13 “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.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
There are many different kinds of sermons. There are deductive sermons. Those are the ones with a theme based on a portion of Scripture, which is broken up into a few parts. As we said at the Seminary, “You tell people what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you just told them.” There are explanations, illustrations, and applications sprinkled in but it’s basically preaching God’s Word logically and outlined point by point.
Then there are inductive sermons. Those are the ones that kind of follow the plot of a movie or book. The beginning introduces not the main point of that particular section of God’s Word but the malady or problem that people face. The preacher then shows how that is not just a problem for people in Bible times or for people out there, but that this malady also hits home for every one of us, too. That brings a certain sense of uneasiness or tension, similar to a movie when you wonder what is going to happen. But there’s a twist; it’s not all bad news for us, because God has turned things around. At the climax, the pastor reveals the Biblical solution to sin is found in the gospel of Jesus. That good news helps us live happily ever after.
There are expositions, or homilies. That’s more of a verse-by-verse or phrase by phrase sermon. There are also narrative sermons where the preacher may take on a role of a Biblical person to bring that section to life. There are a few more, and there are plenty of mixtures between these various styles.
You can probably guess what I’m going to say next. Is the style the most important part? Not so much! The essential element must always be the pure Word of God. The style, the personality of the preacher, the lighting or seating in the sanctuary, the fellowship snacks, the robe or lack of a robe, these things do deserve some thought but they aren’t the main attraction on a Sunday morning. The message of God’s Word is.
A sermon that teaches God’s Word improperly doesn’t do anyone any good ever. Adding personal beliefs and interpretations or subtracting things that may be unpopular from God’s Word is not going to shine the pure light of Christ. The sermon must always find its basis and its power in God’s law and gospel. Plain and simple, a sermon should show you your sin and show you how God has completely removed your sins through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
This is called the teaching of justification. If you have been coming to our Sunday morning Bible basics class, then you might remember that word. It’s the central focus in Scripture. Justification is a courtroom term that means “to declare someone not guilty.” Now, sinners like us do not do good works – cannot do good works – to earn that declaration from God. We are guilty. Nothing we do can change that reality. The Bible makes that abundantly clear. Jesus came to this world to earn justification for us. He made the sacrifice. He did the work so that we would be forgiven of all sin and declared perfectly innocent by God. Through faith in Christ, we are children of God and our inheritance is in heaven. That is a statement of fact. It’s not a wish or a hope. It’s God’s honest truth from his own lips in his Word. That’s the message of justification that God gives you over and over again. No matter what the style is, a sermon that comes from God’s Word must proclaim that central message.
But there’s something else a sermon should probably do, too. It should probably show a child of God how to be a child of God. That is called the teaching of sanctification. (I know we’re getting into some big words today, but these words come from God’s Word to help us understand what God is teaching us) Sanctification is the ongoing work that God carries out to help us live like people who are justified. That’s what Jesus is talking about today in this section of his Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. He says you are the salt and light of the world. But what good is a sermon about salt and light?
Well, salt should probably make things salty and light should probably illuminate dark places. Jesus is saying that you should make an impact. He says be who you are. The thought that Jesus is getting at is not how you earn your way in to God’s good graces. That’s not possible. God’s saves people by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words, he does the work for us. What Jesus is saying in this part of his sermon is that when you are a child of God you better look like it. Your good works don’t make a bit of difference in getting you to heaven, but that is not a reason to put that light of faith under a bowl so that only you know it’s there.
Jesus wants you to live as a child of God because that is who you are. He paid for your adoption into God’s family. The Spirit took up residence in your heart at your baptism. You are completely and totally God’s child for eternity. So, Jesus wants you to act like it.
Jesus wants you to act like it for two really important reasons. First, it gives glory to God. When you shine with the brilliance of Christ, it’s like giving God a thank you. He has made you his very own. You don’t have to worry about death anymore. You don’t have to get caught up in the greed of this age. You don’t have to stew in anger about protests or politics, because you know that your home is in heaven forever. So when you do good things it’s a way of showing how great he is and telling him thank you for this new life that you have.
