A People of Influence
In my previous church, I had an older congregation. But in almost four years, I was blessed to only have to preside over the memorial services of four persons. I have not got an official number, but in the first two years and a month that I have served here, I am closing in on 20 services. Or, roughly, a service every six weeks or so. Each person I have led a service for, both here and elsewhere, had a story. And each person I have done a service for, whether they liked it or not, had an influence on the world around them. Whether it was the playful fun stories that people had to share about Ray Huntley, or the long resume of accomplishments that was shared about Eddie Clay, each person that lives on earth has influence on the world around them.
I have done funerals so large that we had to move out of the church to the school gym just to accommodate all of the guests. I have been a part of services where we were lucky if we hit 20 folks that came and remembered their friend or loved one. Nevertheless, each had an influence.
I rarely come home from such a service without being moved, challenged, and renewed in my inner being. This is especially true when the person is a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Some of the services that really get me thinking the most are those that are done for common folks with relatively little notoriety. Folks that have lived long, full lives of quiet commitment to their Lord, their church, and their community. I am moved, you could say, by the power of an authentic, ordinary Christian life that quietly impacts those around them with little fanfare. Men like Walter Mehlhaff, who despite his heroic accomplishments in WWII, spent most of his life working hard, being a good father, loving his wife, serving his church, and being a simple, authentic witness for Jesus to those who were around him. Or Sarah Gordon, with her Bible that smelled like hand lotion, and stories of grandchildren that observed a very real, humble faith that she lived among them. Over and over again, these folks who lived lives of extraordinary ordinariness for the kingdom of God. Who influenced in very simple, and very common ways. An ordinary Christian life, you see, isn’t all that ordinary. And when you see it, it truly is beautiful.
Jesus says that you, if you are his disciple, will be a person of influence. Yes. I said You.
He says this, “YOU ARE the salt of the earth”
And Jesus says this, “YOU ARE the light of world.”
Not….you have the potential to be. Not….if you try really hard you can be.
JUST YOU ARE…..
Jesus’ first step, which we talked about last week, is to tell us that we are blessed when we apprentice ourselves to him. His second step is to tell us who we are in him.
To understand what he is saying it is helpful to understand a little bit more about salt and light.
Salt is a preservative. It is, as long as it is not overused, a fertilizer. It is known, in some climates, to melt ice. It also adds flavor to food. It does so often by drawing out the flavor present in the food it is placed upon.
Rarely does one grain of salt get noticed, but when in a small group of grains it can taste great.
Light grows things. It brings heat and sight. It helps us be safe. We cannot see any color, or anything without light. Light helps guide us and lead us in dark places, and helps us to understand, see and perceive. It is a symbol for enlightenment, knowledge and spiritual awakening.
Light is also much more powerful when there is more than one light gathered.
Salt and light are really kind of ordinary things. It is not like you don’t see salt everywhere you go. At Dale’s on the counter. In your kitchen. Perhaps even in your garage as well. And the same with light. The sun comes up every day.
Salt and light have their impact by bringing out things other than themselves. It is with light that we are able to see colors, mountain vistas, a golf ball flying through the air, the smile on a loved one’s face.
Salt makes fried potatoes taste like they were sent from heaven. It draws out the flavor in a good steak. It makes sure Tillamook beef sticks and jerky are tasty and edible when they make their way from the ranches around the Oregon coast out to our local convienence store.
Both salt and light have their value because they empower us to see other things, to experience other things. People don’t usually just start pouring out salt in a bowl and eating it like cheerios. That is not healthy. Neither is staring at the sun.
When Jesus says “YOU ARE SALT” and “YOU ARE LIGHT”, he is saying that we are going to have an impact. People are going to see the gospel and have their first taste of the gospel through their experiences with us.
Furthermore, you need to know, and this is very important, that the YOU in the YOU ARE passages are plural. Like Y’all are salt, Y’all are light. They are talking about us as individual believers yes, but believers who are part of a family of believers.
You are salt and light through the way you live out your faith in your everyday life. Not through some great mission effort, as important as that is…but rather through the simple, profound ways you live your faith everyday. Salt and light, both ordinary, things we take for granted, but also things we cannot live without. You are that.
As similar as salt and light are, in that they are both ingredients of the world that bring life and enhance many other things in life, salt and light are different in some ways.
Jesus says we are salt of the earth. The earth most likely should be interpreted “the land”. For the early Israelite Christians, that would be right where they lived. When Jesus talks about being salt of the earth he is talking about having an influence right where we are at. That we, United Churches, are going to have an abiding influence as believers right in the communities, the families, the workplaces, the schools, and the places of play that we are involved it. We are going to, much like the saints that have went before us in death that we discussed earlier, have a profound impact in our ordinary faithfulness, our ordinary integrity, our ordinary work ethic, our ordinary compassion, right where we are at doing what we do as believers. We should share our faith in word as well, but you will look like a follower of Jesus to people. Jesus said YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE WORLD.
