SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Salt and Light    Matthew 5:13-16            (1st Service)

We’re in week 2 of a series we’re doing on the Sermon on the Mount.  If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 5.  This is a picture of a man by the name of Michael Carroll.  Michael Carroll, at the age of 19, won $14.4 million in the lottery.  He was a garbage man at the time, just happened to play, and happened to win.  Over the next decade of his life, from 2002 to 2012, he bought mansions, he bought cars, he bought drugs, he bought a number of different things.  In the course of those ten years, he mowed through $14.4 million and found himself living on government assistance, unemployed.  Now, today, he makes $511 per week working as a butcher.  Which begs the question:  When we find ourselves in the midst of blessing, what do we do with it?  When we find ourselves “at the top,” how do we use our resources?  Most people would act similarly to Michael Carroll.  If we find ourselves in the midst of flourishing, it should be used for us.  We should drink every little piece of that down and it should go to serve to make our lives better, whether it’s being popular in high school, or whether it’s as a nation winning a war.  When we do find ourselves at the top, we tend to think it should be used for us.  Which is exactly what Jesus begins to address in the Sermon on the Mount.

If you were here last week, you heard these eight blessings that Jesus gives.  These eight statements of wisdom, of grace, of mercy, of invitation to live a life different than anyone had ever seen on the face of the globe.  He made these declarations—sort of crazy-sounding statements like, when you’re poor in spirit (which nobody then and nobody now wants to be) you’re blessed.  When you find yourself meek—sort of at the bottom of the pile, that pile is actually flipped on its head in the kingdom of God and you’re blessed.  When you’re persecuted, there’s blessing.  Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, if you’re in the kingdom, you’re blessed.  Jesus’s words were dangerous, because you had people who had never heard blessing before.  You had people who were used to the social structures and the political structures and the relational structures, where there’s certain people that were always on the bottom.  Jesus says to those people, you’re blessed.  The reverberation of that would have gone off of this mountain—this Sermon on the Mount—and gone into culture and into society at large and the question is what happens when it does?  Jesus says in Matthew 5:11-12 that one of the things that happens is you’re going to be persecuted.  You want to flip the social societal structures on their head?  It’s not going to go well with you so just be ready for that, Jesus says.

The second thing that Jesus says happens is found in verses13-16.  Here’s how Jesus’s people use their blessing.  You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Two pictures that Jesus paints. . . .you’ve probably heard these sometime previously, which makes them dangerous, because we may not hear them afresh.

He says you are. . . .salt.  Salt was used for flavoring, like it is today, but it also was used as a preservative, as a way to keep, specifically meats, fresh.  Remember, refrigeration is roughly a hundred years old, and canning is roughly two hundred years old.  In Jesus’s day, how did people keep food fresh?  One of the ways they did that was with salt.  Jesus uses this as a metaphor, and the New Testament does this all throughout.  Colossians 4:6 — Let your conversation be always….seasoned with salt…  It was a picture of something good, a flavoring.  And light.  Light is illuminating.  Light shines in the darkness.  Light provides growth.  What are both of them?  They’re indispensable.  You can’t live without either of them.

They’re also. . . . .change agents.  Anytime light encounters darkness. . . .it shines.  Anytime salt encounters some sort of meat or some sort of meal, it changes it, doesn’t it?  It changes it irreversibly.  You can’t go and get that salt off of there; it’s definitively different.  I read a number of commentaries of what people think Jesus is talking about, but I don’t think we have to look any further than verse 16:   In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds….  Both salt and light.  Jesus is talking about the way you and I live in his world. . . .as change agents, as people bringing something the world definitely and definitively needs.

Before we jump to the “how-to’s,” let’s just look afresh at what Jesus actually says.  Because I think sometimes we read this as you bring salt, you bring light.  Like you have it in your pocket and every once in a while you take it out and sprinkle it on a conversation with your friend or your neighbor or your roommate.  Or you bring light and every once in a while you light that candle and you let it shine.  But that isn’t what Jesus says, is it?  What does he say?  You ARE!  You ARE these things!  When you show up on the scene, you ARE salt, you ARE light.  I think sometimes we read the Sermon on the Mount, and what we walk away with is a bunch of lists of how to try harder and do more.  But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  He’s talking about people who hear that they are blessed, when the world says that they are the farthest thing from that, and they are transformed because of what they hear Jesus say.  It’s not try really hard to be salt or try really hard to be light.  It’s allow this markarios (the Greek word for blessing) to wash over your life in such a way that when you show up at your family gathering, when you show up at your workplace, when you show up in your neighborhood park, when you show up to visit your parents in that home, when you SHOW UP. . .You. Are. Salt.   You. Are. Light.  

