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Sermon for February 5, 2023 – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5011 | Better Well Done…
Cara Garrity

There is a saying that goes, “Better well done than well said.” This phrase wisely reminds us that words can sometimes be empty, and our actions often say much more about who we are. As believers, we can say we love God and our neighbors, but what is the evidence of that love? Have we created spaces for our neighbors to feel the love of Christ through us? Or do we offer them words without the actions to back up those words?

When Paul was used by God to share the gospel with the people of Corinth, he took an unexpected approach for a preacher and teacher. Notice what he says:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Instead of using flowery words or trying to say the right thing, Paul shared his own testimony and tried to demonstrate God’s power and love. Paul trusted in God and the power of the gospel, rather than in his own ability to convince others. He was his full, authentic self and was unashamed before God and other people. We might say that Paul practiced “better well done than well said” by relying upon Jesus’ ‘well done’ rather than his own ‘well said’.

You see God is not a God of empty words and promises. In the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, every word and promise of God is fulfilled. In him is also humanity’s perfect response to God. When we put our confidence in the perfect word and deed of Christ rather than our own, we are invited into a faith that is more than empty words.

Instead of trying to say the right words to convince others to believe in the gospel, we are free by the Spirit, to authentically share our stories and invite others to experience the kingdom alongside us for themselves.

While human wisdom may fail and human words may turn up empty, Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – both well said and well done – will never fail or turn up empty. We are invited to depend on and point one another to his Word, and not our own. It is then that we testify of God instead of ourselves.

Ray Anderson wrote, “The test for truth in a Christian is what the world sees in us of Jesus Christ, not what other Christians see in us as a Christian.” Let us be led by the Spirit in living authentic lives that glorify Jesus.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 112:1-9 • Isaiah 58:1-9a • 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 • Matthew 5:13-20

As we continue in the Epiphany season, contemplating the God revealed by Jesus Christ, we should take time to consider our response to that revelation. We should seek to humbly and diligently follow his word. Therefore, the theme for this week is authentically worshipping God. In the call to worship Psalm, we read about the generational blessings awaiting those who wholeheartedly worship the Lord. In Isaiah, the prophet condemns empty religion and echoes God’s call for justice, liberation, and care for those most in need. In the Corinthian passage, Paul spoke about the Christian’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel and God’s plan for salvation in Christ. Finally, the passage in Matthew reminds us that Christ-followers are called to bear witness to Christ in word and in action. However, to do so, we have to follow the commands of God and resist inauthentic, empty religion.

Questionable Living

Matthew 5:13-20

Christian comedian Michael, Jr. has a recurring routine that describes who he calls the “oversaved.” [You can find a lot of his comedy on YouTube by typing: Michael, Jr. oversaved.] One of his jokes goes something like this:

Michael, Jr.: “Excuse me, friend. I think I lost my keys. Can you help me find them?”

Oversaved Friend: “What you need is the keys to the kingdom!”

Michael, Jr.: “Um…I didn’t drive a Kingdom.  I drove a Toyota.”

Michael, Jr. delivers the joke far better than it can be delivered here, however, I think you can understand the important point he disguises behind a funny story. In the joke, Michael, Jr. needed some practical help and asked his friend. His oversaved friend stated something that was true but entirely unhelpful and irrelevant.

In an effort to separate themselves from things that are distractions, temptations, and triggers, Christians can sometimes seek to surround themselves with things that are overtly Christian. This is understandable, and often comes from one’s passion and love for God. However, if we are not careful, we can put ourselves into a Christian bubble. Those who live in a Christian bubble have almost all their interactions with other Christians. If they listen to music, it is Christian music. If they watch a TV show or movie, it is Christian. They have Christian radio or sermons playing in their car. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying Christian things, and it is understandable why a believer would, at times, want to withdraw from the world. However, living in a Christian bubble can limit our ability to participate in one of the core purposes of the church: bearing witness, through word and actions, to the good news about Jesus Christ and the kingdom he has established. It also prevents us from being spiritually formed by and participating in the work God is doing all around us, even among not-yet-believers.

