our purposes, I’m only going to focus on three of its attributes, two of them good, and one bad.
· First, salt preserves. Lev. 2:13. Here we see that every offering had to be sprinkled with salt as a reminder that God’s Covenant was permanent. Just as the sacrifices themselves prophetically pointed to the eventual sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, the salt they used showed that this future covenant would never pass away. No matter what happened, when people sprinkled the salt on their sacrifices, they knew God would never abandon them; just as we who trust in the sacrifice at the cross know that God will never abandon us. Just like the sacrifices Israel gave, as God gives us the ability to become salt and light, when we fully act as these, we are offering ourselves back to God. That’s why I put the salt and the candle on the altar here.
· Not only does the salt represent the eternal covenant God made for us at the cross, it also represents the truth that God will preserve us in every time of trouble, and even as our bodies age or wear out, we know that the life God will give us is eternal, as well.
· Second, salt seasons. We put salt on food to add flavor, to make what would otherwise be bland into something we can enjoy, something we’re willing to eat. Since I’ve been with this congregation, I’ve been blessed to experience Filipino cooking; and I’ve observed that in this style of cooking salt is mixed with sweet, or sour or spicy to get the desired taste (and in my experience it always turns out pretty good). It’s the same with the Gospel. While the message of the Gospel never changes, different people take it in different ways. Some people hear it through preaching, others directly from God’s Word, still others might hear it in the lyrics of our music or through video (or a mix of these). As our world changes from one that used paper and pen to communicate to one that uses text messages and youtube, the Church must adapt the way it delivers its message as well.
· It used to be that people would preach for hours at a time. In the early church there was even a pastor named John Chrysostom who was described as “silver tongued” and who would preach for four hours at a time, enthralling anybody who was listening. That just doesn’t fly anymore. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna preach for four hours today and I doubt anybody sitting here will be enthralled either. And I know most guys my age can barely pay attention for 10 minutes, let alone four hours: But let’s face it, people also don’t want to be preached at in general. In the culture we live in today, people want truth that cuts to the point, isn’t dummied down, and answers the hard questions people are asking. But people also want relationship. They want real community. People in my generation don’t want an easy Gospel, prepackaged on tracts; they need to know that God loves them and we show them that by loving them ourselves. We live in a postmodern culture and that means our methods must be postmodern to match the taste of those we’re giving the Gospel to. The message that Christ died for our sins and rose so that we can live doesn’t change, but our ability to deliver that message effectively shows that we are well seasoned for the job.
· Finally, salt can make barren. This is what Jesus means when he says that when we lose our saltiness, we’re not good for anything but to be trampled on. Throughout the bible, salt is used to represent barrenness and emptiness. Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt, and the Dead Sea was a prominent reminder that nothing can grow where the ground is covered in salt. Sometimes, after a battle salt was sown in a field to ensure it would never grow crops again. And there’s even a Greek story where the hero Odysseus sowed his own field with salt, while pretending to be crazy to avoid having to go to war.
· For us, our work as disciples becomes barren when we grow complacent, tired. We might speak the words of the Gospel, going through the motions, or hand out tracts and put bumper stickers on our cars; but if we don’t exhibit the love of the Gospel, or we lose our effectiveness in its presentation, then people won’t be convinced and they won’t be convicted either. It’s like when you step into the ocean with a cut on your foot, the saltwater warns you of the wound. Without the salt to warn people of their wound, they’ll never know that they even have it or are in need of care.
Example: Waffle Stop Tracts (& no tip!) When I was working in Iowa, at the Waffle Stop as a cook, I remember on Sunday afternoons that every once in a while Christians would come in, and instead of leaving a tip, they’d leave a Gospel tract. Now, the words of the Gospel were all there and were true to the Message, but the salt that was needed wasn’t. This caused the waitresses and cooks to make fun of the tracts and the Christians that brought them, because they hadn’t taken the time to present the Gospel in a relevant way; instead the hearts they tried to reach were more tightly shut to God’s words.
· Now we can move on to light. Just like salt, it also has three attributes, and like salt we want to exhibit two of them, while avoiding the third one.
· First, Light illuminates. And it does so through our actions. As we share the Gospel, the Message itself speaks to the deepest part of who people are, and nothing is hidden from it. Is. 9:2. At the same time, when we live in a state of truly loving everyone, even our enemies, we reflect the way God loves them and the true nature of what we believe shines through. This is why our words must absolutely be backed up by our actions and our light must be genuine.
· Secondly, Light warms. The message of the Gospel that we hold melts our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. At the same time, the light that Christ gives comforts us when we feel alone.
Example: Survival Training. When I was in Boy Scouts, we received survival training to know what to do if we ever got separated from the group while in the woods, or even if we were in a situation like a plane or car crash. We were told that the number one thing that killed people in these situations wasn’t a lack of food, water or shelter; it was panic. So, we were always told to build a fire as one of the first steps, before finding the other necessities. When a person is alone and scared, fire has the unique ability to almost seem like another person. It calms, allowing us to collect our thoughts. We see the light that it gives and feel its warmth, and we feel a little less alone.
· It’s the same with the light that we’re supposed to embody as disciples. We trust our God to be the warmth in the darkness and the calm confidence that we can trust, even when we want to despair or feel alone. And that warmth radiates out from us as well, as Christ dwells in us, to give warmth to everybody and anybody that comes into contact with us.
· Finally, Light scorches. This is, of course, the attribute we want to avoid; as I’m sure you’re all aware, especially during California’s wildfire season. Fire can be great; when I approach this candle, I can feel its warmth and on a cold day that’d be way useful. But if I get too close, it’ll burn my hand and then we’d have a real problem. When we become prideful or boastful, angry or impatient (even if the person we’re dealing with is pretty annoying), then we completely sabotage our own message, burning those we were trying to save. And the deep wounds we cause when we reject others don’t just reflect badly on us; as Christians, people judge our God by how we act. It’s never right to make fun of God, but one of the reasons people feel they can in popular culture, is because they see so much of our hypocrisy without seeing the grace that God gives or the love that He’s placed in us and so they think our God is a hypocritical one.
· Really when it comes down to it, what are the salt and light that we bear, that we are supposed to embody?
· It’s the message of the Gospel: that we’ve all messed up and need God’s forgiveness, that He’s provided for that forgiveness by taking our punishment on His own shoulders, dying on the Cross and rising again.
· And it’s the love that we show one another. John 13:35.
· Just as it takes only a little salt to season the whole dish or a little light to brighten the entire room, in the same way, through this little church, God can completely transform Pasadena and L.A., bringing the whole community into new life. We are told in Matthew that with the tiniest amount of faith, a mountain can be moved. It would be an easy thing for God to take the mountain behind me here and chuck it into the sea. And it would be just as easy for God to turn 80 disciples into 2 million. We can trust that God is able to do that.
At the end, instruct people to feel free to take a little salt from the altar in the spoons provided and taste it, and to feel the warmth of the candle as a reminder of how we are called to live.

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