Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday, February 9th, 2020
The Lessons: Ps. 112:1-9; Isaiah 58:1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
Topic: Christians as the salt of the earth and the light of the world
William Law (1686 -1761), a Church of England priest who lost his position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, because he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the first Hanoverian monarch, George I, wrote these words in his book A Serious Call to A Devout and Holy Life:
The measure of our love to God, seems in justice to be the measure of our love of every virtue. We are to love and practice it with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And when we cease to live with this regard to virtue, we live below our nature, and instead of being able to plead our infirmities, we stand chargeable with negligence.
It is for this reason that we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; because unless our heart and passions are eagerly bent upon the work of our salvation; unless holy fears animate our endeavours, and keep our consciences strict and tender about every part of our duty, constantly examining how we live, and how fit we are to die; we shall in all probability fall into a state of negligence, and sit down in such a course of life, as will never carry us to the rewards of heaven.
– Chap. III, William Law: ASerious Call to A Devout and Holy Life
William Law ascribes to negligence, that is, an attitude showing lack of real intention to make progress in obedience to God, the fact that so many Christians of his time appeared to live lives that did not reflect their vocation. In other words, if we make no effort to love God wholeheartedly in all areas of our life, we cannot expect God one day to carry us to heaven on a magic carpet of grace.
CHRISTIANS AS SALT OF THE EARTH AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
In today’s Second Lesson/Gospel Lesson, the Lord Jesus Christ, after pronouncing the Beatitudes, tells his disciples they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What does Jesus mean by telling the disciples they are the salt of the earth? Most likely he was not referring to salt as enhancing flavor, but as a preservative. How can salt lose its flavor? It can only lose its flavor by being mixed with impurities, so that its flavor becomes less distinguishable. Salt mixed with impurities to such an extent its flavor is considerably lessened or almost lost, was no good for preserving meat in ancient times. How, then, does this apply to Christians? Jesus ended the Beatitudes with a command to those who are persecuted and rejected on account of their faith in Him to rejoice and be very glad because the prophets of God before them were also persecuted. The saying that compares Christians to salt follows immediately from this command. By their call to love Christ more than all, and to show it in their daily lives, Christians are bearing witness to Christ and showing the world the purity of the Gospel life of love. But if compromise has affected the lives of Christians, so that their lifestyle, values and norms appear to be no different from those of the world, then they have become like salt that has no use in preserving and purifying, and such salt is trodden under foot. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) ascribed this loss of saltiness to a desire of earthly blessings and to a fear of persecution (Philip Schaff (transl.): Chap. VI, St. Augustine’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount). Whatever reasons there may be for losing saltiness, I think that the main reason Christians lose their uniqueness as God’s salt of the earth was pinpointed by William Law as a lack of serious intention to follow Christ in all aspects of life.
Again, Jesus tells Christians they are the light of the world, a fact which is true because the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Light of the world (John 8:12), shines in their lives. What does this mean for a Christian way of life? Just as a city set on a hill cannot be hidden, and a lamp in a household is not hidden away under a basket where it cannot be seen or give light to the home, Christians must live so as to reflect Christ in all their words and actions. Christians must give light to the world. This certainly means that Christians must not so separate themselves from the world as to exert negligible influence on it. Yet, at the same time, Christians are often not in a position to control the enactment of all laws in society, nor can they themselves make society just. Instead, Christians are called to live righteously and set an example of holy living to the world. Christians share in the call of Christ to bear witness to the world that its works are evil, a call which may result in persecution, rejection and misunderstanding (cf. John 7:7). Now our call is not to condemn those in the world who do not believe in Christ, but our call is rather to live virtuous lives that please God, so that those who do don’t believe in Christ may be convicted by the Holy Spirit and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, the call of Christians is to let their light so before men that they may see their good works and give glory to God who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). The aim of our witness to Christ must lead others to glorify God for all the grace of God that they see at work in our lives. Ideally, our witness should be so effective that people want to come to know the same Lord Jesus Christ whom we know, and to follow Him as we do.
ILLUMINATING THE WORLD
A missionary, home on leave, was shopping for a globe of the world to take back to her mission station. The clerk showed her a reasonably priced globe and another one with a light bulb inside. “This is nicer,” the clerk said, pointing to the illuminated globe, “but of course, a lighted world costs more.”
– Leonard Sweet: Aqua Church (Group, 1999)
In conclusion, bear in mind that it will cost you more devotion, more commitment, more love, to let Christ’s Light shine through you so as to lead others to give glory to God. Will you let the love and the light of Christ be evident in all your actions, thoughts and words? Will your contribution to any discussions of any matters, including politics, reflect the light of the Lord Jesus Christ?
 p. 75, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008