Jesus teaches us that his followers should not only strive to interact with those around them but seek to be a blessing. Here is what Jesus teaches us in the book of Matthew:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:13-20 NIV)

In speaking about how believers should interact with the world, Jesus used two symbols packed with spiritual significance: salt and light. Salt was used in several ways: as a way bring out the flavor in food, as a meat preserver, as an essential nutrient for humans, and as a fertilizer for certain types of soils. Light was used as a disinfectant, to remove darkness, and to make navigating at night safe. One could create metaphors for a Christian’s spiritual life with all these uses. Myriad messages have been preached about what it means for believers to be salt and light, and rightfully so. However, I would like us to pay close attention to those to whom we are called to be salt and light. Does that group include only Christians? In verse 14, Jesus refers to believers as “a town built on a hill,” and in verse 16, he says, “let your light shine before others.” The context implies that those outside of the Christian community are included among the ones who can witness the “light” of believers.

Most Christ-followers would agree with this reasoning. Jesus’ Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20, established that Christians are a sent people commanded by Jesus to share the good news about Christ with the world. Where there may be disagreement among believers is the extent to which Christians should engage with the world. In other words, how far should believers go in being salt and light?

By paying attention to how Jesus talks about salt and light, we may get some insight. In the passage, the symbols Jesus used suggest that his disciples should both integrate and demonstrate. When used properly, salt fully integrates or blends into food. Used properly, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the food it touches, bringing out the flavors that are already there. The only time we taste salt in our food is when too much has been added (i.e., oversaved or Christian bubble). Thinking along those lines, Christians should be fully integrated with our neighbors. We should be a part of the life of our community, and our social circles should include both believers and non-believers. Barring things that interrupt or harm our relationship with God and others, we should follow the life rhythms of those in the community in which God has placed us.

At the same time, we are called to be demonstrators. In the light metaphor, light is separate from darkness. It is distinct and distinguishable. In the same way, believers are called to live in a way that allows others to see that the kingdom of God has come near to them. Our lives should point to the reality of God, letting not-yet-believers know that they too are included in the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To do that, Christians must be, in some way, distinct from not-yet-believers. Our lives should reflect the priorities of our King, which are often at odds with the priorities of our society, and the contrast should be noticeable.

So, how can Christians both integrate and demonstrate? How can we both blend in and stand out? In the book Surprise the World, Michael Frost says that Christ-followers should live questionable lives. In other words, we should integrate into the life rhythms of our community, forming authentic relationships with our neighbors. Our neighbors should be close enough to us so that they can see our good works and question us about why we use our vacation time to serve the poor, or why we open our home to refugees, or why we fast during Easter Preparation (Lent), or why we stop to talk with people who ask us for money, or how we can still find joy in the midst of tragedy.[1] The way we humbly and genuinely live out our faith in Jesus will spark curiosity in our neighbors, opening the door for us to share the good news about Christ with them when they ask their questions. Therefore, the way in which Christians can be both salt and light — the way we can both integrate and demonstrate — is to live questionable lives.

Living in a Christian bubble makes questionable living almost impossible. First, it significantly reduces our exposure to not-yet-believers. Yes, it is good to be a blessing to the fellowship of believers. However, we should not only do good to the fellowship of believers. We need to regularly build relationships with not-yet-believers to avoid over-salting the meal. Second, living in a Christian bubble can make us out of touch and awkward in conversations. If we are disconnected from our neighbors, over time, we will develop our own life rhythms and ways of being. In essence, we will form our own Christian subculture with its own language. Unless we develop the ability to code switch (fluidly switching from one way of speaking to another) we will communicate in ways our neighbors cannot understand. Like Michael, Jr.’s joke, the oversaved friend was completely out of touch.

