The 5th Sunday After Pentecost June 23, 2013
391, 408, 398, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who bids us go and make disciples of all the nations, dear fellow-redeemed:
Does the world need you? A man named Julien Vincent says, “Yes.” You may have heard of him—he’s an activist with the environmental organization Greenpeace. Last year he led a successful effort to block construction of a large coal-fired power plant in Australia. He thinks you should join him. “More than ever before,” he wrote, “the world needs activism. The world needs civil disobedience…THE WORLD NEEDS YOU to do what you can to speak out against the dangers of climate change!”
If you’re like me, you may be a little skeptical about statements like that. Does the world really need more environmental activists? Maybe so, but one has one’s doubts. Here’s something that’s not in doubt, however: the world does need more Christians. In our text for today, Christ tells you in no uncertain terms that the world needs you, as a Christian—to be a Christian and to act like a Christian. So if you’ve ever felt like you’re totally insignificant, like your life doesn’t count, and there’s no way you can make a difference and affect the lives of the people around you, then you’ve got another thing coming! Jesus makes clear, in the words of our theme, that: The World Needs YOU! I. A corrupt world needs Christians to season and preserve it, and II. A dark world needs Christians to attract and illumine it.
“The world needs me.” That seems a pretty conceited thing for any person to say of himself, doesn’t it? History is full of the stories of men who considered themselves so great that they thought they were absolutely indispensable to society. Invariably, when such men depart the earth, society discovers that it can in fact get along very well without them. But society can’t get along without Christians for the very good reason that it can’t get along without Christ. Christians are the ones who bring Christ to the world, and that’s why it is literally true that THE WORLD NEEDS YOU.
The world needs you and not primarily for material things. As Christ Himself pointed out, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). The world needs you for a lot more than a hot meal or a bed for the night. As a follower of Christ you can have an effect on people’s eternal life. How does the world need you? First of all, it needs you to be salt. Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth.” [v.13] A corrupt world needs Christians to season and preserve it.
Did you know that salt is necessary for life? It is an essential nutrient. Human blood contains nine grams of salt per liter making it four times more salty then seawater. People can’t live without salt.
What does salt do? The first thing that springs to mind is that we use salt as a seasoning, and when it comes to seasoning there’s no substitute for salt. Those of us with high blood pressure have tried salt substitutes and we can tell you that Mrs. Dash just doesn’t cut it. As a seasoning, salt is irreplaceable. Just a small amount of it can turn food that is tasteless and unpalatable into food that is inviting and appetizing.
Christians are that way in the world, Jesus says. They provide seasoning. Just as salt enlivens the flavor of food, so the Gospel—as dispersed and proclaimed by Christians—serves as a flavor, an aroma, a fragrance of righteousness and salvation in the world. As Paul says, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Yes, the world needs you, but not merely as a seasoning. In this corrupt world Christians are needed as a preservative too. That, of course, is the other function of salt—it preserves. That was the primary function of salt up until about 100 years ago with the advent of refrigeration. Throughout history salt was used to preserve food and for that reason it was very precious. We think of salt now as a relatively inexpensive commodity, but through most of history salt was precious! In many places cakes or bars of salt were actually used as money. Roman soldiers were often paid their wages in salt. In fact, the word “salary” comes from the Latin word salus, meaning salt.
Salt was a preservative, most often used to preserve meat. Of course, anything that is rotten and decayed is distasteful to us. But there is nothing quite as bad as spoiled, decaying meat. If you’ve ever smelled any you know what I mean. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is much like rotten, corrupt meat. If you don’t believe this, all you have to do is open your newspaper or turn on the evening news. The sin of this world is a stench in the nostrils of the holy God. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the garden of Eden, the tendency of mankind has been ever toward sinfulness and corruption. As we read concerning the time of Noah, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
A Lutheran writer named Stellhorn remarked, “Since the fall of Adam and Eve, and in consequence of it, mankind, together with their abode and surroundings, have been in a state of corruption and decay, spiritually, morally, and physically. If it had not been for the seed that God in His mercy and loving-kindness has always been preserving from this mass of corruption, it would long ago have been impossible for God to bear with it any longer. This holy seed, these children of God, they are the salt that by its divinely given powers, the Means of Grace and a life in faith and love, prevents the corruption and decay from becoming unbearable to God. And this is their office to the last of the days.”
To combat the corruption of the world, Jesus says we should be salt. We Christians should provide a seasoning of Gospel in the world. Our presence should serve to preserve the world from total corruption. Christians are to be tangy and strong-tasting, like salt. But how often don’t we fail at our job as Christ’s salt? How often don’t we prove bland and tasteless. We try to blend in with the crowd, sometimes we actually mimic the unbelievers in the world around us, rather than standing out and reflecting the Gospel of Christ and being the salt we’re supposed to be.
Are you a salty Christian, or are you a bland Christian? Put it this way: if you didn’t tell your friends, neighbors, and co-workers that you were a believer, how long would it take them to discover it merely by your actions? Would they ever discover it? Our Lord asks, “if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” [v.13]
Someone once aptly pointed out, “There’s no salt for salt.” That is, if salt loses its flavor, there’s nothing you can do with it. It’s worthless. “It is then good for nothing, Jesus said, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” [v.13] If we lose the saving taste of the Gospel ourselves— though neglect, through inattention, through carelessness, through sin—then we won’t reach Heaven ourselves, let alone helping anyone else get there! Peter’s chilling warning sounds over the centuries: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20).
