Sermon for Sunday, February 9th, 2020
Christians are always walking a tightrope between two very different ideas:
On the one hand we believe in God’s love for us as we are. There is the old hymn:
Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.
Just as I am, or as Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ, the messiah, the son of God is willing to suffer and die for sinners. Loves us while we are yet unlovable. It’s the bedrock of our faith. We don’t earn our salvation; it is given to us as a free gift, from someone who knows even better than we do, what a mess we are. That is one side of our faith.
But then on the other hand, throughout scripture, God calls his beloved people to change. God calls for us to turn away from sin, to abandon injustice; God calls us to reject cruelty and not to be indifferent to suffering. God calls us to righteousness. God challenges us to grow spiritually and move our wills closer to his will. For that there is a different hymn:
Just a closer walk with thee, grant it Jesus, is my plea.
We are called to walk closer with God, or as Paul also says in his letter to the Romans: “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”
So, you see, we have these two, seemingly conflicting ideas about what it means to live in relationship with God. Which is it? Does God love us as we are, or is God calling us to be better than we are? This question, which has led churches and denominations to part ways with each other, has been a contentious issue since Jesus walked the earth. In fact, it was an issue for people of faith even before he came.
So Jesus, presents these two conflicting ideas to his people by using a couple illustrations this morning.
He says to his followers: you are the salt of the earth. You are salt. Salt is a vital mineral. You can’t live without it. Thank God for salt. Salt gives flavor, salt purifies. A couple weeks ago I bought a jar of unsalted peanuts by accident. It was a mistake. Salt is also used in religious rituals. Holy water has salt in it. The sacrifices in the temple had salt mixed with them. Before refrigeration, it was salt that preserved food and helped us to live through long, hard winters. Salt is a wonderful, and valuable thing.
But, Jesus says, but….if salt has lost its flavor, if it has lost its taste, if it has lost the very thing that makes it what it is, then what good is it? The idea of flavorless salt is a ridiculous idea.
Jesus says to his followers: you are the light of the world. You are light. Light is critical to the way we live. You can’t see without it. We take for granted electric lights. Light is almost too abundant now, much in the same way that salt has become almost too abundant. But we don’t want to live without it. Light warms us, light cooks our food, light protects us from danger, light guides our paths. Light is a wonderful and valuable thing, we don’t want to live without it.
But, Jesus says, if light doesn’t illuminate anything, if it doesn’t actually shed its light into the world, then what good is it? The idea of a light that doesn’t illuminate is a ridiculous idea.
Then what about a person of faith that doesn’t show love? What about believers whose lives bear no fruit? How is it that there are religious people, people that claim to love God and be loved by God, that seem to have a complete inability to share that love with the world or anyone else around them? What good are they?
That is the somewhat stinging point in Jesus’s lesson today. If you are salt, people need to taste it; if you are light, people need to see it. If you are loved by God, then people need to witness that love at work in your life. If loving God doesn’t draw you closer to him, if loving God doesn’t actually change you in any way, then people are completely justified in asking, what’s the point?
Jesus walks the line today between those two ideas: Jesus both affirms our value in God’s eyes, but he also challenges us to be better than we presently are. He challenges us to be the holy people that we are called to be. He says that we are valued and loved by God, but he challenges us to respond to that love in such a way that others can see and recognize it. That isn’t always easy. Here we are back on the tightrope again, caught between God’s love for us as we are, and God’s call for us to be better than we are.
It would be so much easier if we could just pick a side. Either we stop trying to grow closer to God because we figure we are already loved by him, so why bother. No response necessary. Or we convince ourselves that the external good works are what really matter, not the internal transformation. We can convince ourselves that we earn God’s love through our good deeds and superior choices. Christians divide up into these two camps on a daily basis. Either way, we avoid the difficult, but necessary transformation of heart, which gives the people of God their flavor, the light which makes us who we are and what we are. Being transformed by God is a difficult and sometimes painful process, but if we can’t say that God’s love has changed us in any way, then what is the point?
Now I guess we could try and have the best of both worlds, by appearing to outsiders to be holy and righteous, but never actually changing. We could try to show the world good works, while our hearts remain unmoved. That’s always a tempting third option, sadly though, I don’t think Jesus was very fond of it. It doesn’t seem like the prophet Isaiah was either. I guess God isn’t impressed with displays of piety that are more about self-worship and obsession than they are with a genuine love and adoration of God.
So what we are left with is Jesus’s challenging words to his disciples. You are salt and you are light. You are of immense value and you are loved in God’s eyes, now live your lives in such a way that others can see that. Yes, you are loved, but how you respond to that love, how you let that love transform you, well that will affect what the world thinks of God. Let your response glorify God, so that others may glorify him as well. You are loved, but don’t be afraid to be changed too. God may call me just as I am, but I can’t let that keep me from taking a closer walk.