Several years ago, George O’Leary was a highly successful ACC football coach with a 52-33 record, and was hired by the University of Notre Dame to be the twelfth coach of the Irish football program. But within days, it was discovered that he had misrepresented his college football-playing days, that he hadn’t played for the University of New Hampshire for three years but that he hadn’t actually played a single game! There was an uproar over his hiring at ND, and even though he had actually won the games on his coaching resume, he resigned less than a week later.
It didn’t matter what kind of coach O’Leary was, it mattered that he had been unauthentic.
That’s what Jesus is talking about today, as he tells his disciples and those who wanted to become his disciples that they were comparable to salt and light:
“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 underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Light we understand, right? The Apostle John loved the light imagery and shared Jesus’ teachings on the subject. First, he explained Jesus’ coming, not in terms of the Virgin Birth or the angels and shepherds, but with grand, poetic figures: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
In John 8:12, he wrote that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Light matters. Without the light of the sun, photosynthesis won’t happen, so crops won’t grow and oxygen won’t be made. Light, as a side effect, provides heat that keeps us warm in the winter and able to see at night. Light allows us to understand color and depth and to reflect.
Another preacher tells the story of a man whose job was to warn traveling trains that the they were coming up on a part of the track that had been damaged by waving his lamp. That night as the train came the man showed his lamp but the train went right off the rails. Called into court, the judge wanted to know why the train had not changed its path based on the man’s warning? The judge asked, “Where you on duty on the night that the train had the accident?” “Yes,” the man said.
“Did you have your lamp?” the judge asked. “Yes, sir,” said the man.
“Did you not wave your lamp?” the judge asked. “Yes, I waved my lamp,” said the man, and he was dismissed without penalty.
When the man arrived home, his wife asked him how it had gone, and he replied, “I’m glad that the judge did not ask me if my lamp was on!”
But what is the reason for salt? Why would Jesus tell his disciples to be like salt? Not the earth, not to go everywhere, but to be salt? We understand that Jesus is the light and we reflect the light, and take the light, and shine the light, but we are not the origination of the light.
But, again, salt?
Salt goes on soft pretzels and popcorn and steak and…
Okay, let’s try it this way:
Salt makes us thirsty. If Jesus is the living water which everyone needs, then people who follow Jesus are the ones who cause everyone to want more of Jesus. Have you ever considered that? That you are supposed to be a stimulant to someone else’s desire for more Jesus? That you are supposed to be a causal element in someone else seeking out more of what Jesus has to offer?
Salt preserves. Now we’re not talking about making things stay fixed one way, the only way, this is the way we’ve always done it kind of way, but in a, ‘without salt it would go bad’ kind of way. In an age of refrigeration, I don’t think we consider how vital salt was for preserving meat and other foods so that people would have something to eat even when it wasn’t the right season for them to have that food! If disciples of Jesus are like salt, then we are to be a vital participant in the community so that the community has grounding and anchors and continues to exist.
Salt isn’t the flavor but it brings out the flavor. Salt makes potato chips better and rings out the flavor of my Outback special. (Mmmm, getting hungry.) Salt helps us to enjoy something else that is the main dish, the point of what we’re eating. If followers of Jesus are like salt, then what we do provides an upfront example of what Jesus is all about.
Did you know that followers of Christ weren’t called Christians until years later? That the term Christians comes from them being called “little Christs?” The followers of Christ in Antioch in the book of Acts were called that as a term to make fun of them, as they tried to actually live like and model what Jesus had said but they took it as a compliment.
C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity wrote, “Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
We don’t actually become like Jesus but if we are the salt and the light as Jesus compared us, we become so much like Jesus that people will think of us synonymously.
So consider this: do you have enough characteristics about you that someone could mistake you for Christ like a doppelgänger, like a case of mistaken identity, walking down the street? Are you salty?
The salt in Jesus’ day was used to preserve or flavor but it wasn’t pure like what we get out of the cabinet or in a restaurant. So folks of Jesus’ day had to taste it, check it out, and if it wasn’t salty enough, they threw it outside in the street, the way we sand or salt the sidewalk. After a good rain, salt like that washes away.
That’s what Jesus said was the worth of a disciple of his who lost site of what it meant to be a disciple. Who forgot what it meant to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Who forgot what it meant to love their neighbor as themselves.
Jesus said that kind of disciple wasn’t worth anything at all.
Kind of scary, isn’t it? Jesus has a salt and light level of expectation for us. Are we salty enough? Do we reflect the light well enough?
Are we authentic enough? Wait. Authentic enough? We either are or we aren’t. We’re either like Jesus or we’re not.
A few years ago, we did the Dan Kimball Bible study They Like Jesus But Not The Church. Wait, what? You can like Jesus, but dislike the church? But the church is made up of a bunch of people who are like Jesus, right?
Whoa. What does it mean to be like Jesus?
Let’s see how smoothly, and quickly (right?), I can do this. Seriously, an Anglican minister last week preached a one-minute sermon to make it home in time to watch the San Francisco-Carolina football game. I have until 3 p.m. kickoff so we’ve got plenty of time!
Jesus obeyed the laws of the Old Testament. Jesus knew the Ten Commandments, and he worked to follow the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Which, of course, was added to in Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”) A direct corollary of this one is that Jesus called sin a sin; he didn’t sugarcoat it, dance around it, act like he didn’t see it, or say that it was okay.
Jesus had a relationship with God. It says over and over that Jesus went away by himself to pray. It says that his last words on the cross were to God, after spending hours crying out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it says that Jesus felt so close to God that he called him the Arabic version of ‘Daddy.’ Any time he did something, Jesus invoked God and then gave God credit for his success.
Jesus put others before himself. We could pull out the cross trump card here, pretty easily. But for every two times that Jesus went to be by himself or with his friends or rest, there is a situation where Jesus was called into action instead, to heal, or listen, or comfort someone else who was struggling. While Jesus was put in a perfect decision to judge others because he knew the law and because he had that relationship with God, Jesus put grace before everything else.
So… do we know the way that God’s law works? Do we talk with God? Do we put grace first?
If we’re going to be authentic, if we’re going to be salt or light, then we need to figure out what it looks like to be Jesus, to shine brightly and taste salty.
That’s going to take work, isn’t it?
I want to be good publicity for Jesus. I want my life to be examined, and when it is, that I would be guilty of a life that looked like Jesus.
There’s only one way for us to make that happen: We must go and shine.
Or better yet, to go out into the marketplace, and be… the spice of life!