From a sermon that I delivered that I thought was stronger as a sermon than a blog post:
I have a confession. Very often during church services I notice that most speakers don’t like to show where they’re going; maybe give a peak at a rough outline with three main, points all starting with the same letters. But I’ve never been orthodox with my methodology so I want to start with not only where I’m going but with the ending.
The part of my confession is that this message will not have a concluding point that any of us could take back home and maybe put as a bookmark in our Bibles—if we do that sort of thing. I’ve often been told that prepositions don’t belong at the end of a sentence like. Well, I think that there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t end a message with a question: and that’s how this message will end.
Get ready, here’s the ending: Who are you?
That’s the question I’m going to leave off asking. It’s not very helpful up here in the beginning of the message. If you ask “Who are you?” to me, I would answer that I’m Rey Reynoso, Dominican descent, New York born, currently living in Pennsylvania artist, father of three, husband of one.
But that’s not the level I’m asking this.
I’m asking it at the level of not so recent Spider-Man 1. Remember Peter Parker is the one telling the story and he says that essentially it’s a story of a girl: Mary Jane. But we all know the story really isn’t about Mary Jane else no one would go see the movie. The story is about Spider-Man: but it would be dumb for Peter Parker to say “This story is about Spider-Man.”
No, instead he tells the story of a young man who struggles, a young man who hopes, a young man who is for all intents and purposes a loser and nowhere near good enough for the girl who lives next door. But by fate or chance he winds up being a person who is not a loser and he has to decide what to do with that position. Unfortunately he makes a bad choice and he realizes his choices have consequences and that forces him to take proper responsibility. But at the end of the movie, when he realizes how much danger this girl is, he makes a decision that reinforces the point that with his great power comes great responsibility: he gives up the girl for her own good.
Why? Because he’s Spider-Man.
Who He was influenced his decision and the proper execution of it. Without that knowledge that he was in fact Spider-Man he was just a guy who had a lot of power and could do whatever he wants to everybody’s detriment and bad end.
Jesus Christ is going around speaking throughout Galilee and teaching in the synagogues and healing the sick and news gets around. This guy is healing the sick. This guy is casting out demons. Honestly, if this guy is who we think he is He’s going to put us back in power, get rid of the nasty Romans around here and make us kings.
They start to follow him through towns, down valleys and finally to a little hill where they wanted to find out who He is. But instead of telling them that, he asks them who they are.
First he speaks in generalities, blessing the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted. But then he turns to them saying that they’re blessed when they’re insulted and persecuted and folk say all types of evil things to them because of Him because the prophets of Old were persecuted in the same way.
Who are You? Are you the type of person that is identified with Christ? Well then if so, the sermon on that little mountain starts pointing at you (and me) asking, prodding us. If we take the blessings that come with being identified with Him then we also have to take the hard questions.
Question 1 to help us answer the big question (of Who Are You?) is: Are You Salty?
I’m not asking you to stop and lick your arm or anything like that: I know that sweaty people are generally salty but Christ is making a statement of fact here.
“You ARE the salt of the earth.” If you are identified with Him then you are in fact salty. If you are not identified with Him then you are not salty?
“What are you talking about Mr. Rey Preacher Sir?”
Christ is talking about you the listener being blessed if you identify with Him. Christ is talking about rewarding you greatly by being identified with Him. And both of those facts, he says, means you are salt of the earth. It’s a metaphor and one that has to be looked at with the old days because if we only thought about today we’ll think “we need less sodium in our diet, not more.”
But even with less sodium, you better believe it that salt has uses today which we’re immensely grateful for. You ever had a bowl of pasta without any salt in the water? Or maybe some rice where you forgot to drop some salt in the pot? Do you sometimes find yourself sneaking the shaker behind your wife’s back?
The salt brings flavor!
But salt in the old days didn’t only have the use of bringing flavor (although it definitely did that). Its main usage by far was meat preservation. Back then they didn’t have refrigerators or ice makers to sit the meat on and ensure the thing doesn’t rot. Instead they would sit the meat in some water, maybe a bit of vinegar to tenderize the meat and a bunch of salt. Kept in a dark and comparatively cool room (from outside) meat could hold for several days. During the winter, even longer.
Salt used for flavor. Salt used for stopping the rot—but there’s more.
Back in that day a pair making a promise to each other to end hostilities and maintain peace would make a salt covenant: preserving the peace.
