BIBLE READING: MATTHEW 5:13-20 (NIV)
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.
SERMON: "Bowls and Stands, Thermometers and Thermostats"
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a lighthouse that sat on a rocky shore and helped ships get through the water safely without hitting any big nasty rocks.
One day the lighthouse operator became sick and a temporary substitute was put in charge of the lighthouse.
While he was there tending the lighthouse a big storm blew up and sand and branches and all kinds of things were flying around in the wind.
The temporary lighthouse keeper got out a big piece of canvas and covered up the lantern so it would not get wet or damaged in the storm. That night a ship blew upon the rocks and sank with all hands.
Sounds silly doesn't it - I mean - who, as Jesus puts it, lights a lamp and then puts it under a bowl?
On the day I gave my heart to Christ a question was put to me that I would like to ask you today - a man asked me - "What are you? Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?
I was a little bit slow that day - I couldn't figure out what he was driving at - so I asked him a simple question in return: "What the heck are you talking about?!
Stephen, he said - a thermometer reflects its environment, it shows what the temperature is, if it’s hot outside - it says it’s hot; if it’s cold, it says its cold; it exerts no influence on what's around it - rather it is influenced by it; but not so a thermostat.
A thermostat has power, it sets the temperature, it changes things.
So - what are you? A thermometer or a thermostat?
What a great question! It is one that Jesus puts to his disciples in today's reading when he says:
"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 underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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."
Think about it for a minute - Jesus tells us - "You are the salt of the earth..." And again, "You are the light of the world".
What an incredible thing that is! What an incredible gift! Somehow - because of who God has made us, Somehow - because of our decision to follow Jesus we are made into salt - into light - for the world.
That is the beautiful realty of what God does to us. In fact it is the most important thing that God does through us, when we live by our faith.
Think of the people who have touched you, the people who first spoke to your yearning heart, the people who first, because of their love and care for you, inspired you to believe in the God of Love.
Did they not light up your life? Did they not bring new savour and zest to the diet you once lived on? Did they not penetrate and change your lives with their care and concern and honesty? Just as the presence of Jesus changed the life of Peter, James and John?
The divine is a light within us, And faith is the match that sets it glowing.
We are here today because the light of God has come into our life. The only question we need to address is - what are we going to do with that light?
Last week I received a devotional that asked : Do you know what Christianity is?
And the answer was: It is a wildly infectious disease. When you got a good case of it everyone around gets it too. The only problem is - so many people try to cure it.
People cure faith by stifling it and by ignoring it and by hiding it. They destroy faith by living like thermometers rather than like thermostats.
It doesn't take much to be a thermometer; all you have to do is be agreeable. All you have to do is to go along with what everyone else wants. All you have to do is think of your own comfort and ease.
When others around you are scoffing and mocking - all you need do is be quiet, to not make waves - you may even perhaps join with them in a gentle put down.
When someone is being racist and intolerant all you have to do is be silent about how in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile.
When someone is hurt and alone, or feeling offended or betrayed, or simply depressed, all you have to do is walk on by - all you have to do is go on doing what you were doing before, as if nothing was happening that needed your attention.
All you have to do to be a thermometer - is go with the flow, to not speak about God's power and love, to not witness by your deeds to God's grace and mercy.
Reginald Bibby, a sociologist from Alberta, studies religion.
In one of his books he examined the various churches in Canada, he polled their members and he polled a large number of non-Christians and he discovered an amazing fact - a disturbing fact:
He discovered that on almost all major social and political issues Christians did not differ in their opinions from non-Christians.
Bibby concludes his book by saying that the reason that the Christian church is dying in North America is because it does not offer anything that anyone else does not offer.
Indeed, Bibby continues - the very things that make the church unique - most of the established churches refuse to talk about - They would rather talk about psychology than about faith, and about the need for politic reform rather than about spiritual change.
Bibby, with the tools of modern social science echoes the statement of the 19th century philosopher and sceptic Frederick Nietzsche. Nietzsche said this about the churches of his day:
"They must sing better songs, ere I learn belief in their Saviour. They must act like they are redeemed before I will believe in their redeemer."
Well, we have great songs - but where do we sing them?
