The salty, lit city: life in God’s Neighborhood, part 1 (Matt. 5.13-16)

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January 28, 2019 by jmar198013

Live audio and sermon notes from my message at Central Church of Christ for January 27th, 2019. From our ongoing series in Matthew’s Gospel, God’s Neighborhood.

This is the first of three teachings on the Sermon on the Mount.

During worship, we heard Psalm 1.1-3 and Matthew 5.1-20.

An audio link is embedded for those who’d like to listen.

The Sermon on the Mount: a vision for living in God’s Neighborhood

Long, long ago Moses called his brother Aaron to join him at Mt. Sinai. Then they assembled God’s people Israel around the base of the mountain to hear the words of God.

And God spoke to them from a thick cloud of vapor and lightning, with a voice that shook the earth. God taught them how to live in his Neighborhood.

Nowadays we call this teaching the Ten Commandments. 

But it was really God beginning to show his people—people whose prayers he’d already heard, people he’d already saved by grace—how to be good neighbors to God, and to one another.

Much later, Jesus invited his disciples to join him on a mountain. And crowds of people gathered at the mountain to hear the words of God once more.

That day, God was not veiled in clouds and lightning. Because it was Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, who came to be God with us, speaking. He had come to teach us again how to live in God’s Neighborhood.

Nowadays we call this teaching the Sermon on the Mount.

And we dare not reduce those teachings to a list of do’s and don’ts. This is Jesus teaching people God has already heard and noticed how to live as good neighbors to God, and to each other.

To hear these words in any other way than that is not to really hear the words God spoke through Christ on the mountain.

We’re going to be in the Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5 – 7—for the next three weeks. Listening to Jesus teach us about life in God’s Neighborhood.

Today I want to focus on these words from Jesus’ Sermon. They’re found in Matt. 5.13-16. Jesus says:

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

That’s Jesus giving us a snapshot of God’s Neighborhood. Jesus said God’s Neighborhood is a salty, lit city on top of a hill.

Now, if God’s Neighborhood is salty and lit, you know it can’t be boring! It’s alive. It’s shiny. It’s a healing place, full of flavor and color.

And what makes God’s Neighborhood a salty and lit city on a hill is the people. Jesus says the people who live in God’s Neighborhood are the salt and the light.

Here’s the thing, church. We are on the verge of moving into a new home in a new neighborhood. We’ll be there next Sunday. God is sending us there to be salt and light. He has put us there to shine. For his glory and our new neighbors’ good.

So I want these words we’ve heard today to be the Word of God to you—to us. Written deep on our hearts.

Three Big Ideas about salt and light

So here’s what we’re going to do today.

I’m going to toss three Big Ideas at you. And you’re going to catch those ideas—you’re going to reach out your hands and catch those Ideas.

You’re going to hold onto each one of these Big Ideas. And then you’re going to lift your hand to your heart, and you’re going to plant that Idea on your heart.

Are you ready? Let’s practice real quick.

Big Idea #1: Salt and light work for others

Okay, so here’s the first Big Idea I want you to grab: Salt and light don’t work for themselves.

Okay, hold on tight to this Idea. It’s a bit squirmy.

Salt isn’t salty for its own sake. And light doesn’t shine for itself.

In Jesus’ day—just like now—you’d put salt in your food to give it some flavor.

But people also used salt to do other really necessary things. They’d use it as a household cleaner, because salt sanitizes stuff.

Also, they didn’t have refrigerators back then. So what would they do with meat to keep it from going bad? They’d pack it in salt, to cure it.

Salt exists—it lives and works—for others. To add some flavor. To keep everything from getting gross and rotten.

That’s what we’re here for.

And light. Light shines for people to see, so they can find their way. 

Jesus is sprinkling us like salt on our new neighborhood. To help keep it healthy, and to add some good flavor. Jesus is shining us on our new neighborhood, to light up the darkness and lead people to God.

Now let’s take this Big Idea and put it on our hearts: Salt and light don’t work for themselves. It’s not about us. God isn’t giving us a new home in a new neighborhood just to delight us. Everything we are, and everything we do, is for our heavenly Father’s glory, and the good of our neighbors. Let that Big Idea sink deep into our hearts.

Big Idea #2: You don’t have salt and light; you are salt and light

Okay, the second Big Idea I have for you is this: Jesus didn’t say you have the salt and light; he said you are the salt and light. 

Jesus tells us who we are. You are salt and light.

You are the flavor in a bland world. You are the ones who’ll preserve what’s good in your neighborhood. You are the ones who shine, so that others catch glimpses of God’s glory in your life.

[Remind them who Jesus was talking to: disciples and crowds; the people he named in the Beatitudes—the hopeless, the hurting, the helpless and the hungry]

[Now us … with our own frailties and failures and shortcomings: Jesus is telling us: You are the salt and the light]

Now, later on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us some things to do to stay salty and lit. [Make peace when you’re angry; be faithful to your commitments; love your enemies; forgive people; don’t be judgy] But we can only do those things when Jesus lives in us and we live in him.

He says we’re salt and light—so we are!

[It’s not something you have; you’re the light of the world because Jesus is the light of the world. And through the Holy Spirit, he lives in you. We’re like stained glass windows God has made for Jesus to shine through]

So now, take this and put it in your heart: You don’t have the salt or the light; you are the salt and light.

Big Idea #3: Y’all are the salt and light

Alright, are you ready to catch the third Big Idea? Here it is:  Jesus said Y’all are the salt and light. 

Oh, now this Big Idea is slippery. Try not to drop it.

What’s the difference between you and y’all?

All the pronouns in Matt. 5.13-16 are plural.   

That’s really important. Takes some of the pressure off. Jesus didn’t tell you to be salt and light all by yourself. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. Together.

Think about salt and light. They both come in particles.

All you have to be is a single grain of salt. A single photon of light.

Being the salt and light doesn’t have to mean doing big, bold ministry things all the time.

[Tell story about the time you gave the Walmart greeter a thank you card that said, You’re winning!]

Look, that day maybe I was just a little photon of light in her world. But that was more light than she would have seen otherwise.

Salt and light permeate. It’s the same way with us. Jesus pours us out to permeate the world. Each one of us is just a little grain of salt. A little photon of light. But together—we are the salt. We are the light.

Our church is just another dash of salt Jesus is sprinkling, a single ray of light Jesus is shining into our neighborhood. Jesus already has pinches and dashes of salt, and other rays of light shining there. And he knows just when and where to put us—to season and to shine.

So now it’s time to plant this third Big Idea in our hearts: Jesus said, Y’all are the light of the world. God doesn’t send any one person out to be the salt and light all alone. And he isn’t just sending this church out to be the only salt and light in our neighborhood.

God shakes us out, and shines us into the darkness together. For his glory and the good of our neighbors.

Stay salty and keep lit

We’ll be spending two more weeks on the mountain with Jesus. He has much more to teach us about how to be good neighbors to God and to each other. About being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

But today, as we leave here to be shook out and shiny in a new neighborhood, remember: We are already the salt and the light, because Jesus has said we are. Everything else he has to teach us on the mountain is to remind us who we already are.

So as we go out from here—stay salty my friends. And keep lit.


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