Sermon for Sunday, 9th February 2014 (5th Sunday after the Epiphany)Feb 6th, 2014 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Sermons
“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” Matthew 5:13
One of the biggest lies told today is that nothing we can do can make any difference, that there is nothing that ordinary people can do to change things. We must all have heard such comments, suggestions that we are wasting our time when we try to make the world a better place. Perhaps they come from people who have become disillusioned with the world as it is; perhaps they are encouraged by those who don’t wish to change things.
Desmond Tutu is said to have once commented, ‘Whoever thinks they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito’ Only Tutu could have fully appreciated what his remarks meant; a powerless cleric facing an overwhelming and violently repressive regime, he could have been swept away with one swipe of the hand, but he persisted.
If we believe that there is a God; if we believe that this God cares about us personally; if we believe that there is no such thing as fate, but that we have personal freedom; then we must also believe that we have the power to make a difference, that we are never too small.
When we read Scripture, we are told not only that our lives make a difference, but that Jesus expects us to make a difference, he expects us, you and me, to be people who change the world. Christians can never be people who say that there is nothing we can do to change anything. Our faith should be such that, whatever other people might say, we don’t get discouraged, we don’t give up.
I believe that your life and my life can make a difference because Jesus tells us how we can do so; he also tells us what will happen if we don’t do so!
Sometimes, when we read the Bible in church, we break up the flow of what is said to the point where the emphasis or even the meaning can be lost; so it is often when we read Saint Matthew Chapter 5. The Beatitudes, verses 1-12, become cut off from the verses that follow that are a warning to us about being salt and light, and being thrown out if we are not the people we are expected to be.
Salt was not about adding flavour, about making something more tasty; salt in Jesus ‘ time was about preserving things from going bad, about getting rid of impurities. Jesus is saying to his followers that they are to be people who stop the bad and drive out the evil in their own times.
Making a difference isn’t an option, it’s essential to being a Christian; if we don’t make a difference we will be thrown out. In our conversations about our faith, do we ever make such a point? The church lost something along the way.
The faith of those who listened to the Sermon on the Mount; the faith of those whom Jesus promised eternal rewards because of their self-sacrifice and their facing persecution, seemed to disappear in the early centuries and a new sort of church emerged. It is hard to look at what the church became and see any sign of Jesus of Nazareth. The church took little heed of Jesus’ warning. It was afraid to challenge people to commit themselves to the sort of discipleship of which Jesus speaks.
We fail to make a difference when we forget Jesus’ calls us to be salt and light and we fail to be salt and light when we lose sight of the Cross. The Cross brings us back to the physical reality of what Jesus endured for us. A church that was fully committed to the Jesus who dragged his Cross to Calvary would be very different from the Church we know. It is hard to imagine that Jesus would recognize much that goes on in his name. The Cross is very troubling for the Church. The Cross is ‘I’ crossed out; it contradicts all human ambitions, and hierarchies and power and influence—no wonder it is not liked., but when we turn away from it we lose our saltiness, we lose the power to make a difference.
We can make a difference, but it means that each of us, in our own way, tries to be true to the Cross. Being true to the Cross means remembering Jesus as he was, it means we see our faith as something where the first will be last and the last will be first. When Christians really live according to what they believe, then the world takes notice. If the world is ignoring the church, perhaps it’s because the church is avoiding the way of the Cross.
Making a difference means asking questions about the way things are; it means being troublesome, sometimes, it means being unpopular, annoying people. Jesus doesn’t say there is an easy option for people who don’t like the way of the Cross; he expects us to be prepared to make sacrifices. Christians in the first centuries were not troubled by being out on the edge of society. When they were excluded from the Jewish synagogues near the end of the First Century, they became an underground group. They faced a series of persecutions because of their refusal to deny Jesus, but the Christian Gospel was so strong that no persecution was ever going to be successful.
The Christians who made a difference in the passing centuries were those who asked questions and who challenged the way things were done.. If we think about those who brought spiritual renewal in the church or those who brought social reform to the world, they were people who were not worried about what other people thought. Putting their Christian faith first was what mattered for them.
If the church in our own time is in decline, we need to ask ‘why’? Maybe it is because we have lost our saltiness. When people look at our church, do they see people who are making a difference to God’s world, or do they see a small religious group concerned with their own affairs?
What Jesus wants from us is that we try to follow his words in the Sermon on the Mount and try in our own puny ways to shape the world into the place he would want. And the question always comes, ‘what can I do?’
Our approach as Christians should always be to pray, to speak, and to act.
It is the responsibility of all of us to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom in our world; isn’t that what we ask every time we say the Lord’s Prayer?
It is the responsibility of each of us to speak for what is right. One of the great failures of Christians in Ireland has been our reluctance to speak against wrong things, particularly sectarianism. People take silence to indicate agreement; there are times when we should speak.
It is the responsibility of each of us to act for what is right, to ignore people who say that we can’t make a difference. Having the courage to act does not mean needing the confidence to imagine being a figure on the world stage, it means having confidence to be a mosquito, to know that the odds are overwhelming and that the opposition is immensely powerful, but to keep buzzing and to keep biting.
“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”.