And the second reason Jesus says he wants you to act like a child of God is because Jesus intends to use your words and actions to bless the people around you. That’s what he is getting at with these two illustrations, salt and light.
Let’s start with the salt. Most people use that phrase “you are the salt of the earth” to say someone is a good person, down to earth, helpful worker, and stuff like that. Sometimes saying someone is salty can mean that they have a little bite, they are blunt and opinionated. But that’s not how Jesus meant it.
What Jesus was talking about is that this world is rotting. In Jesus’ day they didn’t have refrigerators. So if you butchered a cow, by the end of the day it was getting a bit funky. Without some method of preserving meat, it goes bad in a hurry. We put meat in the fridge or freezer, but in Jesus day they used salt to cure and preserve meat.
Jesus is saying this world is rotting. It’s like when you turn on the news or you scroll through the headlines and you see all this negativity: problems in schools, problems in governments, and problems in other nations. It seems to be getting worse. And that isn’t some nostalgic commentary hoping we can get back to the good old days. The Bible says the world is decaying and sin doesn’t help that. At some point God will bring the End, but until that happens, do you know what he is doing to slow down the rotting? He sprinkles the world with salt. God uses you to keep this world from rotting to its core.
That does mean we should be Christians who stand up for what God calls good. Neighbors, coworkers, and friends should know that we stand for what God wants and not what he forbids. People should see the compassion and love that we have because God has first shown his love to us. We should be good parents and employees, not keeping our faith in the shaker but sprinkling it everywhere we are. God says that we are salt and it makes a difference in the world.
Jesus also calls us light. He says a town built on a hill cannot be hidden. When you live in North Dakota it’s really clear what Jesus is saying. I will always remember when we moved here, the trip from Fargo to Bismarck. It was a clear day and you could see for about 1000 miles. But when you’re heading west you can’t really see Bismarck until you make that left had turn on I-94. Then, all of the sudden – boom – Bismarck appears out of nowhere! But then I remember the first time we made that drive at night. We were driving back from visiting friends in South Dakota. You could see the hazy glow of Bismarck from Hazelton, if not farther. You couldn’t miss it. If someone is lost out on the plains in the dark, they will see that hazy glow of Bismarck from over 50 miles away.
That’s what Jesus is saying about us. In his sermon, he makes the illustrations that we are lights in a dark place. If lights are in a dark place they will make it brighter. You are just like Bismarck at night. People who are lost in the darkness of unbelief, people who are growing senseless to their surroundings should see your light and it will show them where to go.
So what does that mean for our congregation that is made up of all these lights? It means people should see a place that tries to help. People should look at Our Saviour’s Lutheran and see a group of people who are equipped to serve their needs. This is an oasis from the storms of society. This is a place where the darkness is overcome by Christ’s light. This is a church where people need to see the gospel light of Jesus. That’s the main goal. That’s the purpose for our existence. That’s what God has made us to be.
When we are salt and light people are going to notice it. Sometimes, sometimes it might feel like we are the rotting part or the dark part of the world. Sometimes it might even look like it. But that’s why Christ came, to remove our rotting sinful flesh with its dark, evil ways. He has given us a new life filled with the Spirit, a life where we are salt and light to dark and dying world.
You don’t have to be afraid of what might happen. Jesus has told us that some people might want to stay in the dark because they think they can hide. Some people might have gotten so comfortable with the stench that they think it’s normal. But that’s not you. God has given you a perfect place with him in heaven. Until we get there, he says that we are salt to bring the cure of Jesus and we are light to shine the light of Christ’s love.
I’d say Jesus’ sermon about salt and light is a pretty good one, because that’s what he made us. So today Jesus is telling you to be who you are. God grant it.