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Sermon notes follow – 

In Isaiah 6:8 we read the famous words: “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”  The theme for this year’s Prayer and Self-denial Appeal is ‘Where God Leads’. It is in part to recognise the amazing work that New Zealand Baptists have been, and are involved in, all across Asia since 1885, as New Zealand Baptists have faithfully answered this call… “send me”.

This series is also to recognise in ourselves and consider for ourselves what our part is, in the greater mission of God for the church. It is to both pray for and give generously to the work of mission abroad, but also, to consider God’s mission right here, in this city, in this community, both and!

Throughout Scripture, including those of Isaiah we see countless examples of the life of faith that requires a willingness to go, to venture into the unknown, and follow God where He leads. The Holy Spirit offers this same invitation to all of us, in our own day-to-day lives, whether we stay or whether we go. We are all invited into and called to mission.

Hence the order of the words ‘the mission of Jesus, has a church’.

God is a mission God. A missional God. The Lord who is always with us, and is always working in us, is also always working to draw all people to Himself, at work in the hearts and lives of people across this earth to bring about his purposes. If that is true, and I believe it is, how do we and to what extent do we see ourselves as a legitimate part of Gods mission?

As significant contributors to God’s mission both globally and reaching our local communities here at home? Bringing our gifts to bear for God?

Do we recall the words of Ruth, “wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live” Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God”? (Ruth 1:16)

There is something profound about what Ruth said, but moreso her motivation and heart attitude behind these words. Naomi had said to Ruth, ‘go back, there’s nothing for you here…’. Orpah left, but Ruth stayed.  Her dedication to God and Naomi was more important than any aspiration she may have had to go back to her homeland. She didn’t choose the easiest thing, but the right thing!

That, more often than not is the tension we face in this Christian life in setting ourselves aside for God and his mission, not what I want but what he wills; often needing to choose the hardest thing, but the right thing. We call this the paradox of the Christian life. To live is Christ, to die is gain. Lose my life to find it.

I like what J.I. Packer says: “For love awakens love in return…the revealed will of God is that those who have received grace should henceforth give themselves to good works….and gratitude will move any (person) who has truly received grace to do as God requires.”

For the church to be anywhere near effective I want to suggest that’s the starting place, this is how we are useful to God.  The verses we’re looking at today are directed at our effectiveness and our influence.

We talked a couple of weeks ago about the importance of the message, vital in fact, but against that, what weight or credibility does that message carry if we ourselves are not living out that message? Are we ‘seasoning’ the world in which we live? Are we the bearers of light, the good news of Christ, to the world and the day in which we live? Are we conformers or transformers?!

Here’s what we need to be mindful of: our ‘yes Lord’ can make an eternal difference for someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus. Our acts of faith and obedience, our living out the values of the kingdom can make a difference in the lives of people around us.

Jesus had some pretty strong words to his followers about such things. His message was for his disciples who he spoke of as salt and light, that for them/us to fail to influence the world in which we live, through godliness and kingdom values, is akin to being tasteless and having no light – in other words, something no one wants or would desire and that has no value.

We saw in the video earlier a story where NZ Baptists have been working in the region of South Asia for 134 years; making a difference, engaged in business, changing an education system and a paradigm of seeing the world that will influence generations to come. NZ Baptists are shining light into places of oppression, hopelessness, and despair.

Our continued presence in these communities makes a world of difference where people have come to know Christ through our people serving in this nation. One godly man or woman can make a dramatic difference, even in the darkest of circumstances.  Imagine the influence of many!

Here’s how Jesus spoke to this matter…

“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.

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (NIV)

What Jesus teaches us here is how he wants us to live in this world as Christ-followers. He says here’s the way of the value and influence you’re to have in the world, for me. Because we can make a difference in the situations we are in, by our very presence there. Flavour the world with your saltiness. Colour the world with the light of Christ.

Why salt and light?

We know Jesus used elements at his disposal to reinforce his teaching; vines, water, agriculture, fish and bread. Here he uses two very simple and commonly found household items to teach about the influence his followers are to have in the world. In fact, two necessary elements for human existence.

Salt in the first century was used as a preservative, for preventing decay, more its use, than the seasoning we know it as today. Salt, then, was a less stable compound than it is today, probably a compound taken from various places including the Dead Sea.

It was a white powdery like substance that looked like salt, but wouldn’t have had the same composition as today’s salt and due to their being no refineries back then to process them out, the salt contained a number of impurities, making it common for the “useless” salt to be piled up on the street.

By contrast the salt we’re familiar with today never goes off, because it’s a stable compound.

Light? Light makes darkness light. Creates the ability to see.

What do you imagine happens to the world in the absence of salt and light? With both salt and light, Jesus is saying you are my influence in the world. Salt to prevent decay, light in the darkness.

So, I want to suggest that Jesus teaches 2 things:

  • Someone who belongs to Jesus (Christians) is salt and light
  • The impact on/in the world

 

Someone who belongs to Jesus (Christians) is salt and light –

You are the salt of the earth! …Jesus words come with an imperative. Not could or potentially be, but ARE! You ARE the light of the world![1] When we accept Christ as Saviour, we belong to him and as such carry into the world a responsibility to be like Jesus. Christlike.

Jesus’ words are such that he expects we will be useful for God in His mission in the world. Agents of change and transformation in this world. Is that how we see ourselves?

