Last week, I shared a story about a party my brother had and how, with the help of my buddy, a German Shepherd and a bowl of Fritos, I exacted my revenge! Well, as I thought through this week’s message, it dawned on me that a LOT of my childhood centered around NOT getting along with my brother and trying to find creative ways to exact my revenge! Here is yet another example!
I was probably 10 years old- that would make my brother 14. It was mid- to late summer. And I KNOW it was mid- to late summer because the asparagus had already had it’s short season and our asparagus patch had been allowed to go to seed for the year. If you have never seen that, the plants grown 4-5′ tall and look like fine, rather prickly bushes. Keep that in mind- it’ll be important later!
It was late in the day- getting dark. My brother and I were the only ones home. (That, all by itself, was usually a recipe for disaster!) He had made me mad. (We called that a day ending in “Y”!) He wouldn’t let me watch what I wanted to watch on TV. But he was, at that time, quite a bit bigger and stronger than me so there wasn’t much I could do about it physically. SO…I once again got creative!
He was in the Family Room, which at that time was on the main floor of our ranch-style home and at the opposite end of the house from the garage. The fuse box (No circuit breakers back then, mind you!) was in the garage. (You can already smell what the Rock is cookin’ here, can’t you?!) So I decided that, if I couldn’t watch what I wanted to watch, then neither could he! I went to the garage, opened the fuse box, figured out which fuse covered the room he was in…and unscrewed it, plunging his room into darkness!
The impact was immediate! With what seemed like not even a second’s hesitation, I could hear the thundering of feet, running up the hallway. My “basking” came to a rather abrupt ending! I ran, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, out the front door of the garage and across the yard. But being older and faster…he caught me…right by that aforementioned asparagus patch, ripped the fuse- which I was still clutching- out of my hand, picked me up and threw me into the “gone to seed” asparagus…with only a pair of shorts on! He then stomped back to the house to screw the fuse back in and light the darkness….while I writhed in pain!
Today, we continue our current 5-week sermon series- Living a Red Letter Life. Based solely on the words of Jesus, we are looking at 5 different sayings of Jesus to see what they mean for us…more than 2 millenium later. Jesus’ words are powerful and life-changing. What if we were to intentionally build our lives around those red letters?
The first week, we looked at the failure of the disciples and talked about the fact that Faith Moves Mountains! Last week, we talked about the essential nature of Reconciling Your Brother. Today’s Red Letter passage takes us right to the heart of the struggle between good and evil as we consider what it means to Light the Darkness. If you remember last week, I said that we were backing the Scripture Truck up a bit from week one- stepping backward in the story. And as part of the lead-up to last week’s Scripture, I said that Jesus had JUST taught about the Beatitudes- the “blessed are” statements- and then He moved on to the notion that we are salt and light. And it is that transitional piece- salt and light- we focus on today.
Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the world. 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 by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Even though we’re focusing on light and darkness today, let’s take a moment to consider what salt has to do with the whole thing. Jesus says we’re the salt, but if we lose our “saltiness”, we’re of no use. A pastor friend of ours used to call our older son Salty Dog…but I somehow don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about! So what IS He talking about?
Well, salt, as we know, was used extensively for flavoring and preserving in the Ancient Near Eastern world. It was even used in small amounts as a fertilizer.
Strictly speaking salt can’t lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But most salt in Jesus’ time and place came from evaporated salt water, which contained a lot of impurities. The actual salt would leach out, leaving behind an impure residue that was of minimal value at best.
When Jesus asks, “How can it be made salty again?”, He’s using a rhetorical tool. He KNOWS it can’t be restored. The point is that, if we are to act as a spiritual preservative in this fallen world, then we have to maintain our Christian flavor and impact…or we’re of no use to anyone.
OK- so we are the salt of the earth and, in order to maintain our effectiveness, we need to maintain our “saltiness”…got it! So maybe our older son being called Salty Dog isn’t so far off! But what about the whole “light of the world” thing? Let’s look at some truths about light.
