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August 11, 2019

Sermon Matthew 5:13 . . .“Jesus said:  You are the salt of the earth”

“Jesus said:  You are the salt of the earth”

Matthew 5:13

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Pastor and former chaplain of the United States Senate, Peter Marshall, once told the story of a quiet forest dweller who lived high above an Austrian village along the eastern slopes of the Alps.  He had been hired years before by a young town council to clear away the debris from the pools of water up in the mountain crevices that fed a spring that flowed through their town.  With faithful, silent regularity, he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt that would otherwise choke and contaminate the fresh flow of water to the village below.

Over time, the village became quite a popular tourist spot.  Swans floated along the crystal clear water, mill wheels of various businesses churned, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from area restaurants was beyond description.

Years passed.  Then one evening, the town council gathered for its semiannual meeting.  And as they reviewed the budget that night, one man’s eye caught the salary figure being paid to the obscure keeper of the spring.

“Who is this old man?” he asked.  “And why do we keep him on year after year?  No one ever sees him.  For all we know, he’s doing us absolutely no good.  We don’t need him any longer!”

By a unanimous vote, they dispensed with the old man’s services.

For several weeks, nothing changed.  But by early autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves.  Small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, hindering the rushing flow of sparkling water.  Then before long, someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tinge in the water.  A couple of days later, it was even darker.  Another week passed, and a slimy film covered the surface along the banks.  Then came the smell.  

All of the mill wheels began to churn more slowly.  Some ground to a halt.  Swans left, along with the tourists.  Sickness and disease spread throughout the village.

Embarrassed, the town council called a special meeting.  Realizing their gross error in judgment, they hired back the old keeper of the spring.  And sure enough, just a few weeks later, the river of life began to flow.  Wheels started to turn, and new life returned to the hamlet in the Alps once again.

Then he finished telling his story with this:  “There has never been a time when there was a greater need for Keepers of the Springs, or when there were more polluted springs to be cleansed.  If the home fails, the country is doomed.”  And he said:  “Let us not fool ourselves--without Christianity, without Christian education, without the principles of Christ inculcated into young life, we are simply rearing pagans.  Physically, they’ll be perfect.  Intellectually, they’ll be brilliant.  But spiritually, they’ll be pagan.  Let us not fool ourselves.”

So it is in the words of our text.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1029.  I’ll start at the top, Matthew chapter 5, verse 1:  “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”

It’s easy to say that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon anyone has ever preached.  French author Francois Mauriac once said:  “Those who have never read the Sermon on the Mount cannot grasp what Christianity is all about.”  And it’s what writer George Genung once called, the Magna Carta, the “great charter,” of the kingdom of God.

And it’s no wonder.  Here we find words like these--verse 3:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Verse 4:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  And verse 10:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Later, in chapter 6, Jesus even taught them how to pray, saying:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”

And when His sermon was done, the Bible says:  “The crowds were amazed, astonished, at His teaching, for He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Now look at verse 13.  Jesus said:  “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Did you know that salt is a miracle?  Think back to your days in high school chemistry, and you’ll remember that it’s made up of two elements, two poisons--NaCl--sodium chloride.  Ingest either one on its own and you’ll die.  But put them together in a nice, stable, ionic bond, and you’ve got one of the most important and essential minerals on earth.  You could even put some in a dish, walk away, and come back ten years later, and it’ll still be good old sodium chloride--salt.

It even comes in all kinds of flavors!  Think of kosher salt, lemon salt, lime salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian black salt, Hawaiian red salt, Persian blue salt, smoked salt, and sea salt.  There’s Mediterranean salt, Mexican salt, and Asian salt.  And if that’s not enough for you, there’s even cooking salt, finishing salt, and dessert salt.  Three thousand years before Christ, a Chinese treatise on pharmacology discussed more than forty different kinds of salt.

And we use it for all sorts of things.  Historians tell us that, since the beginning of time, it’s been an essential element in the diet not only of humans and animals, but even plants.  We’ve used it to preserve food and sanitize wounds.  

Some have used it as money.  In fact, Roman soldiers were paid in salt.  If they didn’t get their ration on time, they’d revolt!  And by the way, the Latin word for salt, “salis,” is how we get the words “salary” and “salad” and “salami” and “sauce” and even “salvation.”

Ever heard the phrase, “He’s not worth his salt”?  Apparently that phrase dates back to ancient Greece, where people traded slaves for salt.  If the man didn’t work hard enough, he wasn’t “worth his salt.”

