Passage: Matthew 5:13-16
The start of a new year often causes us to reflect on our priorities, values, and hopes. At Covenant we want our community to be shaped by what God prioritizes. We are a household of faith called by God to live together as a faithful witness to what God has done and is doing. Join us for our current sermon series Life Together as we explore the qualities and values from God’s Word of the kind of community we are called to be in Jesus. The hands in our sermon graphic are signing “community” in ASL. Each week we will consider a particular value of our community marked by Jesus’s cross and empty tomb.
If you haven’t been with us the past few weeks, we’ve been in a sermon series called Life Together, which Tony Salamone – he’s not here with us this morning, He’s in Vietnam of all places. But Tony is the one who does these graphics for us. So if you see Tony, give him a hug. He does a great job with these.
But we’ve been in a sermon series, Life Together. Thinking about what type of community does God call us to be in. We’ve talked about being a community of worship and a community of mercy and a community of grace. And today, we’re going to talk about this idea of being a community for the common good. That we all have an influence on our neighbors and our neighborhoods and the society that we live in, our vocations, the places where we do life. We can influence the church as individuals, influence as a part of our culture.
I don’t know if you saw it, but not that long ago, there was a controversial and thought provoking ad that came out by Gillette, the men’s shaving cream company. Maybe you heard about this, or you saw the ad. And the ad was about this epidemic of men using strength for harassment and for bullying. And it was this powerful ad that pushed against that, and showed the error of it and the episode or the commercial ended with this call for the next generation of boys to be raised to use their power not to bully and not to harass, but to love and to look to the interests of the other.
And their response to the ad a spokesperson for Gillette said this, “it’s time we acknowledge that brands play a role in influencing culture.” Brands have a role in influencing, we as a church have a role as influencing. We, as individuals, have a role to influence. And this is the call that Jesus gave to His followers. 2000 years ago, he had that ragtag group of fishermen, and everyday ordinary people and outcasts, and he gathered them together. And he gave these provocative words. And he said, You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world, you are a city on a hill, you are meant to be an influence to the culture around you for the common good. And it was the call then, and it is the call of the church now. It’s the call for every follower of Jesus, you are to be the salt of the earth, to embed yourself in the culture, to preserve it, and to bring out all the good flavors and you are the light of the world. You’re meant to display the darkness and push it back. And you are a city on a hill meant to show an alternative way of living, to light up the darkness.
That was Jesus’s call to his followers back then. And it’s the call to us now for Matthew 5:13 through 16. So as we look at this passage about salt and light, we’re reminded that we’re to be a community for the common good.
This is Jesus speaking to His disciples, He says, “you are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can be made salty again. There’s no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. And you are the light of the world. A town built on a hill can’t 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. And the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
When Jesus gave these words to his first followers. It was this. It was this provocative, almost absurd claim. Like I said earlier, it was a small band of a ragtag group of everyday ordinary people. And he was saying to you everyday ordinary folks, fishermen’s and tax collectors, not the elite, not the authorities, to the world’s eye not that talented, but you, you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. And you are a city on a hill. And he said, You’re going to go out and you’re going to influence society. And this seemingly absurd claim. And modern day Israel expanded over seven continents. And it was a message that was told more than any other message in the known world, this message about Jesus and His Church and betting themselves in the culture for the common good. And it’s a message and it’s a call that we are caught up in.
So I want to think about these three phrases. And think about what does it mean for us here in San Diego in the 21st century to embrace this identity of salt and light and a city on a hill to be loved by Jesus and changed by Jesus and then sent into the world, for the sake of Jesus.
So first this idea of the salt of the earth. As you can imagine, in the first century, there was no electricity. There was no freezer. So how did you, how did you keep meat from going bad? Well, you take this small substance called salt and you embed it into the meat, and it would preserve it from decay. And it would also bring out the flavors of the meat. It was this small substance that went into this larger substance called meat, but it helped the meat be what it could be and, preserve, and help the flavors to come out of it. And Jesus is saying, church, you might feel small, relative to the larger culture out there. But sure, to embed yourself into the culture, to preserve it. And to help the flavors the full flavors of what the culture could be to help it flourish and thrive. That is what you are called to be. And notice in the text, Jesus doesn’t say you, you ought to be salt. Or you could be salt if you do these things. Jesus says because you’re my followers, you are salt. This is who you are, to embed yourself into the communities in the neighborhoods, your neighbors and your friendships and your families and your vocations. And the places where you work in the places where you play. And you’re to live there and do life there for the sake of Jesus, and you’re there to preserve it. And to help those spaces and people to flourish.
