We live in a time of great change.
In fact, change seems to be happening at the speed of light.
If you think about new technologies, society in what we call the Global Community, business and commerce, philosophy and theology and communications truly have been reshaped by the amazing advances and information in the world today.
Think about the wealth of information that we have to draw from: multiple 24 hour TV news channels tailored to our political or social preferences, social media …the Internet in itself has completely changed the world.
Our social circles have changed, our schools have changed, and our worship has changed dramatically over the last few decades.
And certainly there is great change in attitudes toward how we treat one another, with a very pronounced emphasis on trying to remain neutral and politically correct.
We could say the way we do church — that is, the way we worship, the way we minister and the way we preach — also has changed to be relevant to the problems, challenges and sensitivities that our society faces.
I’m not commenting on whether any of this information I’ve just shared is good or bad; from a merely sociological view, these are truisms of change in our contemporary times.
The dominant culture always dictates the ethics in that society — it doesn’t matter whether that was the dawn of humankind, or just 200 years ago, or just two-and-half minutes ago.
And so back even 100 years ago, we would have called ourselves a more “Christian” society simply because more Americans identified themselves as Christians and attended a house of worship as opposed to today — no surprise there.
And if we were then a more Christian society, putting into practice our Christian values may have offended a minority of non-believers, but not to the magnitude that it would today.
Not even close.
What do I mean by this?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that our former society probably would have been seen as more moral than today:
Prayer in the schools and in meeting halls, acting and lawmaking with an eye at least more toward how others are treated rather than what is good for me or my own agenda. In other words Christian ideals.
And the act of spreading the Good News — the Gospel — was easier because we simply were not afraid to talk about Jesus Christ because there was less resistance at that time.
Was society perfect? No. Was it 100 percent good? Not even close. Was it more moral? I don't know. It just looks that way.
But that’s not my argument.
My argument is simply this:
It was a lot easier for us to be the witness, or what Jesus calls in our reading of Matthew today, the “salt and light” because there was less resistance, because that was the dominant culture’s belief or ethics.
Times change, our cultural morals and ethics change. Our interpretations change.
It’s easy for us to says “the Bible never changes.”
And it’s true, the Bible does not change.
But how we interpret the Bible does change.
Now think about that statement. Does it make you bristle?
Does it make you a little uncomfortable? Or is it comforting?
Let’s think about this nation’s history with slavery and the treatment of children and the treatment of women just as examples.
There were some very dark times when we condoned, either tacitly or directly, the beating of children…
Or keeping women from the workplace or the elected office, the vote or even the pulpit. Which continues today…
And we know the horrible image of slavery that cast a wicked shadow over this very nation not all that long ago…
…All because the way the Bible was interpreted by the dominant culture at the time — and today, which was, and still is, the white, Western male.
Again, the dominant culture dictates the ethics for a particular society.
Did the Bible change? No. But our convictions did.
The Bible doesn’t change, but the way we interpret it does.
Salt & Light
So when we listen to Jesus’s teachings in Matthew 5.13-20, which we read just a few minutes ago, we see a message that has not changed, even though it was spoken to an entirely different society and culture and political climate than ours.
That message is simply this: What Jesus teaches and even commands us to do does not change.
Ok, out a pin in that for a second. We’ll come back to it…
Let’s back up here a second, because we’re framing this reading and this entire four-week sermon series on God’s blessings in our lives and what it means to to have God’s blessings.
We began this series, #blessed, last week answering the questions who and what does God’s kingdom bless?
We’re joining Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount, loosely Matthew 5 through 7.
Last week we looked at the Beatitudes to better understand that blessings aren’t just physical things or even what we may desire, and that we are called to bring justice to all people, not just ourselves.
And so, today, we need to ask “What is the blessing of being the salt and light, as Jesus says?”
Well, let’s look.
Ok, so the setting is a mountain or some raised hillside in Galilee, which is about a five-days’ walk north of Jerusalem.
All of Judah is taken over by the Roman Empire, the temple is destroyed, and there are the beginnings of persecution against the Jews, heavy taxes, and, what Rome does so well, the forced assimilation or whitewashing of the culture it has taken over.
At this point, Jesus has just a few disciples — Peter, Andrew, James and John, and here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus has a lot of people paying attention to what he’s teaching.
So many that he has to climb up to a higher elevation so everyone can see and hear him.
Thus, the “Sermon on the Mount…”
And it’s here where Jesus begins his teachings on dismantling the dominant culture’s ethics.
He does so by first reminding the people who they are: The Salt and Light.
Verse 13” “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Then he adds:
Then Verse 14 and following:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
We well understand these metaphors.
What can the salt add if it’s bland and tasteless?
As believers, what can we add if we are bland?
No, we are called to share with enthusiasm and great imagination the good news of Jesus Christ.
It doesn’t matter what the dominant culture believes; when we add our testimony of Christ to the culture, it makes it better.
But if our testimony and the way we live our faith is bland, then it does nothing to the culture we are added to.
The salt does nothing, it is worthless.
Likewise, we are called to be a light — the city on a hill.
That light, again our testimony and the way we live out Jesus’s love and promise in our lives, is not to be hidden; it’s made to shine.
When others look at you, do they see light?
Do they see Christ’s light? A light and a love for Christ that is so pronounced, you cannot help but to shine?!
