- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by Pastor Scott Garber at Washington Community Fellowship:

Why do we ponder that image in the mirror? Why do we seem obsessed with introspective analysis? Because, like every other person on this planet, we can’t help but ask that most fundamental question of our existence: Who am I?

I’ll give you a hint: You won’t find the answer on the Internet.

I confess that I cannot resolve the riddle of identity this morning. But we can, perhaps, place a piece in the puzzle of identity.

Today’s message is the second installment of this series on the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus establishes our identity as Christians vis-a-vis the world in which we live. And He uses two metaphors to convey His message.

Jesus begins this portion of Scripture by answering that most profound existential question: “Who am I?” “You,” He says, “are the salt of the earth.” As we consider this verse, I believe, we’ll discover five facts about this salt-of-the-earth identity.

The reason why the followers of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom, are salt to the earth is that they are fundamentally different.

We cannot fulfill our function as the salt of the earth simply by isolating ourselves in a godly bubble of righteousness.

In the second phrase of [Matthew 5] Verse 13 Jesus poses the problem of what happens if the salt loses its saltiness.

This saying of Jesus’ has led to a fair amount of scientific speculation. The fact is that sodium chloride, pure salt, is a very stable compound and does not lose its essential character. So what was Jesus talking about?

Christian individuals, Christian institutions and Christian movements typically go through a life cycle. They begin with great fervor and eventually institutionalize into an effective salty enterprise. But then they become ingrown or distracted or unfaithful, and they lose their uniquely Christian character and their capacity to function as the salt of the earth.

God always has His salt and light, but it is not always the same people or the same labels. When folks lose their saltiness, He moves on.

The second metaphor Jesus uses to describe our identity is that of light. Light is a universal religious symbol used to represent a wide range of spiritual illumination. In some Scriptural contexts, light has a specific meaning, but here it seems to refer more generally to the projection of God’s truth and goodness.

The followers of Jesus are those who have received that light and become its conduit to others. Kind of like the tubular skylight I’m thinking of putting in my upstairs hallway. It receives the light from the outside and channels it to the darker inside.

When Jesus calls us the light of the world, he doesn’t bother to say that the world is dark. That is assumed. For shining the light in the light makes no difference. It’s only in the dark that the light illuminates the way. In this case, we are the light in the cave of spiritual darkness that leads people to God. Just as salt has an effect only when applied to something that isn’t salty, light has an effect only when it glows against a darker background.

Jesus is speaking to his followers both as individuals and as a community. Our light-of-the-world role requires that our individual lives be open and accessible to unbelievers. Jesus said that everyone will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another, but that love must be visible for it to produce the desired effect.

What I find striking is that Jesus does not say that we should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are not just activities that we are commanded to perform at certain times, when there’s a special need or when we feel especially salty or illumined. It goes much deeper than that. We are salt and light. This is our identity.

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