Monday, January 21, 2008

Sermon: The Flavor of your Faith - Matthew 5:13

Below is the message I preached this weekend. I made some small final changes to it, but it was pretty close to "as written". The weekend went really well and my wife and I enjoyed ourselves. The church will vote next Sunday as to whether they will extend a call to me or not, and it is likely they will from what we heard yesterday! Scary and exciting!

The Flavor of your FaithMatthew 5:13

A while back a pastor was in his back yard building a wooden trellis for his wife’s prize winning roses to climb as they grew. He had out the power tools, the saw, the drill and the hammer. As he was working, the neighbor boy stopped playing in his back yard, and began to intently watch the pastor as he worked. The pastor was pleased that the young boy would want to learn from his craftsmanship, and so trying to be friendly he said to the boy, “I see you watching me there. Are you interested in how to build things out of wood?” “No” the neighbor boy replied, “I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

Life is funny like that. It has a way of bringing to our attention that people are paying attention to us, and sometimes to things we don’t realize they are observing. Today we are going to talk about how this plays out in our Christian walk. The sermon today is based off of Matthew 5:13 (page # - invite to follow along). Matthew 5:13 falls within the Sermon on the Mount that many of you might be familiar with – what most would consider the best sermon ever preached. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is preaching to a large group of people at the height of the popularity of his ministry here on Earth. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus is speaking and he says to followers: You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Does anyone know why would Jesus call us “salt”? Why not pepper or mayo or how about you are the ketchup of the earth? What’s the big deal with salt? Today I am going to unpack what it means for us to be the salt of the earth. So lets dig in and look at the nature of salt.

In biblical times salt served a number of functions. It was a limited resource, and therefore a very valuable commodity. We get our term salary from the ancient Latin term salarium – which is the portion of salary that was paid in salt to the Roman soldiers.

The first use of salt that I would like to focus in on is that it preserves things – it preserves goodness. One of the most important functions of salt in the time of Christ was that it was a preservative – it kept things from going bad, from spoiling. We live in a time of refrigerators and freezers thankfully, but just a few generations ago people had to rely upon salt to keep their meats from going bad before they could eat them. They would have to dry rub the meats with the salt to cure them, or they could brine the meats in a barrel of salt water. Through this process the salt would penetrate the meat, creating an environment where the bad bacteria could not grow. Using these processes they could extend the shelf life of their meat products from just days after butchering, to many months, especially in the cooler months.

So as Christians, we too are entrusted with preserving goodness. We must ask ourselves, what am I doing to preserve goodness around me? As Christians, we are marked people. Those around us are watching us, looking in on our lives to see how we act and react. Our friends, family and coworkers hear the stories we tell and the jokes we pass on. They see how we treat other people, and whether we like it or not, in that moment we represent what it means to be a Christian in their minds. As a body of believers we must commit ourselves to preserving goodness. We may be the only Bible some people are willing to read.

Another thing that salt is used for is to enhance flavor – it serves the item to which it is added. We are called to add zest to the lives of those around us. As Christians we are called to be seen by others as living examples of the power and grace of God, examples which others are encouraged to follow. This is the messy part of our faith, where we have to get dirty and meet people where they are. What good is salt if you never get it out of the shaker? It has to be mixed in with things, so it can interact and add to what is already going on in both cooking and in life. If you think about when you are cooking, salt by itself isn’t a useful thing. You have to take the salt, measure it, add it into what you are cooking and give it a good stir. Many foods without salt don’t taste right. They are often bland, lacking something. Our faith is like this also – as salt to the world, we enhance the flavor of God Imagine yourself at the grocery store on the free sample day. Walking up and down the aisles sampling new products. Grocery stores do this to tempt you to buy something new, to try something different. By living out our faith, we do this too. We allow other people to get a taste for something better. Our values are always expressed in our actions. What is truly important is the way values find expression in our daily lives. This is what Jesus alludes to in this word picture about salt. Those who hold kingdom values will witness to those around them the reality of his vision for our lives.

My final thought on salt today is that salt inspires thirst. I suspect most of you have purchased popcorn at a movie theatre at some point. That warm, buttery, salty goodness, I can almost taste it. Movie theatres add more salt to their popcorn than most people would add on their own, because it causes people to get thirsty. Add to that the commercials for beverages on the screens before the movies and you have a great way to drive us out of the seats to go and purchase a $4.50 12 ounce Coke! We as Christians are to make others thirsty for the living water – for Christ. In John 4:13-14 Jesus says "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

My own faith story is evidence that salt inspires thirst. My freshman year of college I was the starting fullback on our school’s football team. I was one of two freshmen to start any games the first half of that season. I had come out of high school highly recruited, and I was really living out my dream at that point. You might think I would have been really happy at that point – I was starting on the football team, I was dating the head football cheerleader, I was invited to all the parties, and I was skating through my classes with minimal effort. Life was good right? Not really. Not at all. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know why, but things just didn’t seem right. I was not enjoying my success, and as the season progressed this feeling only deepened. The more fun I tried to have, the worse I seemed to feel.

My roommate my first two years of college was a guy named Jason. Jason and I really had little in common other than we had both grown up Lutherans. Jason wasn’t gifted in any way in regards to athletics, and in fact I think he resented getting paired up with a crazy jock for a roommate. We eventually reached an odd equilibrium in our relationship after a few months as roommates often do. We knew each others schedule well enough to not get in each other’s way. We really didn’t hang out much, since football was pretty much a full time job for me, and well, I really didn’t really know what he was keeping busy with. As the fall semester progressed my personal discontent grew to the point it was gnawing at me, keeping me up at night. At this same time I started to notice things about my roommate and his friends. They didn’t have all the things I perceived as important, yet they all seemed really happy. There was something different about these guys, and honestly even though I wasn’t sure what it was, I knew I wanted to be part of that group.

There was something about how they carried themselves, about the way they interacted with people, especially with me. To be honest I hadn’t been all that nice or friendly to them. I was cocky and crude. If there is such a thing, I was your stereotypical football player. And they loved me anyhow. My roommate and his friends were salty. I saw in them something I wanted, and it attracted me like a moth to a flame. It was through their life witness that I came to know Christ. They didn’t have to ask me if I knew Jesus. They didn’t have to force me to read the Bible or listen to Christian music. They simply lived in such a way that I could see that they were different.

We too are called to live in this way, to be salt to the world. Each one of us needs to ask the question – Am I making those around me thirsty? Am I salty?

Today I have handed out packets of salt to each one of you. I challenge you to put this somewhere where you will be constantly reminded that we are called to be salt to the world. Put this on your desk at work or school or by the speedometer of your car. You know the right place. Find a place for this salt packet where it will remind you and challenge you to live out your faith so that other people will be attracted to Jesus. A little salt goes a long way, and I believe we can change the world with one shake of salt at a time. First Congregational Church, YOU are the salt of the Earth! Amen.

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