6th Sunday after Pentecost July 9, 2023
5, 409, Worship Supplement 2000 #767 (alt. TLH #400), 398
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O Lord, grant us the Spirit to hear Your Word and know the one thing needful that by Your Word and Spirit we may live according to Your will. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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.” (NKJV)
“Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” These are two of the most important questions in life. They were two of the questions one of my teachers made us answer during my senior year of high school. During those developing and changing years of adolescence most people really begin exploring who they are as individuals—we usually say they are “finding themselves” at this stage in their lives. This is also, unfortunately, a time in many people’s lives when they begin to lack any sort of direction and they begin to question just about everything, including their own identity—who they are exactly.
At the other end of the life spectrum there is a time in the lives of many older people, especially if their health begins to deteriorate, when they begin to question their continued purpose in life—“Why am I still here? Why doesn’t God just take me to heaven?”
Failing to understand clearly who you are, however, does not end when you turn twenty-five, and questioning why you are here is not limited to those who are over eighty. Our enemy, Satan, is especially good at clouding our vision, and does not want us to figure out who God has made us to be or the purpose for which He has placed us here on this earth. As we go through our lives we can be deceived into believing that what we do is actually who we are, and in this way distort our sense of identity. For instance, people will often say, “I’m a contractor…or an engineer…or a teacher,” when referring to his or her job or career. Notice, we don’t usually say we do the particular job or career that we have. We often say that we are whatever job or career it is that we have. Very easily—whether subconsciously or not—our work can become our identity, or at least a very big part of our identity. Yet, in reality, you are above all by God’s grace through faith a child of God—a child of God who has been led to use his or her talents in the field of construction, or technology, or business, or teaching, or the arts, or whatever it is that you do, whether it’s for your career or otherwise.
In the same way Satan will attempt to confuse our sense of purpose. He will attempt to lead us to believe that our purpose in life is tied to solely to our decisions and the use of our possessions—essentially, “I do what I must, to have what I want, in order to live as I please.” But that sort of an approach to life ignores God’s will for our lives, ignores His Word and His great promises to us, and deprives us of a true understanding of God’s purpose for our lives.
I would encourage all of us this morning, as we strive to understand who we are and why we are here to Find Both Your Identity and Purpose in Christ! Jesus Himself reminds us of our identity and purpose in our text, and it has nothing to do with our job or our possessions. He reminds us in that (1) In Christ, you are the salt of the earth! and (2) In Christ, you are the light of the world!
As Christians our personal identities are tied directly to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul once wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-29)
Jesus describes your identity by saying to each of us in our text, “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.” (v. 13) Salt is such a simple, common thing, but it is important—especially in Jesus’ day. We use it to give flavor to food, and, much more so in the past and in Jesus’ day, they used it to preserve food from spoiling. Well, in what sense are you and I to be “the salt of the earth”? How are we “salty” Christians—in a good sense?!
First of all, even as salt is a seasoning and its presence or absence is noticeable to our taste buds, so also our presence or absence as Christians should be noticed by the world around us. The world should know we are there. Our attitudes, our words, and our actions as believers should be different. They are guided not by the thinking of our own sinful nature, or by the world or the society that we live in, but by the directions of our Savior. Jesus tells us, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34b-35 ESV) Through the Apostle Paul, He instructs us, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24 EHV) When we strive to do this, we will be noticed—just like salt seasoning your meal!
So, do you make a difference in your place of employment, in your neighborhood, within your family? Can people tell by your words and actions that you are a Christian? As you think about those questions, however, don’t limit yourself to thinking only about the way you behave morally, because even unbelievers can be law-abiding, moral people. Your key component as spiritual salt is not, after all, “morality,” but the fact that you have the joy filled blessing of knowing that God has forgiven your sins and has saved you because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! God’s forgiveness in Christ is what makes you right with Him. God’s forgiveness assures you of His favor and of being a member of His family for eternity. God’s forgiveness will, therefore, move you to live differently—not just to live morally, but to live like someone who’s been transformed, like someone who’s been made alive again, given an incredible gift of love and forgiveness that they can’t help but share with others; someone that loves and forgives others, even as we have been forgiven—just as the apostle Paul encourages us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesus 4:32) When you and I treat others with genuine love and forgiveness and proclaim with joy the forgiving love of Jesus, then we will be true salt on this earth.
Now, Jesus speaks of the salt losing its “flavor” and being “good for nothing but to be thrown out” (v. 13b). What is He referring to? If you or I claim to be a Christian, but no one can tell us apart from the other people in this world, then something is wrong! If you or I can curse with the worst of them; if we can party with the best of them; if we ignore God’s commandments and do with our bodies whatever we want; if we are bitter, unkind, and unforgiving as many people in the world are—then we have lost our Christian “flavor!” Then we are no better than tasteless salt, which can simply be dumped out on the ground and walked over!
Let’s not forget who we are by faith (our identity) and the calling Jesus has given us (our purpose)! We are privileged to be the “salt of the earth”—designated to be this by Jesus Himself! Let us pray that we might have an effect upon the world around us, in order to lead them to Jesus. Remember that as few as ten “salty” believers would have been enough to preserve the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from being destroyed in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 18:32). Your life and your prayers do make a difference here on earth and may well make an eternal difference in the lives of those whose lives you “season!”
Jesus goes on to say in the last verses of our text that in Him you are not just the “salt of the earth,” but also 2. In Christ you are the light of the world! Listen again to His words: “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.” (vv. 14-16)
Isn’t it interesting and just a bit surprising that Jesus, who Himself claimed to be “the Light of the world” (cf. John 8:12), calls you and me “the light of the world” (v. 14)? Jesus, of course, is the Son of God and the world’s Savior. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (cf. John 14:6) and the “light of life” (see John 1:4; 8:12). Therefore He is a “light” in a very different sense than we are. Think of Jesus as the sun—the Light producer. We are like the moon—the Light reflector. He is the very “light of life,” the way of salvation. Yet, as we reflect the light and love of Jesus—as we proclaim the good news of God’s forgiveness and eternal life found in Jesus’ redemption we provide light in the midst of a very dark world. And even a little light in the midst of a dark place is very powerful and very bright!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are “the light of the world,” again, because Jesus has declared us to be so! The Spirit of God has made that possible, for He has worked faith in our hearts. Let us not put our lights “under a basket!” We’ve unfortunately all done that before, haven’t we?
How often do we all have to confess, “Lord, I am guilty of putting my light under a basket”? That is why we turn to Jesus daily for forgiveness. Martin Luther once wrote that Jesus “willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (cf. 95 Theses, No. 1)—in other words, a life filled with turning to Jesus. We do fail to let our lights shine. Jesus knows that! We are not and never will be perfect or let our lights shine perfectly this side of heaven. Jesus knows that, too! However, Jesus still urges us to let our lights shine for everyone in our homes, everyone in our schools, everyone in our workplaces, everyone in our communities, and everyone with whom we ever have contact in this world. Why? Jesus answers and in doing so He provides one of our great purposes here in this life—“that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven!” (v. 16)
Find Both Your Identity and Purpose in Christ! You and I find our identities in Jesus Christ! Only in Christ can our identity be secure, certain, and unchanging. Only in Christ can our purpose be truly good in every way, and eternally worthwhile! May Jesus lead us each day to be “salt” and “lights” in this world, and to find our identity and purpose in Him! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.