Jesus says we are the light of the world. The mission here, from the Old Testament context, is the mission that goes out from Israel into all the world. Light starts in one place, but it can be seen from a distance away, and provide guidance and direction for those who are in the distance. Its influence goes out from the source to fill an entire room, an entire skyline, and more. We are not only going to have an influence on those we are in intimate contact with, we will have influence on folks around the region, the state, the world. Our church will have light going to Haiti and the Philippines. It will have light go out as we raise children who we have taught the love and grace of Christ and who then go to new places and give witness through their word and deed to the love and the goodness of God.
As the kingdom of God gets built through a food bank on the other side of town, a child who comes to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a teenager who finds a safe and loving place to be for a few hours, then our light shines out.
YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
You may have your doubts about this. You may not believe that you are the light of the world. You may not believe that you are the salt of the world. But Jesus does. He has entrusted you with HIS gospel. You are his one and only plan to build his kingdom, to share his word. You are his disciples.
YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
I know you probably have all sorts of questions about why Jesus would place this label on you, this moniker, this definition.
And I have to tell you, the fact of the matter is, we become what we are told we are. I have a friend who was told that he was a mistake by his mother over and over again. He was bi-racial, and called all sorts of racial epithets by his white mother. He heard the names over and over again. He believed what he was told. And by the time he was in his mid twenties, he took his own life.
In my life, two of my high school coaches passed away recently. One of them, named Steve Wolfe, came along side me and supported me. He believed in me. He showed me that belief with his time and his words. He identified how I was improving in wrestling. He told me I would become a good wrestler. And I did become a good wrestler. But he also spoke into my life an ability to overcome hardship and difficulty And that is something that I didn’t just take with me as a kid wrestling, that is something I took with me the rest of my life.
This is the kind of thing Jesus is doing when he says YOU ARE SALT, and YOU ARE LIGHT. He is speaking that truth into our lives. By naming us with those characteristics, he is also speaking that character into existence among his followers. This is the power of a blessing. Especially his blessing.
James Bryan Smith tells a story of a young boy who both demonstrates what it is to be salt and light as a person, and what it is to be salt and light as a community of believers. It is a story from the local church he attended.
The story is about Kevin. Kevin was in his late 20s, and at one point the pastor asked Kevin to come forward and share his testimony. This was a challenge because, well, Kevin could not speak. He was profoundly disabled. He had Down’s Syndrome, as well as a number of other complicating developmental disabilities, including a reconstructed palate. As a result he let out grunts and groans that his mother could interpret, but few others.
The pastor, therefore, had to speak for Kevin, asking him yes and no questions, and occasionally there would also be smiles.
“So Kevin, you just got back from the Special Olympics, was that fun?”
Kevin smiled, nodded furiously, grunted, and held his medal high.
The pastor explained he might have won more medals, but he stopped in every race to help other runners who had fallen or who were lagging behind.
“Isn’t that true Kevin,” the pastor asked.
Kevin nodded again, this time with a little bit more apprehension, shyness, and humility.
Then the pastor said, “Kevin, you are about the happiest person I know, to what do you attribute the joy in your life?”
Kevin pointed up.
“God?” the pastor asked
Kevin nodded several times. Then he raised his hand, as if to ask to say something else.
“Something else,” the pastor asked.
Then Kevin stretched out his arms as if it were Jesus dying on the cross.
“Do you mean Jesus dying for you?”
Kevin not only nodded but with great excitement started jumping up and down . He used sign language that Jesus loves us all, and that he Kevin, loved each person there as well.” He gave the pastor a huge hug. The congregation members were either crying, or dutifully working very hard to restrain themselves from doing so.
This story is just one example of a young man who was salt and light in his world. Despite being profoundly disabled, he was living the gospel in how he ran in the Special Olympics, and how he eagerly shared about the love of Christ.
But he was a part of a congregation that was salt and light. That disciple him to love God and neighbor. That valued his voice in worship. That taught him about love and grace and God’s acceptance.
So here is what we are going to do. In the next week, I want us to open our eyes. To how God is using us personally as salt and light in the world. To how God is using believers in our church to be influencers for the kingdom of God in our lives and in our community. And how God is using the people of God all around us to be salt and light in our town for his glory. Be careful to pay attention. And try and see more what God is doing through people…giving glory to him. And then during prayer time, we are going to share what we have seen and heard.
Go and see the truth of the gospel in the world around us. YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. You are God’s influencers in the world. You are God’s hands and feet to build his kingdom values and influence here in Hot Springs.