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Who are you? Are you a father, mother, son, daughter? Are you a husband, wife, widow or widower? Are you a called worker, a lay leader, employed, retired? Which of those words describe who you are? You probably can’t pick just one. We might have a number of words that describe us in common with those sitting next to us, but they would not all be exactly alike. Each of us is different. We have different roles to carry out in life and those roles change over time. But there is one phrase that describes each of us who are here today, a phrase that we might easily overlook but never want to forget. You are a “Child of God.”
Unlike many in our world today we understand the Biblical truth that, as we are born into this world, we are children of Adam. The Bible is clear. When Adam and Eve had children, which was after they sinned and were driven from the Garden of Eden, their children were born in Adam’s sinful image. They were born with a sinful nature. As we are born into this world the Bible says we are objects of God’s wrath, hostile toward him, enemies. We are not born spiritually neutral, or with a spark of good. We are born spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. So how can God call us his children?
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a rebirth is necessary, not a physical birth, but a spiritual birth. He told Nicodemus that this rebirth is from above. In order to be called God’s Child we need to be born again of water and the Spirit. By the power of God’s word that created light, the Holy Spirit creates light in us. He gives us spiritual life. He opens our eyes and lets us see that God is not our enemy. What enemy would vent his wrath over our sins on his own sinless son? What enemy would sacrifice to save those who were fighting against him? By the power of the word, whether connected with the water of Baptism or not, God convinces us of his love and adopts us as his children signing the adoption papers with the blood of Jesus shed for us on the cross. As Paul says, you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And he says sons to both men and women because we are heirs having the rights of a first-born son, heirs with Jesus of eternal life.
As Jesus taught his disciples on the mount, he wanted them to know what they were. As people who had come to know and believe that he was the promised Messiah, their savior from sin, they were children of God. As children of God, he says, you are, not will be, but ARE the salt of the earth. Because of you God is delaying the judgment. He is withholding the judgment because he wants all to be saved. And how are people saved? When people like the disciples, people who are children of God through faith in Jesus, do all they can to carry out the mission Jesus has given- to preach the gospel to every creature.
As children of God you are the salt of the earth because, as you carry out the mission God has given you and preach the Gospel to every creature, the Holy Spirit works in people’s hearts so that they too believe in Jesus. They are salted, preserved from eternal judgment, heirs with Jesus of eternal life.
But, Jesus warns, if salt has lost its flavor, how will it become salty again? Then it is no good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. If you forget who you are. If you get lazy and fail to carry out the mission Jesus has given you, you are no longer salty. You are not fulfilling the purpose for which God adopted you and made you his child.
All too often we fit the description of unsalty Christians. We get comfortable in our own little group of like-minded people. We become complacent. We begin to think, “if the rest of the world wants to go you know where in a handbasket, fine! Let them. At least I’m saved.”
Thankfully, when Jesus looked at the crowds who were lost, like sheep without a Shepherd, he never thought, “let them go and get what they deserve.” The Bible says that his heart went out to them. He had compassion on them and he did everything he could to care for both their physical and spiritual needs, even to the point of going to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. We need that reminder when we realize that we have become complacent, unsalty Christians. We need the reminder that Jesus lived and died to pay for our unsaltyness. Through the gospel of our forgiveness he can and does make us salty again, and we are encouraged to devote ourselves to being what God made us, the salt of the earth, those who have been called to sprinkle God’s preservative, the Gospel, on as many of those who are perishing as we can.
Jesus also wants his disciples of all time to know that, because he has caused his light of salvation to shine in our hearts, we are the light of the world. We get to reflect his light of salvation for all to see.
The temptation in our world today is to put our light under a bushel. That’s what the world tells us to do. They say, “keep your faith in Christ to yourself. You have the right to gather with your own people behind the doors of a church, but we want to be free from any mention of Christ outside of those doors.” And because we are weak and worried about persecution, we tend to say, “Okay, at least I can still worship God behind closed doors.” But you can be sure that Satan is not satisfied with us putting our lights under a bushel. He won’t be satisfied until every light is snuffed out. As Jesus pointed out earlier in his sermon, those who do proclaim God’s word will be persecuted, darkness hates light, but, he says, those who are persecuted for letting the light of his salvation shine are blessed.
You are the light of the world. You have the light of God’s salvation shining in your hearts. Jesus says, be like a city on a hill. Be willing to stand out in a crowd. Let your light shine in people’s presence. Don’t hide your faith and only practice it behind the church doors or in the privacy of your homes. Talk openly about what Jesus has done for you. Talk openly about the peace you have because of what God has done for you in Jesus. Be what God has made you, a light shining in the darkness.
The most important way that we let the light of salvation shine is by telling people about Jesus. But it is also important that the light of salvation, the love of Jesus, shines through in our actions as well. As James says, what good is it to say to a homeless person, “I hope you stay warm and find some food” and do nothing to help them? What good is it to tell someone that they are in your thoughts and prayers, and not offer a prayer for them (why not offer the prayer right then and there) or never have them cross your mind again? The light of God’s love and salvation shines bright when our actions match what we confess we believe.
On Monday, the Army celebrated four chaplain’s day. I had not heard of this celebration before, but the National Guard Museum hosted an event to commemorate them. The four Chaplains were on a ship filled with troops headed for England. On February 3, 1943 that ship, the Dorchester, was torpedoed. As it sank, the four chaplains aboard gave up their life vests to save others. All four chaplains lost their lives, but their actions reflected the sacrifice they knew that Jesus had made for them.
We don’t always let the light of salvation shine in our words and actions. God has made us the light of the world, but all too often we try to hide the light and blend in with the darkness. Because of our unfaithfulness God should snuff out our light and cause his light to shine on others who might be more faithful. But Jesus stepped in our place. He never hid the light. Even when he was on trial, he proclaimed the truth that he was indeed the Son of God, the promised Savior, the way, the truth and the life. On the cross he let his light shine so that one of the criminals being crucified next to him came to trust him as Savior, and the centurion was moved to confess that he truly was the son of God. By his perfect life and innocent death, he paid for the times we fail to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. As he continues to shine the light of his grace on us through the word and sacrament, as he continues to call us his children, may we be inspired all the more to be what he has made us, salt of the earth, light of the world, all to his honor, glory and praise.