Which means that the words of Jesus have to move beyond something that we just agree with, right?  You do know that being a follower of Jesus is not just agreeing with Jesus.  It’s actually taking his words and saying, “I’m going to build a life on these.”  I’m going to let these sink into my soul in such a way that they shape who I become.  So we don’t bring salt to sprinkle, we don’t bring light to light a little candle and shine in the dark. . . .we ARE those things.  I want to start here because I think the most powerful thing that Jesus can do in your life is speak a word of identity over you.  To remind you who you are as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  To remind you that regardless of all the things that have gone wrong in your life, and all the decisions you wish you could take back, and all of the ‘if I could rewind I would do that differently,’ or ‘I’d stop them from doing that to me,’ and all of those things that we all have. . . .what transcends every single one of those things, if you are in the kingdom of God, a follower of the way of Jesus, You. Are. Blessed.

Even in Acts 1:8, this commissioning Jesus gives to his early disciples. . . .he doesn’t say go and be witnesses, go and do witnessing.  He says no, no, no, you are witnesses.  It’s who you are.  You’re people who’ve been transformed by the hope of the gospel.  {So look up at me for just a moment.}  Before Jesus sends anyone out into the world, he tells them who they are in the world.  Before he sends them out, he tells them who they are.  It’s a drink of cold water to the weary soul, and it starts to turn the world upside down.

Whenever I go to a different or new city and I’m looking for a place to eat, I Yelp!  I want to see what other people say about the restaurants that I might spend my money at and the places that I might spend my time at, right?  We live in a world where there’s a flattened sense of publicity with new social media platforms, don’t we?  I think one of the things Jesus is saying to this church, to our church, is you’re a walking Yelp review. . . .of the kingdom of God.  Your life reflects, whether you want it to or not, what you believe about God, and what you believe about what he’s come to do in and through your life.  Jesus’s point, in these few verses in the Sermon on the Mount, is that people Jesus makes alive are called to cause the world to thrive. To be change agents for good, that when we show up on the scene, there’s salt, there’s light, which are things that the world needs and things that the world benefits from.

If you’re open today. . . .we did this exercise earlier in worship. . . .saying God, I’m open to receive your blessing that transcends my circumstances and my decisions, and is simply built on repentance into your kingdom, something starts to happen.  Because when you receive God’s blessing, you don’t have to fight for your own anymore.  When you don’t have to fight for your own blessing, for your own pride, for your own platform, when you don’t have to do those things and you simply receive his word over your life, something changes in your soul.  There’s a freedom that begins to happen.  I think if we just look out in our world, I think what we see is the longing for blessing that every single one of us carries.  When we don’t hear it from Jesus, we have to hear it from others.  When we don’t receive it from Jesus, we have to get it some way.   If we’re not people that Jesus has made alive, then we will cause ourselves to thrive rather than the world around us.  Jesus goes, oh listen, listen, listen, I want to release you from all of that.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  The meek.  The messed up.  The burnt out.  The people who’ve made a mess of their life.  Because my kingdom is here, my blessing is over them.  And it changes the entire game.

This is the way Jesus has worked from the beginning, the way that Yahweh has worked from the beginning.  Listen to the Abrahamic blessing.  It’s found in Genesis 12:1-3 — The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.   So there’s a pattern, right?  Those who are called to be blessers are first blessed.  It’s the exact same thing Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount.  I think if Jesus were to teach an evangelism class, he wouldn’t start with a technique, he wouldn’t start with any sort of. . .well, here’s sort of the Romans Road. . . .there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t think that’s where Jesus would start.  Why?  Because it’s not where he started from.  Where would he start?  You’re blessed, regardless of your situation.  The kingdom of God is present, it’s here, if you turn and walk into that, you are blessed.  Let’s start there.  Only people who believe they are blessed can be a blessing to the world.

Which I think might cause us to ask the question:  Do we believe we’re blessed?  Do you know that you are?  Because that’s the thing that makes a life salty.  That’s a thing that switches on the light switch and lights a light up.  It’s not some sort of guilt that causes us to get out in our community and do something.  It’s not some sort of imperialistic endeavor that says we’ve got to conquer the world for Jesus.  That’s not what changes lives.  What changes lives is people who know that they are his and then just walk with him into the world that he invites them to live in.  The lives that we are called to live are shaped by the blessing Jesus says we carry.

