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Preserving Our Faith (Matthew 5:13-16)

Rev. Dr. William A. LewisRev. Dr. William A. Lewis, June 11, 2017

Two weeks ago, we reflected on the Beatitudes, the qualities required to obtain the kingdom of God. Jesus embodied all the Beatitudes. Who is meek? Jesus. Who mourns over sin? Jesus. Who shows mercy? Jesus. Who is pure in heart? Jesus. Who is the ultimate peacemaker? Jesus, the prince of peace. Who is persecuted? Jesus. Jesus was saying, “What you need is who I am.”
It’s no accident Jesus talked about us being the salt and light of the world immediately after He spoke of the Beatitudes. It’s living as Jesus lived that we become agents of healing and light to the world. It’s a lifestyle with an eternal mindset, living for the kingdom of heaven instead of for this world. This is different from a Christianity that follows Christ for the blessings we might obtain from God. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim for heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you’ll get neither.”
It’s taking on God’s heart and nature, experiencing transformation for ourselves and orchestrating change within others. An Amish family traveled to the city. While mom was shopping at the mall, the father and son sat in front of the elevator fascinated. Suddenly, an elderly woman entered the elevator. The doors closed and she disappeared, only to have the doors reopen a few moments later with a beautiful young woman exiting. The father leaned over and said, “Son, go get your mother.” We are talking about this kind of drastic change! The old selfish you is replaced by the new selfless you.
Jesus mentions salt and light. Salt was so important it was used as money. Our word “salary” come from the Latin word “salarium,” salt money which is a reference to the Roman solders payment with salt. When we say someone is not worth their salt, it’s a carryover of the idea of the high value salt had in ancient times. Likewise, when someone is honest we say, “They are the salt of the earth people.”
Salt was used for healing throughout history. There were no drug stores on every corner, so if a soldier was hurt in battle or an accident occurred, the common treatment was to bathe the wound in salt. It’s an excellent sterilization agent. I still gargle with salt water.
Salt is necessary for proper body metabolism. When the body begins to lose moisture and salt through perspiration, the life process becomes threatened. If our salt is not replaced, we die. So, when Jesus calls us the salt of the world, He is commanding us to contribute to the health of society.
Salt is a preservative. There was no refrigeration, so the only way to keep meat from going bad was to immerse it in salt to keep decay away. Christians are given the task of arresting the moral decay of our world.
Christianity has had a profound positive effect on the world. It brought about value to human life. Prior to Christianity, infanticide and abandonment of children was a common practice. Hospitals as we know them began through Christian influence. The Red Cross was started by an evangelical Christian. Almost every one of the 123 original colleges and universities in the United States had Christian origin. The same can be said of orphanages, adoption agencies, and humane treatment of the insane. Christianity has been the antiseptic for human nature’s corruption.
Today, it’s hard to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. If they hadn’t told you they were a Christian, you wouldn’t have known it. “Pastor, I found out someone I’ve worked with for years is a Christian, like me…isn’t that funny?” No, it’s sad that neither of you lived in such a way that you could tell you were Christ followers. Our attitude and language, what we don’t laugh at, how we treat others should distinguish us. We should be releasing blessings with a glow in our countenance.
Today, people say, “My religion is a personal thing.” But God doesn’t want you to keep Him to yourself. Yes, you have to make a personal decision, but He is not to remain exclusively in your personal possession. Give Him away!
Sadly, some Christians become a hindrance instead of a preservative of our faith. A peculiar property of salt is even though it has lost its pungency, it still retains devastating potency. It can still destroy plant life on the land. Like judgmental Christianity which repelled so many in society, we now have to rebrand God back to His original character trait: love.
Christians are supposed to be a witness to the changing power of Jesus Christ. Suddenly, our long-standing bad habits have meaning. A preacher was building a wooden trellis to support his climbing vine. As he was pounding away, a little neighbor boy sat down to watch him. Pleased that his work was being admired, the pastor asked, “Are you trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?” The boy replied, “No, I’m just watching to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”
A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale. As he talked it over with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it proves you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The manager said, “Your job is not to make him drink, but to make him thirsty.” Is anyone thirsty to know Jesus because of your life? Our relationship with Jesus should exude such a flavor that it creates in others a hunger and thirst to know our God.
A king asked his three daughters how much they loved him. Two replied, “I love you more than all the silver and gold in the world.” The third said, “I love you better than salt.” The king was displeased with her answer. The cook overheard the exchange and decided to withhold the salt he used in the next meal. The meal was tasteless and horrible. The king asked the cook about the meal; the cook confessed what he had done and the king was able to see the power of his daughter’s remark. She loved her daddy so much that nothing was good without him. Let’s make people thirsty for the life only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando occurred a year ago, the largest mass shooting in American history. The LGBT community was targeted. It was powerful to see how that community sent its love from across the globe. It’s a lesson for Christians who haven’t risen up for our fallen brothers and sisters being slain by ISIS. We have silently, passively allowed over a million die for our faith.
Robert Bellah, a sociologist from Berkley commented, “The quality of a culture can be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.” 2% seems like such a small minority. What if Christians decided to release the love of God into politics, social programs, entertainment industries, and the educational sector?
Here is why this is important; the world is taking steady, intentional steps away from the Jesus Christ. The empowerment Christianity has brought humanity is being dismissed, as the utopian enlightenment idea that secular progress would guarantee human freedoms, justice, peace and global order replacing any need for God. The modern atheist likes to point to the horrors religion has brought on humanity. But consider the human carnage atheists did to humanity during the last century: 130 million killed. Philosopher Etienne Gilson observed, “There still remains only God to protect man against man…otherwise we will ceaselessly enslave ourselves.”