Light is SO much more than we can see or perceive. In fact, we only see a tiny sliver of the entire spectrum. If the distance between New York and Los Angeles- which is about 2,500 miles- represented the entire light spectrum, the part we can see would only be about a inch long! That’s how much of the world we’re not seeing! If we could actually see the entire light spectrum, what we now call darkness would become blindingly bright.
Light is hard for us to see. At its core, light is invisible energy. So for us to see it, light has to pass THROUGH something- dust, smoke, water vapor- or bounce OFF of something- a tree, a hand, the moon- and then reflect back into our eyes. While we use electricity and incandescence, In Jesus’ day people used small clay lamps that burned olive oil drawn up by a wick. The lamp itself was just the conduit- the oil was the true “fuel” for the light.
And along with being hard to see, light also travels fast- very, very fast…around 186,000 miles per second. The sunlight that we see right now left the Sun 10 minutes ago. And yet, with all of those challenges, the human body is an amazing creation. Did you know that, on a dark night, the human eye can see a candle flame…from 30 miles away? 30 MILES.
In those Red Letters we read today, Jesus also talks about a “city on a hill” and how it can’t be hidden. What does that mean? Think about it- a town, gleaming in the sun…the Light…sitting high atop a hill, simply cannot be hidden. Even at night, the olive oil lamps of those living there would cast a warm glow over the surrounding area.
So what does all of those have to do with…us? Light? Dark? Cities on hills? Lamps? Salt? Salt and light are among THE most common things there are. Dime a dozen. To quote my Southern Illinois roots, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one of them. (And there’s no need to call the ASPCA- it’s just an expression. I LOVE animals!) And yet few things are more useful than salt and light. They are, each in their own way, foundational. We are common, basic, inherently flawed. And yet, God made us as His crowning achievement. And there is NOTHING more useful to Him in His quest to save all of His children than…His children. And that’s what we are- His children.
Since we have shared several interesting facts today, here’s another one. Are you familiar with bioluminescence? Think those fish that live at the deepest depths of the ocean who produce light to attract potential prey. THAT’S bioluminescence. Would you believe me if I told you that…us humans are bioluminescent? We are…seriously. The problem is that the light emitted by our bodies is 1,000 times weaker than our eyes can see. We have the light IN us…it’s just REALLY hard to see.
We are the clay pot that holds the olive oil and the wick. We are the conduit through which the saving grace of Jesus Christ flows. We are the reflected light of Jesus in the world. And when we try to hide our faith under a bushel basket, we’ve stopped following Him. It is ONLY when we willingly let Him shine THROUGH that the Light is more fully seen and experienced.
Here’s one last interesting fact to share today- darkness doesn’t exist. Again…seriously. Scientifically, the term “darkness” is very similar to the term “vacuum”: it describes the absence of something rather than the existence of something. Darkness, as such, doesn’t exist. It is, instead, the absence of something- Light. Therefore, darkness can’t drive darkness out; only Light can do that. And when the Light of Jesus Christ shines, it defeats the darkness, it washes away the shadows of sin and death.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Good News of everlasting life for a currently dying world. We should WANT to be on the hill, shining, where everybody can see us…and more importantly connect with Jesus Christ. He came into the world- Emmanuel…God WITH us…to BE the Light. And to say He did a remarkable job would be a gross understatement. But when He ascended into the Heaven after the resurrection, to sit at the right hand of God, He made it CLEAR that He expected His followers…US…to carry on His work.
We are called to help bring the Light into the world. We are NOT the Light…we merely reflect it. And…that’s enough. We’re in Sales, NOT manufacturing or development. Our job is to get people to experience the Product…because once they do, He will change them…like He changed us. Our job is to be the light in the darkness. And it doesn’t take much- the human eye can see a candle…a CANDLE…from 30 miles away. So, take your candle…go light the world.