It’s impossible to be salt and be light without first knowing that you’re blessed.  BUT….it IS possible to be blessed and NOT be salt and light.  Look at the way that Jesus says it.  Let’s talk first about salt.  You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  {Which is actually an impossibility.  Salt can’t just lose its saltiness.  What happened, in Jesus’s day, is salt got mixed with a bunch of impurities.  It got watered down.  It got diluted amongst a lot of other minerals.}  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  It’s just normal soil after that.  It’s just been so watered down by everything else in its vicinity.

Remember, it is impossible to be a blessing to the world without knowing that you’re blessed by God, but it is possible to know you’re blessed and to not be a blessing, so here’s what Jesus says.   Be distinct, reject conformity.   Can we all agree that it’s not exactly popular?  Lest we think it was popular back in Jesus’s day, we should probably take a step back and ask why Jesus is saying this.  Because the tendency of those listening to the Sermon on the Mount, just like our tendency, is to go Jesus, that’s a nice idea, but it sounds a little bit dangerous, it sounds a little bit risky, it sounds a little bit like I might be the weirdo!  Right?  Let’s not take it out of its context, but we’ve got to see that the church is indeed called to be a redemptive alternative in the world.  To paint a picture and shine a light of this is what the redeemed community looks like.

Peter, one of Jesus’s friends, in his letter to the churches says (1 Peter 1:15-16) — But just as he who called you is holy (different, distinct, set apart), so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Be set apart, be different.  Peter is not saying hey, pull up your boot straps and try really hard to be holy.  If you read the first part of the first chapter of 1 Peter, here’s what you find out, because of the resurrection of Jesus that you’ve been given a new hope into an inheritance that can never perish or spoil or fade, that’s kept in heaven for you because of the resurrection of the King from the dead.  You’re different.  You are different, therefore, live in that way.

Let me give you two pictures of what that looks like and what that means.  We are called to be different, to be holy, set apart in the love that we give as followers of the way of Jesus.  We’re called to be different in the love that we give, from the very get-go.  The church was shaped and formed. . . .it grew in the Roman Empire, not because it had the political voting block, not because it had any sort of power, it grew because they showed an extravagant, ridiculous, dangerous love.  When the plague broke out and everybody left their own family members, literally, in the gutter, it was followers of Jesus who came and brought strangers into their home and showed them the love of Christ.  It was the love that was displayed that caused the church to flourish.  That’s salt.  That’s different.  That’s distinct.

I started to ask what it looks like in our culture and our day and time today.  I think one of the things it looks like is being an advocate for change for people who are experiencing homelessness.  I think our work with Family Promise is a beautiful picture of that.  In just a few weeks, July 7th, as a church, we’re partnering with a great organization called GraceFull Café, in downtown Littleton.  They put on a free community breakfast on Saturday mornings.  It’s for anybody that wants to come, but their ministry is built around providing a meal, every single day, for people. . . .even those who can’t afford it.  Homeless people come. . . .you name it, people are there.  As a church, we believe in their ministry and we’ve said that we want to partner with you guys and host and sponsor one of your breakfasts.  We’ll need volunteers for that .  It’s a great way to say that we are for the WHOLENESS of our community, yes?

But it’s not just the love that early followers of Jesus gave, it was the lives that they lived.  It was the sexual ethic that they had, that was built around monogamy and fidelity.  It wasn’t something that they imposed on the rest of the world and said you’ve got to live this way too.  They said listen, because of the teaching of Jesus, because of the words of Jesus, we’re convinced that this is the best way to live and let us show you what a world like this might look like.  It wasn’t you’ve got it wrong, it was let us show you.  So Paul will write in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, listen, it’s not our job as followers of the way of Jesus to judge the world.  It’s our job to make sure our house is in order.  To be that light.  So their light shined.  Their integrity in business dealings —- one of the things early non-followers of Christ noticed about the church was they weren’t shady.  What they say goes in business dealings.  They don’t try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.  They’re just….what you see is what you get.  It was SO different.  It was them saying, listen, we’re going to be distinct, we’re going to be different, and we’re going to shine.

My wife had an interesting experience at work a few weeks ago.  She’s amazing.  Recently, she got a promotion at her job, her workplace.  She’s a teacher and got promoted to being a building coach.  She’s sort of in administration and she’s professional learning specialist at Mountainview High School.  Because she got this job, there’s a number of people who didn’t get the job.  One of those people approached Kelly, a few weeks ago, and just made some real personal attacks on her.  You’re going to be lonely in this job.  You’re going to be lonely at home.  You’re world’s going to fall apart.  I’m like, oh no, you don’t.  I asked, “What did you say to her?”  She’s like, I told her I’m sorry you feel that way.  I’m like, uh huh!  And then what?  I’m going through all the stuff I would have said.  She’s like, no, I just left it at that.  I’m like, don’t you know you should have said something else?  I kid you not, this woman is a staunch hater of followers of Jesus and thinks we’re all hypocrites.  She sent her a follow-up email a few weeks later and said:  I just want to thank you for the way that you responded to me.  Nobody’s done that for me before.  I was hurting and I lashed out at you.  I’m really sorry.  I thought to myself that’s salt.  It wasn’t her with a bullhorn in front of her school saying, “Jesus is Lord,” it was just living in the way that Jesus would live if he were her.  To turn the other cheek.  Sounds a lot like Jesus.