No, we haven’t always been salt. We’ve often failed to be the kind of preservative our Lord designed us to be. Sometimes, instead of combating the corruption of the world, we’ve actually indulged in the very same corruptions ourselves. So let’s confess that sin right now. Let’s bring our failures in repentance to our Lord. The good news is that, although you may not have “salted” the world, God has certainly “salted” you. He’s already preserved you with the best preservative in the world—faith in Jesus Christ!
In bygone days there were women who really knew the art of canning and preserving food, and their secret was what? To strictly clean and boil and sanitize every jar and lid—to eliminate every last germ that could possibly spoil the food. That is how God has preserved you. He gave His Son, Jesus, who eliminated every last sin on your record. ”For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Though you were sinful, yet God has applied to you the salt of His Son, Jesus Christ, and you will never spoil! You will be preserved on to everlasting life. You can say the same thing the Apostle Paul did: “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).
Do you realize what an amazing turnaround Christ has made in your life? What a striking new relationship you have to the world! Before you came to faith you were the dupe and the slave and the prey of the world, now you are its salt. You are its preservative. So get out there and be salt! Paul says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, but you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6). The world needs you. Live like a Christian! You never know how the Lord may be working through you to preserve someone you know.
This is a very corrupt world in which we live, and it needs salt. But Jesus says it is also a very dark world. And a dark world needs light. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under the basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” [vv.14-15] Why does the world need you? Because a dark world needs Christians to attract and illumine it.
Christians are made to be seen, Jesus says, like a city on the hill. I can well recall when I served as a vacancy pastor at our CLC Church in Valentine, Nebraska. Returning northward from evening services and crossing back into South Dakota, I remember being able to see clearly the twinkling lights of Murdo, South Dakota far away on the northern horizon. That city is nearly 100 miles away from the Nebraska border, but it is set on a hill. That is why you can see it from so far away. It can not be hidden.
Likewise, Christians are made to be seen, like a city set on the hill. In his most famous work, Saint Augustine even called us Christians “the City of God.” God designed us to be conspicuous. He made us to attract attention. Not to ourselves, but to the God of grace. You want people to look at you and say, not, “What a wonderful person he is!” but, “What a wonderful Savior he has!” That’s the whole purpose of shining. Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before man, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” [v.16] that they may see your faith and come to faith themselves!
Light is conspicuous. It attracts. But of course light also carries out an even more important function than that. It illuminates. Jesus said, “nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” [v.15] This is a picture taken from lowly cottage life in the ancient near east. Most homes consisted of one common room in which everyone lived. In this room there would be a stone projecting from above the hearth on which the lamp was set. Set up high, even a small light would be enough for everyone in the room to see by. And that of course is what Christians are supposed to do. You are a light. In some instances, you may be the only light. You may not have thought about it before, but your actions, your speech, your behavior may be the only Bible some of your friends ever read!
The world needs you, but it needs you to shine your light, not cover it! Jesus points up the logical absurdity: Why would someone light a light and then immediately hide under a basket? It makes no sense—why light it in the first place? But again, how often haven’t we been guilty of hiding our light, concealing our Christian faith when we should have been placing it high upon a lampstand for all to see. Instead, so often we keep our faith under wraps, we hide our light so that hardly a glimmer emerges, or we conceal it altogether. So many people around us are wandering in darkness and ignorance of the truth, and we withhold our light! One writer asks a pointed question: “How will your neighbors see the light if yours is hidden? Will someone else show him the light?”
Again, let us repent of our sinful failures, and bring our sins to Jesus. Let us return to the source of all light. God has had pity on you, in your darkness. He refused to let you die in darkness and ignorance. John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5).
God sent His only son Jesus to the cross that first Good Friday. There on that cross, the light of His life flickered and went out. But it rose again, radiant like the sun, on Easter Sunday, never to be dimmed! With that glorious resurrection, Jesus sealed your eternal joy once and for all. He guarantees that you will live in the light of His presence, not just today and tomorrow, not just for the rest of your life on earth, but for all eternity in Heaven!
Paul says, “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The light of the Gospel of Jesus has shined in your heart, and now you have the blessed privilege of spreading that light to others.
Just like lit lamp “gives light to all who are in the house,” so you can lend your light to all who come into contact with you: by being kind to people you work with and interact with, by listening to them and trying to help them in true Christian concern. You lend your light by being ready to answer those questions that always seem to come up: “Why do you go to church?” “What is it that you believe?” “Do you really think there’s a Heaven and a Hell?” You may even hear the question the Philippian jailor asked: “What must I do to be saved?” When those moments come—and they come more often than you’d think—let your light shine. Peter says, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
It was the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder who said, Sole et sale nihil utilius—“Nothing is more useful than light and salt.” How right he was! How soon our world would sink into oblivion if either of those two essential elements were withdrawn. Pliny wasn’t referring to Christians when he spoke those words, but he might as well have been. For there’s nothing this world needs more than Christians. A corrupt world needs Christians to season and preserve it. A dark world needs Christians to attract and illumine it. The world needs Christians. The world needs YOU! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.