Then verse 14, he says you’re, you’re the light of the world. Light dispels darkness, it lifts the mood.
For three years Kennerly and I lived in Michigan, and worshiped in the same church that Ed and Nan were at. And this time of year, there’s an epidemic in Michigan. Maybe you know about it, everyone is sad. It’s called seasonal affective disorder. There’s no light. And so everybody goes around and buys these sad lamps so that everyone can feel better because light, it lifts the mood, doesn’t it? When you dispel the darkness, it lifts the mood, it brings joy.
Church, that’s what you are called to be your, your call to go into the places where you live and work and your relationships. And you’re to be this mood lifter. To dispel the sadness, to dispel the darkness with the light of Jesus.
You’re the salt of the earth. Now you ought to be or could be you are, and you are the light of the world. And you’re also a city on a hill.
Which again, when Jesus gave this message at nighttime, everything would be pitch black, dark. So if there’s darkness, then you see a town or a city on a hill, and it’s lit up with candles and torches. It would stand out bright. People would be drawn to it, they would, they would see it. And that’s what you are to be. And that’s what the church is to be this, this city on a hill, this alternative way of doing life. Not a life rooted in selfishness but a life rooted in selflessness. Not for the sake of yourself, but for the sake of others. This called to be salt and to be light and to be a city on the hill. What would that look like?
Kennerly and I got a vivid image of what this could look like a few years ago, we went on a trip to visit friends in Ghana. And they lead this holistic sort of work where they work with diets and with widow care, and they also work with starting new churches.
And so we went to witness all this work and kind of participate in it. And there was one memorable moment on the trip. Kennerly and I are sitting on the porch of the Muslim chiefs home with his three wives. We in this Muslim kind of territory. And this Muslim chief and I were talking about America and the crescent moon from the mosque across the street cast a shadow over our conversation. And this chief was telling me almost with tears in his eyes, how grateful he is for our friends. And he was telling me why he wanted them to bring the Christian church into his land. So before we got there, our friends had been working in that area. And that area was really deficient in protein and diets. So our friends worked with stocking ponds with tilapia.
And so in this Muslim chief’s land and the pond in his land, they put tilapia into the pond and in protein came into the diets of the community and people were getting healthier. And then also in this Muslim chiefs land, widows weren’t being cared for and they were, they were being malnourished and they weren’t having food to eat and just kind of left to the side. And so our friends introduced peanut farming to the widows where they could find peanuts and they could sell the peanuts for money and they could eat the peanuts as food. And this Muslim chief was so moved by our friends that he wanted to know why are you doing this? And they said, We’re doing this because of Jesus, or Christians.
And he said, well, you need to bring your church into my land. ‘Our friends were being salt. They’re embedding themselves into the culture hearing about the hurt and the pain and the broken places and trying to bring flourishing. Seeing the dark places and bringing light showing a different way of living to care for orphans and for diets. And churches have continued to be planted in this territory. It was a vivid picture to me of what it looks like to be salt and light, a city on a hill.
Maybe another story closer to home, not as dramatic or systematic, but just as impactful. Kennerly was telling me a story this week about how at the end of her high school year she grew up in San Diego and East County. And after a class, one of her classmates came to her and said, why are you so nice? This classmate was an outsider who didn’t have many friends and was kind of an easy person to pick on. Kennerly, why are you so nice? And Kennerly was kind of taken aback.
I’m not nice. So what do you mean? Kennerly is nice if you know her. But her classmate said, “no, no, you are. You’re different. You don’t pick on me, you’re nice to me, You’re a friend to me, why?” And Kennerly paused and didn’t have anything prepared to say. Just one,
I’m a Christian. And that’s why I’m nice to you.
So when you follow Jesus in the everyday ordinary, you embrace this identity of salt and of light, and a city on a hill and you embed yourself into the places where you play and you work, in your relationships. You show people a different way of living. And maybe it’s systematic, big ways, like caring for widows, impacting diets, maybe in small ways, like just being kind to a classmate, who no one is kind to. And people see a difference.
As Jesus said in verse 16. He said, People will let your light shine before others, they may see your good deeds and what glorify your Father in heaven.
See, when Jesus gave this call, there were two ways to engage with culture, there was the Pharisee way and the Sadducees way, these were two systems of thinking in Jesus’s day in the Pharisee way, was, you need to separate you need to be distinct and different from culture. It’s not a business, it’s a Christian business. It’s not music, it’s Christian music, and it’s us versus them, us against them, almost adversarial.
That’s not the Jesus way.
