Approaching Life: Beyond Ourselves
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, February 9, 2014.
Reading: Matthew 5:13-20
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to speak and live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
Today we continue our series entitled, Approaching Life, where we’re exploring the Christian approach to life, that is, how we seek to live and be like Christ in a broken world.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is, perhaps, the most extensive teaching we have on what this life looks like. It is in this discourse that we find Jesus’ most challenging teachings: where he challenges all who would dare follow to be “perfect.”
The idea of Christian perfection—also called holiness or entire sanctification—has fallen on hard times in the contemporary Church. The idea of perfection brings with it a number of negative connotations that keep many of us from even considering the idea. For a variety of reasons we do not find perfection desirable or attainable; but it is a central tenet of our faith.
To be—as Jesus puts it—“perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, New Revised Standard Version) is to so surrender yourself to the will of God that you are “complete in showing love to everyone” (see Matthew 5:48, Common English Bible). It does not mean that you’ve got everything figured out or that you never make a mistake (sin). Christian perfection is a heart and life that is given completely, in love, for God and neighbor. It’s not a static thing: something we achieve and then keep forever. But, let us not be mistaken, it is really possible. You can achieve perfection in this life. For Christ not only calls, but commands us to pursue it: be perfect—complete in showing love to everyone. Christ’s mandate is one that calls us beyond our brokenness to live a full and abundant life. It moves us beyond our excuses and limitations to live and be more than we ever thought possible.
Consider the audience of our lesson for today.
The sheer daring of telling a group of ex-fishermen on a hillside in a remote corner of the world that they were to become the one hope of the world! That they would save it from moral putrefaction and moral darkness! It is breath-taking. These statements about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world are either cosmic or comic. Two thousand years of history demonstrates that real Christian character has been in fact the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
We are called to be salt.
This metaphor is tricky for us. We live in a society where there’s too much salt. According to the Center for Disease Control we consume 3,436 mg of salt a day when our body only needs 180-500 mg to keep everything working properly. Many of us are on no- or low-salt diets; but, in the ancient world, salt was an important commodity used sparingly with care. In a time without refrigeration, salt kept food from spoiling.
As persons who have experienced God’s love and been transformed by it, we are called to be the vital force that keeps the world from wallowing in its brokenness. Just as salt keeps meat from spoiling, we are called to preserve and nurture the best in humanity.
One of the ancients said that “what the soul is to the body the Christian is to the world”—take away the soul and the body is a decaying carcass; keep it there and the body is a beautiful organism.
We are called to be salt—to preserve and promote the dignity and beauty of all God’s Creation.
Salt preserves. Salt also provides flavor. Proclaiming and living into the good news of God’s love found in the Gospels is the greatest adventure one can ever take. If life seems routine and bland, then you’re not living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ came in order that we might have life—indeed, so that we could live life to the fullest (see John 10:10, Common English Bible). If you want a boring and unfulfilling life, Christianity isn’t for you. If you want to live life as an adventure, then follow Jesus for he will lead you into dark, confused places where your light might shine for all to see.
It is here where Jesus changes metaphor. Followers of Jesus—people transformed by the love of God found in Jesus Christ—are called to be salt and light.
I envision our role to be similar to that of a bug light. You know what I’m talking about, right? It is a light that is typically blue surrounded by a screen. In the dark, bugs are attracted to the light and they get zapped when they hit the screen. I don’t know why this is such a vivid memory, but I can recall the bug light at the house where I spent most of my adolescence. There was a shed with lean-to in our back yard and the bug light hung from the edge of the lean-to. I can remember having to go out with the hose and clean the bugs out of the bug light. Why I remember that, the good Lord only knows.
Those who follow Christ are called to be kind of like that bug light, shining in the dark. The consistency of not only knowing, but being a conduit of God’s love will attract people. This was the biggest problem Jesus had with the religious folk—the Pharisees, Saduccees, and teachers of the law—they were not consistent. They tried to be light, but the light was not in them. Of course, the main difference (which I hope is obvious) between the Christian and the bug light is that a Christians does not zap the life out of people (though let’s be honest the church is all to often guilty of zapping the life out of people). In fact, a brush with a Christian should do quite the opposite for we are preservers and promoters of life (salt). Instead of death, we offer life in the name of Jesus Christ. Our lives should attract people in such a way that they might “hunger and thirst for righteousness” too.
When the love of God dwells deeply within us, we not only preserve and sustain life, but we offer it in the name of Christ our Lord. As the grace of God transforms us from the inside, we are called to move beyond ourselves to become salt and light for the world and in so doing all will be fulfilled: all will be made right between God and us and us with the world.
Jesus said, “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete” (Matthew 5:17-18, The Message). With the love of God working within and transforming us, we will transform the world as we continue Christ’s ministry of outreaching love. Through the grace of God found in Jesus Christ we will become pure as the law demands. And, through the power of the Holy Spirit we will be “made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
Allow the love of God to transform you on the inside so that you can be salt and light for the world: preserving, promoting, and leading others toward an abundant and eternal life lived with God here (now) and into eternity.
 E. Stanley Jones, Christ of the Mount, 87.
 “The Great Thanksgiving” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 10.