Salt has even been the cause of war.  Back in 1864, for example, during the Civil War, Union forces fought a thirty-six hour battle just to capture Saltville, Virginia and its important salt processing plant.  In certain cultures, not offering bread and salt to guests is considered poor etiquette.

You can even find salt in art.  Look at DaVinci’s famous painting of “The Last Supper,” and you’ll see Judas has just spilled a dish of salt.  And don’t forget--God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt.

And here in the words of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said:  “You are the salt of the earth.”

Why did He call us that?  To remind us that just as salt flavors food, Christians bring a spice and zest to life.  Just as salt sanitizes wounds, Christians help and heal.  And just as salt preserves food, so we bring life and hope to a dying world.

As one author put it:  “We can’t do everything, but we can do something.  And what we can do, we ought to do.”  And that’s what being salt is all about.

An early twentieth century preacher named William Biederwolf tells the story of a Greek goddess who came unseen, but was always known by the blessing she left in her path.  Whenever she passed by, trees blackened by forest fires shot forth new leaves.  Violets sprang up in her footprints beside the brook.  A stagnant pool became a spring of sparkling water.  Parched fields blossomed like a rose.  And every hillside and valley blushed with new life and beauty whenever she passed by.

Then he also told of a princess who was sent as a present to a king.  Around her was an atmosphere as sweet-smelling as the garments of Aphrodite.  But though she seemed beautiful and pure, fresh from a bath of dew, with breath as sweet as the perfume of the richest rose, she carried with her only disease and death.  

When she breathed into a swarm of insects, they suddenly dropped to the ground.  When she held the loveliest flower over her heart, it would wither and fade.  And if a hummingbird ever fluttered in her presence, it poised for a moment, shuddered, then fell dead at her feet.

Then he added:  “How like this poisoned princess is every man whose influence is a blight, whose influence is a curse upon his fellow men.”  And he said:  “As we live and breath, the atmosphere we exhale is richly laden with the fragrance of virtue or with a poisonous perfume that consumes all those around us.”

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said.  “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Do you know what the church’s number one problem is today?  You could say persecution.  Christians all around the world are literally dying for their faith.  And you could say a lack of people and resources.  Just think of what we could do if our church was filled with people just like you!

So what’s the number one problem?  Irrelevance.  Since the church has neglected to be the salt that God has called us to be, the world has decided to ignore us.  When we’re salt, the world can’t help but listen.  But when we aren’t, it won’t.

In the words of Blaise Pascal, “Next to the might of God, the most powerful influence in the world is the serene, silent beauty of a holy life.”

The year was 391 A.D., and a little Syrian monk named Telemachus believed that God had called him to go to Rome, the capital of the empire.  Up until then, he had devoted most of his life to serving as a monk, isolated from the world, so the call to Rome was a surprising change.  Still, obediently, he set out on foot.  Little did he know that he was about to change the world.

Months later, he arrived in Rome.  And since it was a holiday, he was soon swept up in a huge crowd heading toward the Coliseum.  He found a seat with everyone else, and wondered what it was all about.

A few moments later, he was horrified to see human beings, gladiators, who were forced to fight wild animals and each other to the death, simply to entertain the crowd.  Telemachus watched until he couldn’t stand it anymore.

That’s when he suddenly jumped down onto the field, and cried out, saying:  “Stop!  In the name of Christ, stop!”

At first, the crowd thought he was part of the show--a clown joking with the gladiators--so they laughed.

But as Telemachus continued to cry, “Stop!  In the name of Christ, stop!” they soon began to realize it wasn’t a joke.  So their laughter turned to jeers, and then calls for his death.

Suddenly, a sword flashed in the air, and the little monk fell bleeding to the Coliseum floor.  And as a hush fell across the crowd, they heard his dying words:  “Stop!  In the name of Christ, stop!”  

In the silence that followed, people began to get up and leave.  Within a few months, the gladiatorial battles began to decline, then stopped all together.  Why?  Because one man dared to stand up and be counted.  One man dared to be different.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said.  “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

And how is all this possible?  Because of our Savior Jesus, the true salt and light of the world.  He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.

As Paul once wrote to the Romans:  “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

You’ve called us, dear Father, out from our life of sin and darkness to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Set us apart, make us different, that others may come to know You as Savior and Lord.  This we ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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