And then there was the sad to see way, which is the exact opposite. There is no differentiation between those who follow Jesus and those who don’t, there’s no difference between the salt and the meat. You just embed yourself and you embrace what the culture gives, and you follow the trends and you’re just like, everything around you. And that’s not the Jesus way either. That the salt is different from the meat, but the salt is there for the meat, good for the flourishing, to dispel the darkness to show an alternative way of living.
What are some practical ways you think about this? I mean, maybe, maybe there’s big systematic ways. Maybe there’s a simple kindness ways that those stories have spurred your imagination. What are some other ways that as you seek to follow Jesus, you can dispel the darkness, you can show a different way of living.
You know, in verse 14 and 16, Jesus says people will see your good deeds. And literally that word good actually means beautiful. People will see your beautiful deeds, they’ll see the beauty of your life and they’ll be compelled by it.
Pastor Tim Keller, he put it this way. So the vision is to live such beautiful lives, that the people around you who don’t believe what you do, are soon unable to imagine a world without you. Because of your public good. They might understand why you do something but they see a goodness, they see a beauty in your life and they’re compelled by it and motivated by it and they want to know more.
Why are you so kind? What is it about your life that makes you live this way?
And I want to think about four ways, touch on them briefly. The beautiful words, beautiful generosity, beautiful sacrifice and beautiful rest. Beautiful words. You’re on this call to follow Jesus. We’re not meant to keep our lives and our relationship with Christ private, it’s meant to be a public thing out in the open. Light is a public thing. But our words, when we go public with our faith are never meant to be overbearing, or obnoxious. They’re to be beautiful.
I think a place where we, and the church is no different than anywhere else we can get tripped up on this is an arena of politics. Where we enter into the arena of politics and our words stop becoming beautiful. And they become ugly. You know, yes, have your convictions. If you’re a Republican or a Democrat, or a freedom loving libertarian, pray for wisdom and, and lean into your convictions. Yes, no one’s saying not to. But if we are so beholden to what party that we are giving ourselves to, that we can never see any darkness that emerges in our words, never critique it. They’re not very beautiful.
And if we embrace that mentality and see the people who are against us, as our enemy, and our words embody that they’re not very beautiful. That the call to follow Jesus is to call to follow them in all arenas of life, including politics, including the words we use about politics.
And to the words that we use are, are they compelling? And are they beautiful? And are they good?
John Wesley, he’s the founder of the Methodist church, he gave this really helpful way of thinking years ago, said for people who will vote, I urge them to vote for those they judge most worthy. And here it is, beautiful words, and speak no evil against the person they voted against. And to take care of that their spirits are not sharpened against people who voted on the other side.
Friends, are our words sharp, or are they beautiful? See if we’re beautiful. We show the world and alternative way of living we become a city on a hill. That’s compelling, beautiful words.
How about beautiful generosity. Author Andy Crouch said that if you want to be a radical Christian do this. Being radical is actually pretty easy. Just give away 10% of your money and watch less TV. And that will make you a witness to the people around you. What if your money, what if your bank accounts, the way that we looked at money in the margin that hopefully that we could create in our lives? What if that was an opportunity to show beauty to other people? That we could be people of generosity someone could say, why? Why are you generous? Why are you open handed? Why do you look at money differently?
Martin Luther, the great church reformer said we need three conversions in our lives to follow Jesus: a conversion of the mind to the Gospel, a conversion of the heart or the will to say, Jesus, You are my Lord. And then Luther said, We need a conversion of our wallets, to lay them at the feet of Jesus, to let him show us how we should think about our money.
It’s probably why the Bible has around 500 verses about prayer, other 500 verses about faith, but it has 2000 verses about money. Because our hearts can get so messed up about it. But if we were to follow Jesus, and lay our wallets at his feet, and be salt, and be light and be a city on a hill, that would be compelling to the world around us.
It’s like with kids, you give three jars, there’s one jar that you set aside 10%, forgiving 10% for saving and then have fun with the rest. That’s not a bad place to start. As we tried to be beautiful, with our money to show a beautiful generosity, salt, light a city on the hill, to be beautiful with our words, to be beautiful with our generosity. How about a beautiful sacrifice, to be beautiful with our bodies.
Kyle Harper he’s a scholar, he wrote an important book called from shame to sin, the Christian transformation of sexual morality. And he talked about when Christianity came onto the scene. And the first few 100 years there was a clash between the church and the Roman Catholic culture around us because the Roman culture around the church at the time had this view of sex that was very status, status oriented and very power orientated. That a man of a higher status could have sex with anyone he wanted have a lower status and the person of the lower status couldn’t deny the person of the higher status. That sex was all about the status you had the power you had in the position that you had. And the Christians came onto the scene. And they presented something different.
