Rev. Louis Timberlake
February 5, 2016
Matthew 5:13-20 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.17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
You know, I watched a number of videos of the stories of people seeking to share the love of Christ in their daily lives. There was a great video about a teacher serving in the Bronx; one about a ER doc who gave up a fairly comfortable lifestyle to start a clinic for an underserved population; a fascinating one about an architectural firm in Texas where the partners have made the belief that people are created in the image of God foundational to how they engage with their employees, their clients, and the contractors that run their plans into a reality.
I wanted to show you this one, because it's not linked to a particular occupation which means that it's harder to say, "Well, that's great for that person. Maybe if I were a Doctor, Teacher, or Architect, I'd do that too." What I love is that it is just so simple. She bought a picnic table, painted it, and used it as a way of connecting with other people to share love and joy in each others lives.
I grew up in Atlanta. I moved to Athens in high school, but I grew up in Atlanta. Today is a big day. A big day. Atlanta needs a championship. Boston has enough.
You know, in Georgia, we aren’t used to championships. I mean, UGA usually fields a pretty good football team, but, since the Associated Press poll has been around, we’ve only been National Champions once. Georgia Tech tried to claim one in 1990, but the major polls named Colorado the champion. That’s Georgia Tech for you. Then, you have the Hawks, who have had their moments, but really haven’t won anything of significance since my dad was a kid. We have college basketball but part of the reason college football is such a big deal down there is because we’re no good at college basketball. I had to come up here to go to school to find teams worth watching. Really, our only bright spot has been the Braves. And man, we had some good years in the 90’s. I grew up going to games when it was Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones. And, finally, we won it in 95. But, the Falcons need one.
I know I’m talking mainly to a bunch of Panthers fans, but in the spirit of NFC South brotherhood and a little southern pride, I hope you’ll do the right thing and cheer for the Falcons tonight. I cheered for you last year; it’s time to return the favor.
Anyways, I digress. Growing up in Atlanta, we lived right around the corner from a little place called the Three Dollar Cafe. There are actually a handful of them around Atlanta. And, man, the wings there are famous. Hands down best wings in Atlanta. They’re probably having a record sales day today, just from people ordering wings for Super Bowl parties. What I would give to have a couple dozen wings from the Three Dollar Cafe tonight. So, we used to go there all the time as a kid, because it was close, cheap, and because we loved wings. Now, I’m ok with spicy, but I want a reasonable level of spicy. I mean, I want to taste it. My sister, on the other hand, she’ll order the hottest wings they have. Inferno isn’t hot enough. Regular, normal-person hot is just bland. She wants the wings that melt your face and turn your eyes into waterfalls.
Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe you eat ghost chilis with your eggs for breakfast. Not me. I like my taste buds. I like something with good flavor. And, if it’s too mild or too hot, it doesn’t have good flavor.
And, I was thinking about this, not just because of the Falcons being in the Super Bowl, but because of our passage this morning.
I wonder if we get stuck sometimes feeling like we have to choose between two models of Christian discipleship? Track with me here.
One is a faith that’s about practicing good morals, checking the spiritual boxes but making sure you don’t step on any toes. It’s socially appropriate religion, right? Particularly in the South, it’s just what you do. Let’s call it “cookie cutter spirituality.” It’s part of the culture, but there’s usually not a lot of passion or life to it. It doesn’t really transform your life or the world around you. It’s kind of bland.
The other is the in-your-face, I’m right and everyone else is wrong, don’t tread on me kind. Let’s call it “muscled-up spirituality.” It’s combative and argumentative. There’s not a lot of humility or grace to it. It’s overwhelming, it’s insistent. It tends to bruise more people than it converts.
But, is there not a third way? Is there not a way to be passionate, without being insistent? To have deep convictions, yet also a deep sense of humility? To have a robust faith that doesn’t bruise people but instead draws them towards God? It’s a light in the darkness. A city on a hill.
You know, if you ever watch a great chef they know how to season something well. The seasoning is balanced and brings out the flavors of the food you’re eating. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not bland. It’s flavorful. What does it mean to live a flavorful life? What does it mean to follow Jesus in such a way that it brings out the true flavors of this world that God has created?
I love that Jesus talks about salt here. It creates these layers of meaning. Salt isn’t just a seasoning. It’s used as a way of preserving food. It’s a nutrient that is essential to life. So, by saying “you are salt,” Jesus is saying: “You are an essential nutrient to life.” Without you, this world could not survive. Your presence and your witness is literally a sustaining force.
He’s saying: “You are a preserver of what is good.” You keep things from going rotten. You are a defense against the decay that threatens this world. When we look at things that are wrong in the world and say, God, when are you going to to do something about it? God says, “You are the salt of the earth.”
And, he’s saying: “You bring out the true flavors of this world.” You take the raw ingredients that you’ve been given and bring out their true potential with all its depth and beauty. You turn this world into something flavorful and vibrant.
So, when Jesus tells us that we are salt, he’s saying: Give life, preserve what is good, and bring out the true flavors of this world. And he says, “Don’t lose that saltiness. What good is salt that isn’t salty?”
We aren’t after a bland cookie cutter spirituality or an overwhelming, muscled-up spirituality. We’re after a salty spirituality; we are to be the salt of the earth.
There’s another interesting thing about salt. It’s common. Like, there is nothing rare or elitist about salt. It is everywhere, and it is dirt cheap. Jesus didn’t say, “you are the truffle oil of the earth.” He didn’t say, “you are saffron.” He said, “you are salt.” It is so common and yet absolutely essential.
Being the salt of the earth isn’t rocket science. It isn’t for the super-Christians or the paid professionals. It’s for each and every one of us. You are salt. That’s what I love about the turquoise table. It is so simple, but it brings out the true flavors of life in a powerful way. Neighbors connecting with neighbors. Building community. Sharing in love and joy. It’s salty.
What does a “salty spirituality” look like for you? How is Jesus calling you to be the salt of the earth? How are you giving life? How are you preserving what is good? How are you bringing out the true flavors of this world?