Are we like the Israelites at the time of the prophet Isaiah? Do we only sing the songs of the Lord when we are in church? Do we only sing about our faith when we want something from God?
Are we like those who believe quietly and only when it is safe? Or do we sing loudly and cheerfully and triumphantly in public? In those places where those who sing only the songs of the devil will be confronted; where those who hear only the songs of despair can at last know that there is hope; where those who have only the songs of self-hatred to listen to can, at last, hear that they are loved?
In the winter of 1978 the heaviest snow storm in Boston's history struck the city. It lasted a week, and during part of that time the power went off. While the power was off a number of things happened.
A man got lost trying to find his way to an unfamiliar section of the city. He almost froze to death wandering around the streets, until he happened upon a place he knew.
An elderly woman whose house was without power went through a night of terror. Of fragile health, she sometimes suffered hallucinations. Alone in her dark home her imagination distorted all the sounds of the wind and storm into signals of some kind of attack upon her.
In a house just a block away from her - a man died when the equipment he relied upon to breath failed to function.
A few blocks away, made bold by the darkness, vandals broke into an appliance store and carried off a lot of valuable merchandise.
The reality of one part of this parable I am telling you will help make all the rest clear.
The reality was that the Boston Edison Power Company had sufficient power in its generating system to meet all the needs of the city. The problem was in one simple transformer in the main plant and with the transmission lines from a substation.
This is like Christ and us as his disciples - we who are the light of the world. Christ is indeed the one who shines with God's light.
But just as the whole city of Boston does not live in the generating plant itself, no more can people live in the immediate presence of their source of divine energy. Power has to come out into the world where they live.
That requires "transformers" and "transmission lines". It requires disciples who will cause their light to shine where people live and die.
We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We are the thermostats in a world of varying temperatures. We are the infectious disease that God wants all people to catch. We are the transmission lines, the transformers that God has chosen. We are the singers of the songs of the Lord.
And what in all this does God ask of us? The God who puts his light into us, The God who seasons us with his presence, The God who imparts his song into our hearts?
God asks very little. All he wants is that we be what we he has made us to be.
The power is, after all, his. The light comes from him. The seasoning is mined from his word, and the song is first sung by his lips.
All God asks is that we follow him and witness to him as faithfully as we can. And we can do that easily, All we need do is remember a simple fact, And do a simple deed.
The simple fact is this: God makes us the salt of the earth. Salt, however, does not exist for its own sake. No one sits down to eat salt and salt alone. Salt is a seasoning meant to be applied to something, it is meant to penetrate and preserve and flavour the food that people eat.
And in the same way light is not meant to be just looked at, it is not meant to be covered and treasured like some precious object, it is given so that people might see what is around them and walk in safety, it is meant to penetrate and overcome darkness.
In other words we are saved - not just for ourselves, but to do the work of God,
And the simple thing we can do is this - We can stand up for our faith in God. And we can stand upon our faith in God.
When we do so - when we stand up and stand on - when we believe and act in faith, then we will be full of light, and of power, and of grace, we will be beacons in a dark place, and praise and glory unto God will be the result
We have God's word on it, that word by which we were made, and by which all life is given.
Closing Thought: Remember - Jesus tells us - "You are the salt of the earth..." And again, "You are the light of the world".
Take a moment to consider what God has done in us. We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world – because of God’s work in us.
That can be hard to get our heads around. Has God made us into a light for others to see by? Has He made it that our lives light up other’s lives? Confront God with this. Ask God: “Am I Your light?” Don’t doubt, criticize or condemn yourself. Just ask God and listen: “God am I a light? Please show me.” Ask, and then be quiet. Be still. Listen for God’s word for you today.
If you sense God lighting you up inside. If you are hearing that you are a light, then thank God, and remember, that this is His work and it is marvellous in our eyes.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven.
PRAYER: Gracious God, we give you thanks for giving to us wholeness and salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Help us show these forth to others.
By your Spirit you have made us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Help us be what you have made us.
Lord, we would burn brightly for you. Give us courage and strength, faith and hope, that we may indeed show the way of salvation to all.
In and through Jesus the blessed life you want us all to have is found. Help us to rest and abide in Him and his gospel.
Gracious God, we pray for these things, and for all