“Go and Make a Difference”
UCLEM Launching and Commissioning Worship
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:13-14, Romans 12:1-2
In a talk show in the US hosted by Merv Griffin, there was this episode where their guest was a bodybuilder. During the interview, the host asked questions: “Why do you develop those particular muscles?” The body builder simply stepped forward and flexed a series of muscles from chest to calf and of course, the audience applauded. The host continued in asking questions like “What do you use all those muscles for?” Again, the body builder did more flexing of muscles; biceps and triceps sprouted to impressive proportions. “But what do you do with those muscles?” the host persisted. There was a moment of confused embarrassment as the body builder sat down in confusion. He cannot answer. He didn’t have an answer (to the question of what those muscles are for) other than displaying his well-developed frame of muscles.
I guess this question is also a good question for us today. What, then, is our value and purpose as Christians? In other words: What are we good for? What is the use of our faith?
Our UCLEM celebration for this semester bears the theme, “Sent out to make a Difference,” a very challenging and timely theme that will lead us to a kind of focus and duty as to what we are intended for, to make a difference, to make an impact. After all, Jesus did not ask his followers just to stay; Jesus always used action words to encourage His followers to be doers, not just hearers.
How do we make a difference? That’s the question Jesus addressed to His disciples and audience when He was preaching at Galilee.
Two of the very familiar metaphors used to describe Christians are “salt and light.” There was even a joke about this metaphor in my community explaining why only few people come to church when its raining… because Christians need to stay dry, otherwise they will melt.
The verses about salt and light are found as a part of the greatest sermon ever preached, “The Sermon on the Mount,” preached by the Lord Himself. The theme of that great sermon was how people of the kingdom of heaven are supposed to live. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ description of the nature of those who will be part of His kingdom.
Jesus called his followers to be the front-liners. Nowhere do we get the impression that Jesus wanted us to live in isolation, separated from the world. It is impossible to truly live for the kingdom in private. We are called to a social agenda and an outward expression of God’s principles. We are called to make a difference by influencing and impacting the world around us.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the famous Methodist missionary, author, and evangelist, was asked to name the number one problem of the church. He identified that one of the church’s problems is its irrelevance. To put this simply, the church has lost its influence in the community. The church has lost its influence because Christians have neglected their responsibility to be salt and light in the world. As we have neglected to be what God has called us to be, the world has also decided to ignore us.
Let me tell you why we are here. We are here to be salt; seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If we lose our saltiness, how will people taste godliness? Here’s another way to put it: We’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept.
I think the reason Jesus chose these two metaphors—salt and light—is because of their unique qualities. Both carry enormous influence. Both have immediate impact. Both are noticed instantly. Both are difficult to hide. Both are universal.
Salt was one of the most common substances in the ancient world. Roman soldiers were paid in salt and would revolt if they didn’t get their ration. Indeed, our English word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium, which literally means “salt-money.” And our expression, “That man is not worth his salt,” is a reminder of the high value that salt had in biblical times. What are its uses?
- It is a preservative.
- It is a flavoring.
- It heals.
Jesus does not only say that we are the salt of the earth, He also says we are the light of the world. The dictionary defines light as a “source of illumination.” What could a light do?
- Dispels darkness. Light always dispels darkness. No matter how small or big the light is, it will always defeat the darkness.
- Reveals. Light always reveals what is hidden in the dark.
- Awakens. Whenever there is light, it always gives a kind of vibrancy that will keep us going.
- Warns. In the same sense that a lighthouse warns of dangerous waters or a police car’s flashing light warns, Christians warn of impending danger.
And our text in Romans will, I think, complement our gospel readings today. Paul calls for offering our lives as a living sacrifice to God in a form of service. A good question to ask is: How can we then offer our lives as living sacrifice? In our gospel here comes the complementation of our text. To live a life pleasing , worthy and acceptable to God, we must be the salt and light of this world. To offer our lives as a life of service, there is sacrifice. Just as the salt gets melted when it’s used, so will we as we offer our lives for the service; it may consume us. Both Matthew and Paul reminded us of the essence of being a true disciple of Christ, not only in terms of service but even in the way we live our lives. In these critical times, our saltiness and light are being tested. Christians are to season the world with all the goodness that comes from God, but it is us who are seasoned with all the materialism in this world. Instead of us guiding and shedding light on the world, it is the world that guides and dictates us on how to live.
When He said you are the salt and light to this world, His words were not a suggestion, but a command. With urgency in his voice, that says, “If you are salt, then give flavor!” and “If you are light, then shine!”
How do we do that? We can only do that if we:
- Recognize that our distinctiveness makes a difference.
We are commanded to be salt and light not just to be “like salt and light.” The common denominator of salt and light is their uniqueness, their distinctness. There is nothing quite like salt. There is nothing quite like light.
Just as salt is different from pepper, and light is distinct from darkness, so are Christians distinct from the world. It is the Christians’ distinctiveness that makes a difference in the world.
- Make your works visible.
“A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14 NIV). Our influences, however small or great, will be seen. Great effort has to be made to cover up either.
Jesus is calling us to be visible Christians. The Christian’s seasoning is something to be tasted. The Christian’s light is something to be seen. There is no such thing as secret discipleship. Either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy. Our Christianity should be vibrant and visible. Salt in a saltshaker and light under a bushel basket make no impact.
But sometimes, we may feel incapable of carrying out this command. We have many alibis and excuses. We are not called to save the world, but we are called to make a difference. We cannot do everything, but we can do something. And what we can do, we ought to do. That is what being salt and light is all about. Christians must engage with the people to make an influence. If we feel that we are not enough and incompetent, think about these people:
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. Jacob was a liar.
David had an affair. Solomon was too rich.
Abraham was too old.
David was too young. Naomi was a widow.
Peter was afraid of death. John was self-righteous.
Paul was a murderer. Jesus was too poor. HOW ABOUT US?
Let me end our meditation with a story:
A social worker told her colleagues about once handling a case of a small boy in an urban city who had been struck by an automobile. His parents neglected to get him proper medical attention. Although not part of her caseload, she took the boy to an orthopedic doctor and learned that through an involved series of operations, the child’s body could be made normal again. She raised the funds, and set the process of cure for the young boy. Two years after the child entered the hospital, he came to her office. To her astonishment, the lad walked in without crutches to demonstrate the completeness of his recovery. The social worker shared that a warm glow mantled the entire office at that moment. She said to herself, “If I never accomplish anything else in my life, at least here is one young man to whom I can point where I have made a real difference!” At that point in her sharing, she paused and asked, “This was all of several years ago now. Where do you think that boy is today?” Caught in the emotion of that moment, several people made suggestions: A teacher? A physician? Perhaps a social worker? There was a longer pause, and with even deeper emotion, the social worker said, “No, he is in prison.” Then she added, “I was instrumental in teaching him how to walk again, but there was no one to teach him where to walk.”
When we serve as Jesus commanded, using our gifts and talents to meet the needs of people around us, we become as salt and light to people, pointing and leading them to God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, to be the salt is a commitment. I want us to notice what Jesus said. He did not say “You all can be the salt of the earth,” nor did He say, “You all should be the salt of the earth.” Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” which literally means “You and you alone are the salt and light of the earth.” May we all strive to be the salt and light of this world. Amen.