When we belong to Jesus, and he is so precious to us, that we want to live every day in a way that evidences that preciousness, people are more likely to ask us “what is the reason for the hope you have?” (1 Peter 3:15)

The impact on/in the world –

“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Implicit in Jesus’ teaching is that we’re to have an impact in the world. Christians are called in the world – not of it – set apart (1 Peter 2:9) for God and for Gods purposes. You’re here to be salt-seasoning in a way that introduces a tastefulness, positively of God and for God in the world.

We’re here to be light, bringing out and bearing the light of Christ in the world.  But are we really that distinctive?

Let me take you back a few verses to really understand more of the context in which Jesus is asking us to have this point of difference.

Matthew 5:11-12. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

Our rejoicing, our being glad in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in (persecution, people saying stuff about us, etc.), is because of the great reward in heaven. In pain, yes, hard yes, but faith-filled, determined to cling to Christ, trusting God, our Father…living out the be-attitudes…(P) when we do that…we’re salt and light! When we’re restrained from grumbling, complaining, criticising because we see…our reward…we’re salt and light!

I think it’s worth noting here that in no way is Jesus implying that as salt and light Christians, we’re any better, or have a higher status than anyone else. It’s not a stand out to exclude ourselves from others thing.

But he is asking us to stand out to show the world there’s a better, hope-filled way of life, the only way, through Jesus. It is to be a distinctiveness that exudes[2] the very God we say we believe in, trust, worship and follow.

Is that distinctiveness, influence really there? How present are we to the purposes of God for us and how that extends to the way we conduct ourselves in each part of life, but particularly among not-yet-Christians? Do we say and believe one thing about God over here and live something very different over here?

Are we really that different, are we afraid to be different, because we just want to blend in with everyone else, behaving the way everyone else behaves, same attitudes, habits, practices?

Ephesians 5:8-16. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.   But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Salt changes the taste of whatever it is put into. As salt then, being indistinguishable – if that’s what we are – means we have lost our saltiness and aren’t really that useful for much, according to Jesus. 

“Flight into the invisible is a denial of our call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.’ (Bonhoeffer)

He says you are salt and light, be different, not woven into the worldly fabric.  Season the world!

As challenging and difficult as it sometimes to resist the many tempting things the world offers us – a sacrifice needs to be made on our part every day.  Jesus makes it possible for that to happen. Conforming and compromising in life will prohibit us from having the impact Jesus wants.

The apostle Paul identifies with the struggle: (paraphrasing from Romans 7) “the very things I want to do, I don’t do, the very things I don’t want to do, it’s these things I find myself doing”. I think the same is true for us. But the things we want to find ourselves doing are what God wants us to be doing! A culture that’s distinctive, a counter-culture, that really does exude a hope and a vibrancy that mirrors the God we believe in.

Jesus didn’t say ‘I think it’s a good idea, if you’d like to be, you have the option of being salt and light’…He said “YOU ARE…” which puts the onus on us to do what he has asked!

The condition Jesus implies in this passage for our being salt and light is we need to retain our saltiness – how? Doing what real salt does! And, our light must be allowed to shine.

 

Conclusion

Salt and light are absolutely essential elements to life. And there’s no getting around the fact the world needs Jesus. And as salt and light you represent him wherever you go, whatever you do.

We have to remind ourselves we are on this planet for God, to make a difference, to be an influence, for him, to do his work.

 

TAKEAWAYS

  • Live as Salt and Light
  • Stand Out
  • Be Distinctive
  • Be Influential
  • ‘Flavour’ the world
  • ‘Colour’ the world

 

Story – Cave Dwellers[3]

Long ago, or maybe not so long ago, there was a tribe of people in a dark, cold cave.
The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did. It was all they knew to do.

The sounds in the cave were mournful, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known joy. The spirit in the cave was death, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known life.

But one day they heard a different voice. “I have heard your cries,” it announced. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help you.”

The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. Hope sounded strange to their ears. “How can we know you have come to help?”

“Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.”

The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more.

“What are you doing?” one cried, nervous.  The stranger didn’t answer.
“What are you making?” one shouted even louder.  Still no response.
“Tell us!” demanded a third. The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.”

With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern. The people turned away in fear. “put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.”

“Light always hurts before it helps”, he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.
“Not I,” declared a voice. “Nor I,” agreed a second. “Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light.”

The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t consult your fears. Take a step of faith.”

For a long time no one spoke… The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here,” he invited.

“He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It’s warmer.” The stranger turned to see a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.”

“Come closer,” invited the fire builder.  She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass.

“Come everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited.

“Silence woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us. Leave us and take your light with you.” She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?” “They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than to change.”

“And live in the dark?”

The now warm woman stood silent. Looking first at the dark, then at the man. “Will you leave the fire?” he asked. She paused, then answered, “I cannot. I cannot bear the cold.”

Then she spoke again. “But nor can I bear the thought of my people in darkness.”

“You don’t have to,” he responded, reaching into the fire and removing a stick. “Carry this to your people. Tell them the light is here, and the light is warm. Tell them the light is for all who desire it.” And so she took the small flame and stepped into the darkness…

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

 

[1] See John 8:12; 12:46.

[2] Conveys, radiates, projects…

[3] http://www.inspirationalarchive.com/texts/topics/evangelization/cavepeo.shtml