As Christ followers, we want to learn to balance being in the world but not of the world. We do not want to conform to the ways of the world, but we should be able to talk naturally with our neighbors about things that are important to them. We want to avoid forcing them to always talk about the Christianity that is important to us. Since our faith in Christ causes us to be oriented on God and the “other,” Christians should be the easiest people with whom to have a conversation. Since Jesus is our hope, and our joy is readily accessible, and we will smile easily.

As we participate in the redemptive work of Christ, love will compel us to ask questions and take an interest in the people around us. Our desire to place-share, like Christ place-shared with us, should fill us with empathy. The wisdom the Holy Spirit provides should equip us to talk about world events, even politicized ones, in ways that bring unity and not division. Since the Spirit lives in us, we need not fear being “tainted” by the world. Rather, we should follow Christ’s example and boldly live questionably, believing that the world will catch our health.

Several among us have been doing many of these things organically. However, for some of us, what I am describing pushes us a bit out of our comfort zone. Jesus understands that discomfort.

The passage we are discussing is part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus lays out a radical way of living. He outlines what some call the “Upside Down Kingdom” because his values are so different from the norm. In Christ’s “Upside Down Kingdom,” the poor are blessed, mourners are comforted, and the meek inherit the earth. Living as salt and light was also part of this radical new way of life Jesus described.

It was difficult for many of his disciples to understand, let alone follow what Jesus taught. I submit this is why Jesus affirmed that his teaching was not in opposition to the law. While it may have seemed radical, the “Upside Down Kingdom” was in alignment with all the previously given commands of God. Jesus understands it often seems uncomfortable living a questionable life. He knows it might feel different from the Christianity you have known up until this point. However, living as salt and light — living a questionable life — is part of how we follow Christ. He will be with you and empower you to live as he lived.

We are the church – the body – of Jesus Christ. He lives in us and empowers the church (and each of us individually) to participate in his work to redeem and reconcile all things. Since Jesus is worthy of all praise and glory, let us represent him as the church. He would be the best neighbor on our block. He would open his home to those in need of a place to stay. He is a prolific giver. He is a good listener. He is the ally to the poor and marginalized. Let’s join Jesus in being habitual feasters, continually eating meals with friends and acquaintances. Let us join him and mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Let us join him and be makers of beautiful things. Let us join him and stand up for the humanity of the dehumanized. Let us be big belly laughers and outrageous storytellers. We are salt and light!

[1] Michael Frost, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (Colorado Springs, CP:NavPress, 2016), 5-6.

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W1

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February 5 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:13-20, “Salty”

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Program Transcript

Not Today Satan w/ Dishon Mills W1

Anthony: Let me read the first pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 5:13-20. It comes from the Common English Bible. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, on February the 5th.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. 17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Dishon, in slang terms, when someone says you’re salty, that’s not a good thing. They’re saying you’re upset or you’re in a bad way. And yet Jesus, in this passage tells us we’re salty. And it’s good. So, help us understand.

Dishon: Yes. So, the folks in Jesus’ time had a very different relationship with salt than we do today.

Today’s salt is very common here in the Western world. Just about any restaurant you go into, you’ll find it on the table. And just about every home, you’ll find it on the shelf somewhere. So, it’s very common. But back then salt was essential. And it still is essential, but even more so then. You could even use it as a medium of exchange.

Back then you could buy stuff with salt because it was that useful and precious. So, we talk a lot about what this passage means, and we talk about the qualities of salt. And that’s good. And that’s right. So, salt brings out the flavor of something, right? So salt, when it’s put into a dish, just makes that dish taste better, if you put the right amount of it, right?

It’s also used as a preservative. If you dip meat in salt, that meat, if you treat it properly, can last a very long time without refrigeration, which in the ancient world was really important. Even, you could use salt in small quantities as a fertilizer. So, you can make things grow or help make things grow with salt.