As Kyle Harper says, Christians led the first sexual revolution, where sex was not about status and power and domineering, it was about sacrifice, that sex wasn’t about me, it was about looking to the interests of the other. And that sex was rooted in a relationship of self giving and marriage, to the church enter the Roman culture, and it was this, this radical different way of looking at sex. That it wasn’t about the self and it wasn’t about power. And it wasn’t about domination. It was about looking to the interest of the other, it was about a beautiful sacrifice.
The church is still called to that, whether it’s the first century or the 21st century to look to the interest of the others with our bodies. David Brooks, in the New York Times captured our current cultural moment with these words. He said, we’re living with the excesses of 60 years of hyper individualism. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on personal freedom and self interest and self expression. And the idea that life is an individual journey toward personal fulfillment. You do you. But what if we embrace this call to be salt and light in a city on a hill with our bodies. And we viewed sex not as a selfish act, but a self giving act. One of consensuality, but even more than that one rooted in the covenant of marriage, where I am looking to the interest of my spouse, and I have given myself up for myself that is an act of selfishness but of selflessness.
And if we’re not married, being in a committed relationship with God and giving our bodies to God, sacrificing it for him. See? That is something different to the world. Something that’s magnetic. That’s beautiful, that’s flourishing.
Beautiful words, beautiful generosity, beautiful sacrifice. Beautiful rest.
This idea of a Sabbath. And last Monday was Presidents Day, and maybe some of you had it off. I saw a study that came out that said, we only send 40% less emails on holiday Mondays than normal Mondays, which the study was getting at is, we don’t rest. Even on holidays, we can’t break away from the work we’re giving ourselves over to it’s so much that we can’t break away. And there’s no beautiful rest in that.
You know, in the Bible and the story of the Bible in the very beginning, to know what the first thing that was called holy was? Time. To be holy as to be set apart, to be distinct, to be special, to be something other. And God called the seventh day he called the Sabbath. He called us space and time. He said that his holy. Sabbath is this call to take a break, to cease to stop from work, to step away, and to enter into time that is holy.
If you want to be salt and light in a city on a hill, ask yourself the question, what is work for you. Maybe work for you is sitting at a desk and producing. And so for you to stop means to get away from that desk and to get away from your email. And to go outside and do yard work.
Maybe for you work is physical and it’s manual and you create with your hands and so for you to stop means to go take a nap and to read a book.
If you want to show the world beauty, if you want to preserve its assault, if you want to dispel the darkness, we need to show the world a different way to work. It’s this principle of one in seven, one day and seven days, stop. Take a break. Step away from email, step away from the tools, step away from whatever you call work, and rest and rest and show the world something different.
Eugene Peterson, he said these two principles about a Sabbath prayer and play. You enter into a beautiful rest when you make space to pray and to commune and to be with God. And then to play, to have an easiness and a lightness about the day.
Let the world see your good deeds so that they might glorify your father. Let the world see your beautiful life so that they might ask why do you do that? Why do you care for widows, why are you so kind to me? Why do you use words that are different? Why are you so generous? Why do you look at sex so differently? How come you’re not a slave to work? What is going on about your life?
I’m following Jesus.
Or does that ability come from, where does the power come to live that sort of way? How do we do that? Well, to be salt, we need to be filled up by the true salt. And if we want to be light, we need to be illuminated by the true light. See, Jesus is the true salt. And he took his life and he rubbed it into the suffering and the hurt and the pain of this world to preserve it and to see it flourish, to see the renewal of all things.
And Jesus is the true light. He’s the one that dispels the darkness of sin and brokenness that’s out there. And that’s in here.
And then if you want to be salt, you need to stay close to the true salt. And if you want to be this sort of light, you need to stay close to the light.
So many years ago, Jesus gathered those followers around Him. He continues to do it through time and His Spirit. And he told to us, he said You, You are the salt of the earth. Go and be salt. And you are the light of the world. So go light up this world. And you are a city on a hill. Show this world, the beauty of our God.
Father, thank you for this, this invitation. Now, the good news of the gospel isn’t just that we are saved from something, from sin, from brokenness, from pain, from hurt, from shame, but we are also saved to something. To this mission to this invitation to this work. To get caught up in what you’re already doing, Jesus. Would you stir our hearts? Would you stir our minds? Would you show us people and places and ways in which we can be salt and we can be light?
We can be a city on a hill. We can be a community for the common good. That people might ask why do you do that?
It’s because of Jesus. Paralyzing the strong name of Christ. Amen.