I don’t tell you that to tell you she’s amazing, the question is:  How might we bring salt into the conversations that we have?  In the love that we give and the lives that we live?  What might that look like?  How might we reject fear?  How might we reject judgment?  And ask the question, not what’s distinct about my beliefs, but what’s different about my life?  Let me say it again. I don’t want us to miss that; I think it’s important.  I think the spirit of God is on that in some way.  Surely our beliefs are different, but that’s not the question that we have for the world around us, and for the way that we interact with the world.  It’s NOT, it’s NOT, what’s distinct about my beliefs, it’s what’s distinct about my life.  Am I different because of the words, the teaching, the life of Jesus?  

He says you can get unsalty because you’re just so contaminated, and he says reject that.  Second, verse 14, Jesus says this:  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bow.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  So the first picture is of salt getting contaminated, the second picture is of a light being hidden.

I was at the IMAX, a few weeks ago, with my kiddos at the Denver Museum of Natural History.  There’s a big sign that comes up before it like:  Everybody turn off your phones.  We do not want the light to contaminate the darkness.  Right?  I just started an email exchange with a person on our staff about something we really needed to get done, and so I saw that come up and went oh, I’ve got to hurry.  I’m sending this last email and I’m about to put it in my pocket and I hear it ping me back and I’m like, oh crud!  I’m breaking the rules and I’m texting during the IMAX.  I’m sure she’s a really nice lady, and she happened to be sitting right behind me.  She tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, but this is a ‘no phone zone.'”

I think a lot of us hear these words of Jesus and I think it’s our posture towards the world we live in—-we’re going to keep our light really close, or we’re just going to put it in our pocket, or we believe that the world is a ‘no light zone.’  Jesus goes no, no, no, no, no, that’s the easy way out.  Don’t do that.  Let your light shine.  Don’t hide it.  Let it shine.  Let the blessing that God has bestowed on your life shine.  Let the way of his kingdom shine.  Let it move through you.  It’s been the calling for those who follow the way of God from the beginning.  Isaiah 42:6 — I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a LIGHT for the Gentiles….  Notice this light is evangelistic in nature.  It’s shining the goodness of God to those you haven’t heard it.  Isaiah 60:1-3  — Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your LIGHT, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.    It’s a picture of what happens when the kingdom comes on people.  People long for this.  People hope for this.

Jesus’s message to us is be engaged, be engaged. . . .with the world around you, with the culture around you, with the people around you.  Don’t move towards obscurity.  Resist that.  That’s going to be a temptation.  {Slide:  Be engaged, resist obscurity.}  Just know it.  It’s going to be more comfortable to just gather around people that think the same way as you, look the same way as you, believe the same things as you.  Jesus goes, don’t go there!  Don’t hide your light, the world needs it.  It’s the exact same thing Jesus said as he prayed for his followers  —  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  (John 17: 15, 18)    He’s sent you in the same way that he was sent.  I love the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian, put it:  “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.  A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.”  Let that sink in for a moment.  He’s going you cannot follow Jesus and drift into obscurity.  It doesn’t work that way.  That blessing, that light, that good is way too important to just cover up.  You’ve got to. . . .this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

I met a man by the name of Julius Asher, this week.  He walked into the church and I happened to be around and he needed to talk to a pastor, so we had the chance to sit down and talk.  Julius shared with me that he’s a religious refugee from Pakistan.  He came to the U.S. through the UN.  First in Hong Kong and then to the U.S.  He’s been here for four years.  He’s an Uber driver; his car ran out of gas and he had no money to fill up his car so he could work.   Before you all filled up his car for him, I had the chance to talk with Julius and hear a little bit of his story.  He’s from Pakistan and spent five years in jail because he was handing out Bibles on the streets of Pakistan.  Bibles in Arabic, which is a violation for them.  He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ryan, I’m the lucky one, because most people who are in my position and are thrown in prison because of a religious offense never see the light of day again.  But I’m one of the lucky ones.”  I thought to myself, man, at times it’s hard for me to have a conversation with my neighbors about Jesus.  How about you?  It was the Lord, I think, that brought Julius to just remind me of what this looks like.  To be salt, to be light, to shine, to not move towards obscurity, even when it’s costly and even when it’s dangerous.