Jesus is a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it. Christians are like mirrors that reflect the light of Christ. The phrase, “Come to the light,” implies coming to the truth—life with God. Jesus is the light, but people love the darkness. We prefer to be in charge of our own lives—the self running the show, not God.
We are flashlights ridding the spiritual darkness that comes from living without God’s input, shining light on the pathway to the presence of God. The light Christians provide is not a particular doctrine, but a person: Jesus Christ.
When Robert Louis Stevenson was a child, the nurse found him with his nose pressed against a frosty pane of his bedroom window. She said, “Come away from there; you’ll catch a cold.” He wouldn’t budge, mesmerized as he watched the old lamplighter slowly work through the black night, lighting each street lamp along his route. Robert exclaimed, “There’s a man poking holes into the darkness.”
This is our calling. The prayers of Christians are holding back the onslaught of evil in this world. It was said of Eleanor Roosevelt, “She would rather light candles that curse the darkness and her glow warmed the world.” She did so much for others.
A woman posted a question on Facebook: “What are you most afraid of?” Some mentioned health, some said money, some said safety, some their job security, others their kids, one said Republicans. Realize this survey was presented to a host of Christians. Not one mentioned a concern their life would mean something for God or that they would pass their faith on to others.
Does your relationship with God cause you to see life differently than a non-Christian? Jesus is concerned about what our chief concern is. He asked us to be concerned about what concerns the Heavenly Father who will take care of all our concerns.
Following God is not about conforming to an outer moral code written on a stone tablet; it is sharing the loving heart of the Father with those who don’t know of His love. It’s getting lost in that relationship where God’s ways are written on our hearts. The Pharisees followed every dietary and sacramental law, but their hearts were not about compassion for the struggling or concern about the poor or friendship with the lowly. This is important because Christianity is not lip service, but a lifestyle that flows from the heart from the in pouring of God into us that oozes out onto others. Your presence or absence makes a difference because it is the presence or absence of God that is at stake.
I saw an epitaph: “Pause stranger, when you pass me by, for as you are, so once was I, as I am now, so will you be. Then prepare unto death and follow me.” Someone scratched on the stone: “To follow you I’m not content until I know which way you went.” We are to lead people into a relationship with Jesus.
In 1910, the American short story writer O. Henry spoke his last words: “Turn up the lights; I don’t want to go home in the dark.” As Christ lights the world, our mission is to make sure no one goes home in the dark.
You don’t have to be a spectacular, sensational success; you just need to bring Jesus to your part of the world. We cannot live a light-filled life in our society without standing out. If your faith does not make a difference than either you need to get saved or repent and allow His light to shine through you.
Notice that people will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Here’s an explanation of Christianity from a 2nd century letter from an unknown author to a person named Diognetus. It describes early Christians: “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish ways of life. With regards to dress food and manner of life, in general they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to live in whether it be Greek or foreign. Yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries, as though they were only passing through. Any country can be their homeland, but wherever it be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not kill them. They share their meals but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the law, they yet live on a level that transcends the law… Christians are found in all the cites of the world, but cannot be identified with the world.”
The fact that early Christians were unintimidated by persecution revealed they had found something worth living for and if necessary worth dying for. Justin Martyr said, “They can kill the body, but they can’t really hurt us.”
Christians, we are God’s gatekeepers for the world. We are assigned to the position of influencing the world. Jesus never stated that we are to live in isolation, separated from the world. We are in the world but not of the world (1 Corinthians 5).
We are called to make a difference. When a Christian no longer extends grace or refuses to stand up for Christians values or doesn’t strive to dispense God, they are like salt in a shaker: not useful to anyone’s meal.
Christ followers do deeds of compassion, speak words of grace, have hearts that reach out for God to a secularized world. This isn’t about you doing something for God, but God moving through you as you grant Him access to your life. We have the extra added power of the Holy Spirit moving through every step, word and reach we take on God’s behalf.
We’ve all heard the story of Lazslo Tokes, the pastor of a growing church in Romania. The communist government decided to shut down this fiery preacher, stationing police officers around his church with machine guns pointed at everyone trying to enter. They sent thugs to attack him and then just before Christmas, they went to retrieve him. But, when they got to the church, a wall of humanity met them. Christians from around the city: Baptist, Pentecostals, Orthodox, Catholic had joined together to protest. They stood there all day. Finally, in the cold night, a young Baptist student named Daniel pulled out a packet of candles and passed it to his neighbors. Soon the darkness of the December night was pierced by the light of hundreds of candles. Two days later, the police broke through the crowd and dragged the pastor away, so all the people streamed to the city square and began a full-scale demonstration against the government. Once again, Daniel pulled out his candles and the night was lit by the Christians glow. The communists fired on the crowd; hundreds were shot. Daniel felt the pain as his leg was blown off. This inspired the rest of the nation and within days, the entire population of Romania had risen up and removed the bloody dictator. For the first time in half a century, the people of Romania celebrated Christmas in freedom. In the hospital, Daniel’s pastor came by to see him offering sympathy. But Daniel wasn’t looking for sympathy. Daniel said, “Oh pastor, I don’t mind the loss of a leg. After all, it was I who lit the first candle.”
It is time to light some spiritual candles! Let’s bring Jesus to our increasingly dark world.

Sources: John Hamby, Jeffrey Smead, Rodney Buchanan, Jim Denison

About Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis: Rev. Dr. William Lewis has been the Senior Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration since 2009. Whether at a traditional service, praise service, or the more casual Thursday night service, you’ll find that Pastor William’s preaching brings the Word of God to life D.Min. McCormick Theological Seminary Th.M. Princeton Theological Seminary M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary B.A. University Colorado
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