That cannot, nor should it be, be hidden.
Not only does it make you feel better, it makes the whole world a better place.
The law & prophets
But that’s the first part of our reading today. What about the second portion under the heading “The Law and the Prophets”?
This is really critical to understand:
It’s important to note that, while we talk a lot here about how Jesus turns much of the Old Testament on its head, here’s your chance to finally say, “Yeah, but not here, Pastor Chris.” And you’d be correct.
So let’s look at what Jesus is saying here.
The Law is, what? The 10 Commandments. The Decalogue.
The prophets are the wisdom in the Old Testament books.
Notice that Jesus isn’t saying to throw them away. Jesus is very much a Jew.
Verse 17…“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
Now, just as an aside, when we talk about Jesus flipping over some of the Old Testament thought, it really comes down to this:
If you love Christ, you wouldn’t want to kill, or love other gods, or take the Lord’s name in vain, or commit adultery, or covet…
If you truly know Christ, you love Christ, and there’s no reason you would even want to engage in these sins or act in a way that’s counter to what the prophets teach.
No, here Jesus upholds the law, and he says that if you sin against the commandments, you will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
No one wants that.
We might not even know what that means… But he clarifies some and tells us, Verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s a pretty clear edict … although I don’t know how hard it would be to accomplish this.
The scribes and Pharisees seemed like they were righteous, but their actions proved otherwise.
And Jesus has no tolerance for hypocrites…
So you see, Jesus is telling us to remain witnesses — the salt and light. And he’s telling us to not let the dominant culture diminish that salt or light.
And again, who is Jesus talking to?
Those people who are being influenced by a new and dominant culture: The Romans and Hellenization.
Whole different sets of values, of gods, and of the way they act in community.
Jesus is telling them don’t let your salt become tasteless and worthless.
And don’t hide your light — your witness — under a bushel.
Instead, love and stand up tall the way God commands us to — no matter what surrounds you.
To us today
Now if we believe the Bible is the Living Word — and we do — then what Jesus is saying applies to us in our lives on this very day.
The Bible is not some historical document or some ancient words of wisdom.
It is the Living Word that speaks to and guides us today — in the scope of what we face today.
So the mission is to remain constant in Christ.
Earlier in this sermon, I began talking about the advances in our contemporary world and how we give them meaning based on the dominant culture’s beliefs.
Slavery, beating children, and oppressing women are examples of how we incorrectly interpreted the Word.
Jesus loves us, he doesn’t demand we destroy one another.
Yet there are still passages that we continue to wrestle with today.
That’s one of the way the Bible is the Living Word. It’s always speaking to us.
But if we’re confused — just as those Jesus preached to back on that hillside in Galilee 2,000 years ago might have been — he upholds this:
* Be the witness of God, not other gods or graven images.
* When you speak, honor God, but do not take God’s name in vain. That means never denying the revelation that Christ is Lord.
* Taking time to remember, celebrate the Lord and rest in his name — like we do here on Sunday.
* To respect and take care of your parents, rather than forget them.
* To bring life, and not death.
* To honor the sanctity of marriage and never do anything to destroy someone else’s.
* To not desire something so much that in your heart you’ve stolen it already or will physically take it.
* And instead of lying, to always speak truth.
Those, in a nutshell, are the commandments.
Jesus tells us those are never reinterpreted.
Again, if you know and love Jesus, there is no reason you would need to worry about any of these things.
We live in a tumultuous time, indeed.
There is so much happening so quickly in our world, it’s hard to take the time even to understand it all.
Political ideologies, injustice and inhumanity around the world and right here in our own country.
It seems as if we’re overwhelmed even trying to discern what the dominant culture is telling us.
How much of it is rubbish? How much is wisdom?
See, if and when we become confused, we can ask ourselves this: What does it mean to be a disciple?
That’s what we’re called to.
We represent love, mercy and kindness.
See, it’s not merely a matter of what we’re doing, but it’s a matter of what we’re being. (repeat).
We can do all sorts of good things whether we believe in Christ or not.
I have friends who are atheists or believe in some other god… They do great things in their communities.
But are the cities on a hill? Are they lights for Christ?
Jesus calls us not to just look like cities on a hill, but to BE cities on a hill.
To be the light, to be the salt. Never lose our flavor for God.
Why? Because Jesus IS love, mercy and kindness.
We are connected to him, and therefore, we honor him by sharing this truth, not hiding it.
By living out this truth, not by ignoring it.
So how is this a blessing?
It’s a blessing because when you live the salt and the light, you will come up against a hard dominant culture.
In being the salt and the light, you will come up against persecution and even hatred.
In being the salt and the light, you may become confused as to whether what the dominant culture tells you is counter to Jesus’s teaching.
If you were here last week, you got an earful of this from me.
Because when this happens, you need something strong within you to help you stand strong, to be salty and to shine brightly.
And that something is God in the form of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will help you discern, will remind you of the Living Word and will convict you and even speak the words right into your heart and into your mouth.
We cannot possibly take on the dominant world all by ourselves.
But through the power of the Holy Spirit we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. (Philippians 4.13).
Friends, this is the blessing: To live out God’s blessing in our lives.
We have the unearned privilege and underserved honor to call ourselves children of God.
So let’s go and be unwavering.
Let us always be God’s salt and light.