I just wanted to throw this on us for at least a thought exercise to ask Jesus.  Are there people in your life who aren’t followers of the way of Jesus that you have meaningful relationships with?  Not that are projects, but that you love, and whose lives you’re invested in.  Are you light?  Do people know you follow the way of Jesus?  Let’s be committed, friends, not to drift into obscurity, but to say back to Jesus, we want to be engaged, we want to love well this world that you have placed us in.  Jesus did this, didn’t he?  The woman at the well comes to him.  She’s broken, her life’s a mess, he makes room for her in a place and time where he should not have done that.  A woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. . . . .Jesus is on his way, he’s got his task list.  He’s on the move and he stops in order to love her.  Salt and light.  Jesus sees a woman who’s caught in the act of adultery.  There’s Pharisees that want to stone her, and Jesus gets in between the Pharisees and this woman.  He starts to write in the sand—we have no idea what he writes, but we do know this. . . .what’s he being?  Salt and light.  He’s bringing hope.  He’s breathing hope.  He’s engaged with the world around him.  I believe he’s inviting you and I to be the same.

Here’s how he concludes.  It’s an interesting conclusion.  It may not be the way that we would include it, post-Reformation, but it’s the way Jesus concludes it.  Listen to what he says (verse 16):  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Notice what Jesus doesn’t say.  He doesn’t say people will hear your good words.  He doesn’t say people will hear your great theology.  The reality is that even though it’s there, they may not hear it.  But what they will not be able to ignore is your life.  What they will not be able to ignore is the way that your life, salt and light, points to his kingdom.  I’m convinced that people must see God on display through us BEFORE they hear the words of God through us.  We’ve got to bring a melding back together of both practice of living life in the kingdom and proclamation that the kingdom is here.  The dividing of those two has killed us.

So Jesus’s point is good deeds, which you and I are invited to live out…   Could we all just say before we make this into legalism, let’s just quickly identify. . . . .is it more enjoyable to do good deeds or bad deeds?  It’s better to do good deeds, isn’t it?  Jesus just wants to align us with the way that the world works.  It’s not that we earn anything from God, it’s that we are RELEASED to live life with God.  To live life with God.   I love the way 1 Peter 2:12 says it — Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.    Each one of us, friends, are people who represent the kingdom of God.  It’s like an employee who shows up to represent their company for a business deal.  They’re wearing the shirt; they’ve got the hat on.  They’re trying to sell whatever they’re selling.  You and I aren’t trying to pedal anything, but we represent the kingdom of God.  The question is:  When people see our lives, what do they see?  What do they experience?  Do they experience people who are moving towards a freedom from anger?  A fidelity in relationships?  Honoring of marriage?  A confidence that they can believe our words?  A love that’s displayed that goes beyond what the rest of the world sees?  Is that what they see in us?  Do they see salt and light?

I have a friend named Jodi Brown who goes to church here.  I asked her if I can share this story with you, because I thought it was just a great picture of what it looks like to live as salt and light, right here and right now.  Every time we talked about JOY International, you can see her heart for that ministry and what Dr. Jeff Brodsky and his team are doing to help girls who are in situations where they’re being trafficked.  She just wanted to figure out some way to help.  She also loves going to escape rooms.  Over the course of three months, she turned her basement….    She did all this research, gathered all these resources from thrift stores around us, and she turned her basement into an escape room, in order to raise money (it’s a fundraiser) to give to JOY International.  She goal is to raise $1200 for JOY International before they do the Barefoot Mile in July.  If you’re interested in going to Jodi Brown’s escape room to raise money for JOY International, there’s a website.  She would love for you to come and try to break out of her basement.  I thought that was such a great picture of using the passion that you have and the resources that you have with the conviction that you have to be light and salt in our world and saying, “What can I do to let my light shine?”  What can you do?  Who can you be?  How might the gospel that’s gotten in you get out of you?  Friends, let’s be a community who practices this.  Who’s salt and who’s light.

Before we sing one last song, I want us to do something a little bit different, okay?  I want to invite you to get in small groups and spend a few minutes praying.  I want us to ask Jesus that he would make us salt and light.  That we would be people who shine his light.  That we would be people that as we show up, we carry his light into any situation that we find ourselves in.  You may be uncomfortable praying out loud, but that’s okay.  I want to take some time for us, as a community, to just say to Jesus. . . .make it so!