Salt, real salt, never really loses its flavor unless you make it chemically imbalanced but salt from the Dead Sea, when exposed to moisture would lose its saltiness. The only thing it was good for was to be thrown in the slick marble floors of the temple courtyards for people to walk on (trodden under foot)
So the nature of salt in those days that it an essential, necessary goodness about it that was important for everyday life. It had peace making power, it had preserving goodness, it added flavor to food—now carry that over to life. Are you believer, a peacemaker? Are you believer the type of person that preserves the essential and necessary goodness of life? Are you believer a necessary flavor to the lives of those around you? Who are you: are you salty?
The second fact statement that Jesus makes about those who believe in Him and are identified with him is that those people are lights of the world. And light is a great thing, you don’t realize it until you don’t have it.
A few months ago I was driving down the highway going to preach at a chapel several hours away and that meant getting up before dawn to make sure I got to the 9:30 service. The Pennsylvanian highway was pitch black and I was immensely grateful for my headlights.
But while I’m cruising along at maybe seventy miles an hour, a white fox or coyote shoots out of the woods and in slow motion runs in front of my sweet little 1997 Toyota Camry. I slammed into that thing and felt its hard body roll underneath the car bouncing into my undercarriage and I knew right there that something had gone wrong. It took all of a minute for the needle on my cars thermostat to go into the red and I pulled over immediately shutting off the engine.
I got up in the freezing dark, went to the front of the car, groped around the hood to try to feel the damage but I couldn’t see a thing. The headlights didn’t help because they were in my face and at that time I really wished I had a flash light: I couldn’t see a thing. I had to wait for the vultures of the highway (tow-truckers) to come over sometime after seven a.m to finally see the damage that the animal had done. And even then I didn’t see the full damage until roughly ten a.m where I saw that the radiator was bent, the rack holding it was bent in and the fans behind the radiator were destroyed.
The light helped me on the highway to expose the danger I was driving into and after I hit the thing the light helped expose the damage.
How much more important was light in those ancient days where enemies could creep in by night and steal your sheep or when the light of your candlestick was the only thing keeping your face from meeting ground. Christ says that when you have a lamp its meant to be held up and not be put under a basket—which is interesting since a lamp under a basket in those days would just puff out. But a lamp was to be put on a lampstand for everyone in the house to be able to see.
This brightness illuminated dangers, exposed damage and as any woman here knows, exposes every bit of a person. It exposes your good bits and it exposes your ugly bits, one and the same. It’s necessary so that you can make the proper adjustments.
So the question that comes towards you as a believer who identifies with Christ is are you an illuminating presence in the lives around you? Are you one who can be counted on to point out the danger, expose the damage, shine light on the good bits and the bad bits so that the proper adjustments can be made? Who are you? Are you bright?
Don’t take that I’m asking you to be the type of person that walks around with your pointer finger out say “Eww: look at how ugly/nasty you are.” No! But you, in contrast to those around you, are one who shines forth before people so that they see your good works.
Yes, yes, it is true that Jesus says elsewhere that good works are done privately but that’s in context of the person who’se trying to gain glory for themselves. No, the purpose of doing good, of being helpful in the homeless shelter, of being the type of person that your friends can call at 1:00 in the morning to cry with is so that people can see that brightness and understand where its coming from which leads to the final statement of fact.
Let your light shine before men so that folks see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. People who are believers and identified with Christ are to be the types of people that in their actions they are representatives of God. When people like this do work, it is to be good work and it is to be a good representation of God.
Who are you? Are you a representative of God?
Notice the structure of the questions: Are you salty? Are you bright? Are you a representative of God? These aren’t middle ground questions. These are yes or no questions that in turn help you answer the Big Question of who you are?
Sun Tzu in his ancient book the Art of War has a section where he says that the battle is decided by several spheres. One of which is knowing the enemy—and we all have been exposed to that how the Devil works and acts. Another sphere is knowing the terrain of the battle and we all know how we’re to treat one another and each other. But there’s a sphere where we so often overlook because it’s the most obvious: so Sun Tzu reminds us. Know your enemy, says he, know your self.
But the same thing goes for us: if we are believers Christ says we are in fact salty, bright representatives of God. That means if we are believers folks look at us and should see God. If we’re not believers no one is going to see God in us—they shouldn’t. We don’t believe him. Our situation is very dire indeed if we’re not representing him: we are not essentially good, we are not an illuminating power, we are not a representative of the Creator of the Cosmos.
Now, in the closing seconds look at your lives: what do you believe and how do your actions illustrate to those around you what you believe? When you’re with your friends are you exactly like them: a representative of Them or are you a representative of God? When you are in the midst of an awful joke are you an illuminating factor or are you just as bad as the joke? If you’re a believer, Christ says you’re not but how does that vibe with what you’re doing?
The question I leave you with is then: Who are you? Are you salty? Are you Bright? Are you God’s Representative? Who are You?