Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Salt of the Earth, City on a Hill -- Matthew 5:13-16

Matthew 5:13-16


13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”


He does not say you are going to be a light of the world.  He does not say that someday you are going to become a city on a hill. 


He says this is what you already are.


You ARE the Light of the world.


You ARE the city on the hill.


The question is this – when people look at you, what kind of city do they see?

Now there are at least three levels of understanding this city on a hill.


One level is personal and individual.

You, Joe, are the salt of the earth, a city on a hill.

And Jane, you are also the salt of the earth, a city on a hill. 

And the same is true with you, and you, and you, and oh by the way, ME!


This business of being watched by the world brings with it a great burden of responsibility. 


People are watching.

Children and youth watch adults and we present a model of how to be and behave.  For good or bad! 


People our age are watching us for inspiration and encouragement.


And non Christians are watching because they love to catch Christians being hypocrites! 


People are looking at YOU as an individual to be the city on a hill that inspires and encourages. So you best be the salt of the earth kind of person.


On another level, however, you can understand the church is the city on the hill.


We, collectively, make up that city when we come together as a church.  And people are watching Grace/Orlando.  Others look at us and want to know how we respond to the homeless.  How do we respond to crime and to victims of crime.  How do we welcome strangers when they come in.


The church is a city on a hill, not just individuals – but the church as a whole is that city.


So we together need to work together to make sure that what our community sees in us is the kind of city set on a hill that Christ desires.


Now there is one other level in which we can understand the call to be a city on a hill. 


And it is this level that particularly resonates with us later this week as we celebrate the Fourth of July.


It is us as a nation.


I have a friend on Facebook, and like a lot of friends on Facebook I have never met Kate.  Kate and I share the hobby of astronomy and that is how we have connected.  Kate would be furious if she found out that I was talking about her in a sermon – she is an atheist and hates anything to do with the church.  But we do have good conversations about astronomy, and sometimes about faith.  She is intensely interested in politics.  She wanted Hillary to win so badly.  She is watching the news very closely about Trump’s appointment to the US Supreme Court.  She counts the roll call votes on certain proposed legislation.


Which surprises me because Kate lives on the other side of this planet.  She lives in Australia!


I asked her one time why she had such a deep, deep passionate interest in our politics.  I mean, I don’t follow Australian politics.


She said it was because what happened in America was felt all over the world.  She looked to America to lead the rest of the world.  In other words, even though she is an atheist, and even though she might not realize it, she was in agreement with the words spoken by Jesus when he said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill.”


In 1630 eleven ships carrying a thousand Puritans left England to immigrate to Massachusetts.  On one of the ships, the Arebella, their future governor, John Winthrop, delievered a sermon named, “A Model of Christian Charity.”  In it he referred to this text from Matthew and said that the colonies in America were a city on a hill and the eyes of all people were upon them. 


The eyes of the world are still upon us.


The problem is that we are not doing as good of a job as we should.

We fail, and we often fail miserably.


As an individual, as a church, and as nation, we are not that wonderful city on a hill for the world to see and be inspired by.


We have crime in this nation.

We have racism.

We have scandals and corruption.

Because we have a Constitution that guarantees a free press we air our dirty laundry whenever we discover problems and try to resolve them.


Hmmm…. Has there been an example of a community that was called to be a city on a hill that failed in that calling?


Well, Sodom comes to mind!


And that is not a very comfortable thought!


You probably know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We have the impression, I think, that Sodom and Gomorrah were the rotten cities of the ancient world.  Like Flint, Michigan, with the corruption in its city government that failed to provide clean and safe water.


Or like Las Vegas and the greed and lust we associate with that city.


Or like Washington DC and the political quarmire we associate with DC.


Sodom and Gomorrah calls up the images of “bad and evil cities.”

But no, according to many Bible Scholars, they were model communities.  They were, by many standards, living up to the call to be a city on a hill.  Other communities looked up to them.


Except for God.

God decides to destroy them because of their sin.

Do you know the sin that condemned them?


Well, the best interpreter of the Bible is the Bible, and in Ezekiel 16:49, we read this:


This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.


As the story goes in the Book of Genesis, Abraham learns about God’s plan to destroy Sodom, and Abraham is concerned.  And he becomes an advocate on behalf of Sodom.


Now we all know the old saying that one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. 


Abraham turns that around and wonders if a few good apples can save the bunch, or in this case, the city on the hill, Sodom.


"Wait a minute," says father Abraham. "What if there are in that city, 50 righteous people? Will you save the city?"


          And the messenger of God, an angel, says, "Yes.”


          Almost immediately, Abraham thinks he might have overestimated the number of good souls in Sodom.  He might not be able to come up with 50 righteous people.


“What if there are 45?"


          "I'll save it."


          "What if there are 40?"


          "I'll save it."


          "Save it."

          Abraham is on a roll here.

"20? 10?"

          "Even if there are only ten, I'll not destroy it."


          The concept of course, is not that one bad apple spoils the bunch, but that one good apple can restore the others.


A few good people, simply by being Christian people, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, can preserve and restore a broken society.


You see, anytime we complain about the politicians in Washington not doing enough, we need to look toward ourselves and ask, “what can I do to restore my broken society?”


We live in an age of violence. We may not be able to change society, but we as individuals can say, I will not be violent.


We live in an age of dishonesty, tax cheats, and workers who steal from the office. We can't change others. But we can be the salt of the earth and as individuals be people of honesty.


     We live in an age in which others break their word and their pledge. We cannot change others perhaps, but we can change ourselves. We can be people of integrity.


John Winthrop preached a sermon to a group of Puritans who were coming to this nation to help build it.  He told them they were the city on the hill.  He told them that the world would be watching.  And the world has watched.


If we don’t like what we see in our nation, then we need to listen to one of the lessons of Sodom and start finding a few righteous souls to redeem the city on the hill – and the only way to find such people is for us to be better individuals. 


If we are to redeem this nation, it is up to the individuals who make up this country to become the salt of the world.


Don’t like what you see in this country, or community?  Don’t look at the sin of others.  Look for the righteousness in yourself.