Human beings—mammals, we need salt. We have to ingest it. If we don’t get salt, we develop some kind of condition that I don’t know the name of, but it’s bad. You don’t want it, right? So, we need salt in our diet in order to be healthy. And also, as a disinfectant—it doesn’t feel great. If you put a small amount of salt in a wound or something like that, it will help keep that wound from being infected.

There was so many uses of salt, and I think when we’re preaching this verse, this passage, we often talk about a lot of those uses of salt, and we talk about these metaphors of what salt could be. Every metaphor breaks down, but this is a useful thing to do.

However, I think if we zoom out just a little bit, we can see the overall meaning. I don’t think it’s any one of these qualities of salt that we’re supposed to grab hold to. I think what we’re supposed to grab onto—and this is my view—that we as Christ’s followers are supposed to diffuse the aroma of Christ in the world and be a vital part of everyday life. Salt is necessary for the wellbeing of all. Right?

It’s not something that has only one value. It is valuable on so many levels that if it wasn’t there, the quality of life will be drastically reduced. And I think that’s what we’re called to be. We’re supposed to be living incarnationally and living in our communities and our neighborhood and behaving and treating others in such a way that we become a vital part of everyday life.

That if we were not there, life would be diminished. That we’re required for healthy functioning of the society around us. And if we as Christ’s followers are self-focused or isolated or as we’re engaging with our neighbors, if we don’t resemble Christ in how we’re living amongst them and treating them, we no longer fulfill our purpose in the world as disciples.

There’s a futility to our existence as disciples, if we’re not being salt and if we’re not being salty.

Anthony: You brought to memory a quote from Francis Chan, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, Christians are a lot like manure. When you spread them out, they help things grow. But when they stay in a pile, they stink to high heaven.

And that speaks to what you’re saying that salt even as a fertilizer—again, not to press in on one aspect of salt too much—but like you said, as we live incarnationally, as salt, things should grow. That’s what healthy organisms do. And I think that’s what you’re pointing to. It’s really good.

Verse 16 tells us, Dishon, that we’re to let our light shine so people can see the good things we’re doing. And of course, I’m not going to disagree with Jesus. It’s true. But I also can’t help but think if we take that too far, just like too much salt, right? It’s not good. We can end up being showy or pointing to ourselves instead of pointing to Jesus. Maybe help us rightly understand how we put this in context.

Dishon: Yes. So, I think that if we set out to be light to the world, if we look at ourselves and say, yes, I’m brightly shining and I need to go out to the world to let them see my brightness, we will stumble.

That is a recipe for failure, in my view. I think what it means that we are light, it’s not something we do ourselves. And I don’t even know, I have to think about this more, but I don’t even know if we should be fully conscious of the fact, all the time, that we are being light. I think what we are supposed to do is submit ourselves to the leading of the Spirit, and what the Spirit does is that the Holy Spirit helps us to act like Jesus and the Holy Spirit helps us to think like Jesus and move in the world like Jesus.

We don’t know how to be righteous from our own resources. We can only submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and his leading. And I think as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we begin to mirror Christ. Christ is the light. And if we are an effective mirror, we reflect that light. We shine and become light.

And as we engage our neighbors, they look at us and they see light. They may not realize that we are reflectors. And that’s where place-sharing and evangelism comes in when we get to tell the story. No, I’m like this, I’m doing this because there is this God man named Jesus who changed everything for me.

So, they may not realize that we are reflecting light. But they see that light as we move and as we follow the Holy Spirit. I think a lot of what good we do, can only be seen as good after the fact.

I’ll give you an example. This happened not too long ago where there was a gentleman who stopped in front of our house. He was having some car trouble and I just decided, let me go out and see if he’s okay. And as I’m talking to him, he starts sharing a story about his son dying and having to raise his grandson. And we spent a good 15 minutes just talking about how he and his grandson are trying to cope with that loss.

