Dusting off another oldie this week, as we had a guest speaker. And I'm really, really, really sorry about the title. Maybe.
Anytime Jesus tells me what to do I pay attention.
So when I read in Luke 14 that I’m to be the “salt of the earth,” I think I ought to figure out how to do that. I check into the way salt was used in the ancient Near East and how people thought about it. Our view of salt as that stuff we’re supposed to watch out for so it doesn’t clog our arteries doesn’t guide me much.
People used salt to preserve food. The poorer people used it as pretty much their only seasoning. The purest and most expensive salt came from mines, but anyone could walk down to the Dead Sea and pick up the salt chunks on the shore. Those often had other minerals in them, too, and if they weren’t handled right, the salt would dissolve out and be a sludge of tasteless junk.
Are we, then, somehow supposed to hold back the decay of the world around us, and season the places we’re at and the relationships we have with God’s love?
I imagine Jesus’ disciples in those days had the same questions. They may even have asked him, but once he ascended, that got a little harder.
They, too, wonder how they will follow him if he’s not there, if there’s no king or leader to tell them how. Jesus encourages them: The one who follows him will not only guide them, but will empower them as well.
Perhaps we think we don’t need all that much help to witness to Jesus in our world. Match what he teaches against what the world teaches and the choice seems obvious.
But that doesn’t quite work when we get down to living our lives in the real world.
Think of a person who gets along just fine without a faith in God, or at least who seems to. Following Jesus is great for you, they say, but it doesn’t interest me. Can we convince those people with logical arguments and reasoning? Or will we need to befriend them, walk with them and demonstrate what a difference Jesus really makes.
I don’t know about you, but I need constant direction and guidance from God in how to do that. I need the Holy Spirit to direct as well as empower me there. I don’t always know what to do. When I do know, I can’t always do it.
Plus, people discourage me. And a lot of the time, they can make me angry. How dare we, I ask. How dare one child of God kill another in the name of religion – any religion? How dare any of us look on another person as nothing more than a way to satisfy our desires?
God asked the ancient Israelites the same questions. How dare you who were slaves in Egypt take slaves? How dare you who wandered and depended on the kindness of strangers turn the needy away from your doors? Live life that way and you’re doomed to an empty life at best and disaster at worst when your false foundations crumble underneath you.
But God’s response to the people who dared to do such things went beyond anger and discouragement. He loved them. He sent them prophets to warn them and point out the danger, but he also sent them – and us – a savior to allow us back to his side.
I don’t have such an easy time loving those people when I’m left to my own power. Again, I need the Holy Spirit to empower and guide me – especially when I realize that I’m just as screwed up as the rest of the world and I’ve wandered just as far from God.
On my own, I falter like a failing battery. I need what an old=fashioned country preacher might call a Holy Spirit charge-up, in order to love the unlovable and guide me when I’m lost.
I have to love them, though, don’t I? Yes, because I’m a witness to the one who loved them so much he died to be able to be with them. How can my words speak Christ if my actions don’t? And when I’ve failed in both word and action, as I’ve done and will do some more, how can I have hope and assurance he loves me just as much as he loves them?
Again, the Holy Spirit. Wash it away from me and I’m a useless sludge of minerals – which would make a great name for a band, by the way. Wash the Holy Spirit from me and I have no taste, I season nothing and I make no difference with words or actions.
But with the Holy Spirit? I am a witness. I tell you what I have seen and know to be true. I bring you the good news.