And I’m trying to pour into him as much encouragement as I can. And I didn’t set out to be like, in that moment, I didn’t go out to say I’m so bright and shiny. Let me just go shine on this guy. I just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit created this moment where this man that I didn’t know, he and I connected on a very deep level, and I prayed for him.

And it was just this beautiful moment, and I’m sure that he walked away—maybe, I don’t know—exposed to light. But that’s not for me to judge or say or even dwell upon except to say, Lord, thank you so much that I get to participate in your life and in your work. Thank you so much that I get to have a front row seat to watching you work and watching you do your thing.

So, if we’re doing light right, we’re not even thinking about light. We’re just trying to follow where the Spirit leads. And the Spirit causes others to see us as light, and then we give the glory to God for making us shine.

Anthony: Later in the episode, we’re going to talk about Transfiguration Sunday where Jesus as God shines his own light.

It’s self-generated. Whereas, as you talked about, we’re just reflecting. We don’t create our own lights. It’s a gift. And I really appreciate what you said there.

Dishon, I’ve had a complicated history with the law. I’m really curious what it means when Jesus says he fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Tell us more.

Dishon: Oh, Jesus is so cool. I love the fact that he said this. The Law and the Prophets, we can understand that phrase as referring to the Old Testament Scripture. So, he’s looking at Old Testament Scripture, and he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of it. And why is he doing this in the first place?

So, what we can infer, by the fact that he’s bringing it up and the way that he’s talking about it, he was probably being accused of deviating from the law. His approach to worshiping God and living in light of the reality of God was so radical to the society at the time—even though it wasn’t. It was Orthodox. But it was perceived as being so radical, that he was being accused of trying to introduce a new law or trying to do away with the Law and the Prophets.

And he’s coming out and saying, no, that’ not the case. And then he takes it a step further and implies that it’s not even possible because he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. So, the Law and the Prophets are descriptions of who Jesus is. So, if you had a person that could just follow Jesus around all the time and write down everything he said and did, and you write down every quality that he has and his beliefs, what you would get is the Law and the Prophets, in part, up until that point.

So, the law is just a description for us to help us understand who Jesus is. He’s the pattern. He’s the model on which the Law and the Prophets were based. And so again, when Jesus incarnated, it wasn’t a big stretch for him to keep the law because the law was based on him. He just has to be himself to keep the law.

And when I realized that, that was such a huge shift for me! I was like, wow, how did Jesus keep all these rules? How did he keep them straight in his head? Did he like have to memorize them and everything? And it’s, no. This is who he is. He came first, then the law. The law describes him.

And so, when he’s saying that he’s the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, he is saying, one, I’m not doing away with the law. I affirm it. But not only that, in order to see how the Law and the Prophets are to be lived out, you have to look to me. I’m the perfect example and representation of how to live this out.

Wow. And later on, on the Emmaus Road, he introduces theology in a new way. He’s the first theologian, so he basically tells his disciples, in order to understand Old Testament Scripture, you have to start with me. I am the interpretive key of all Scripture. And so that is such good news for us because he, as the pattern of the law, invites us into relationship.

And through that relationship, we become more and more like him. He is not holding a hatchet over our head, waiting for us to mess up and lower the boom on us. He’s inviting us to be with him and then become like him through that relationship. And so, it is this beautiful image of what it means to keep the law.

It’s a lot more fun and enjoyable and beautiful than how law is enforced in our society. But Jesus provides a beautiful image of how not only he fulfills the law, but he is the Law and the Prophets, and invites us in to participate in that.

Anthony: Yeah. You talked about how the law points to him. He embodies it, and I like what you said, that he is the interpretive key to all things. He is our hermeneutic for everything that we read in Scripture.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do you think actions speak louder than words?
  • What are some ways we can demonstrate our love for our neighbors?

From the sermon

  • Have you ever dealt with someone who comes across as “oversaved”? What was that experience like?
  • To you, what does it mean to live a questionable life?
  • What is one thing you can commit to do to be salt and light?

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