Luis Menjivar continues our Glow series with Salt of the Earth.
We’re walking through the series we’re calling Glow. It’s this idea or reality that every single one of us leaves a legacy. We all make an impact on our lives. The temptation is we might think we go unnoticed. It could be very easy for us to feel unnoticed. Especially in the pace of life, we might be accustomed to, or the way we might be treated by those around us. We might have some degree of reasons for it. We might start to think, “You know what? I don’t even know if my life makes an impact.” The reality is we have such a huge impact. We are affected by those we rub shoulders with. We affect them as well. Why? Because we notice when somebody is kind to us. We notice something as simple as a smile. Maybe not 100% of the time, but it is noticed.
We also notice when somebody is rude or less than kind to us. We definitely notice if they cut us off on the road. We have all been created with a degree of gravity that is able to pull towards its life with something of an impact. It’s why a life that is removed from this side of eternity is a life whose loss is felt. It leaves a vacuum. It may be a small or a large one, but it leaves something empty and missing from this world. We all live in such a way, whether we know it or not, we are leaving a trail behind. There is something awake that is following us and the way we live our lives impacts how we affect those around us.
Jesus had many things to say about the greatest way to make an impact on somebody else. He would say this through His messages, illustrations, statements, and proclamations. One of the greatest and well-known places where He does this is called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s where He challenged the status quo. What does it look like to make the greatest impact? What would that look like? He did it in the widely known sermon called the Sermon on the Mount. We’re going to take a look at it. It’s found in the Gospel of Matthew in the fifth chapter. Matthew begins with what Jesus says. He says, “One day, as He saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around Him and He began to teach them.” It’s Matthew’s way of saying, this is a regular event. Whenever Jesus would step into the towns, cities, or the countryside, people would hear that Jesus was near and would gather to Him. They would want to hear what He had to say. On this particular day, they found themselves in the countryside. Jesus went out on the higher side of the mountain so that everyone could hear and see Him. This is literally why this is called the Sermon on the Mount.
This is how Matthew organized what Jesus says. This is the NLT version. Some of us may be accustomed to a different translation. “God blesses those who are poor and realizes their need for Him, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, that is they withhold judgment, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses those whose hearts are pure, or we would say united, there’s nothing dividing them, for they will see God.” They’re singular in their devotion towards Him. “God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called the children of God.”
What we understand is that was Matthew’s way of saying, “This is how Jesus inaugurated what God was doing in His kingdom.” We would think of it as “Here’s the state of the kingdom of God address.” Jesus illustrates qualities that none of us would say, “Oh, those are terrible qualities, Jesus.” I don’t think any of us would say that, at least out loud. He says, “Hey, you know what? It’s a great life. It’s a great set of qualities. Those who are humble, those who are meek, those who are merciful, those who are peacemakers.” Jesus is illustrating what it would look like for us to become increasingly more and more His followers. He’s saying, “If you follow me, this is what you will become.” Who is Jesus talking to? He’s talking to people, Matthew says disciples, we would say His students, His devoted, disciplined students. He says, “You are going to become like this. These are qualities and characteristics that define those who draw near to God. Who are interested in following Him. Who wants to see what it would look like to implement Jesus’s ways into their own lives.” He’s saying, “These are the qualities that you are going to develop into.” That is the idea behind this.
It should be stated that Ashley Chambers was the one who said these are also qualities that would be impossible to live out. If not for the very spirit of God working inside of us. They are radically different from what we might be accustomed to. This list has been known as the Beatitudes, a list of qualities that Jesus highlighted. This is the life that makes the greatest impact. This is the life that God blesses. This quality of life. Jesus was speaking in a culture in which they did not celebrate necessarily everything He was talking about. Where was He speaking? He was speaking in modern-day Israel. He was speaking when Israel was under the subjugation and empowerment of the Roman empire. Rome was known for its brutal force. It was known for its ability to enslave entire people groups or dominate any sense of opposition. Rome was known for its power. Jesus was speaking into a time in history and in a region of the world where power was elevated, not meekness. Now, we live in a culture that may not elevate exactly what Jesus was talking about. We may elevate other things and qualities that in themselves, are they bad? No, it’s just not necessarily what Jesus said would make the greatest impact.
I was sitting in a course I was taking and one of my professors basically said, “It’s hard to overstate how radically different these qualities are from our everyday lives. But if we just would create and value these things, Jesus’s beatitudes, if this is what Jesus says, then that means we each have our own set of beatitudes, we live by. We each live out of what we say is most important. That’s what drives us. We take that from a personal level to relationships, to our culture, society. We know our society has certain things that it says, “These are the unspoken, where are they written? Not really anywhere. We find out about them when we cross them.” Maybe we could say this in a more lighthearted way, but at least in this city, we know one of the unspoken rules is you simply don’t talk to strangers on BART. That’s an unwritten rule. On Muni, you must stay focused on your phone at all times, only looking up to get off the bus. That’s kind of an unspoken rule. Anything other than that feels intrusive. I’m playing around a little bit, but we know there’s some grain of truth to there. I wonder what would it look like for our culture to write its own beatitudes. One of my professors, Brian Huey, wrote a list. He’s also a pastor in the East Bay. I thought I’d share these.
We may not agree with all of these, but he was simply highlighting a bit of a contrast. He said, “Well, perhaps we were right. Blessed are those who went to a good school. Blessed are those who are smart and everything comes easy to them. We don’t like them, but man, are they blessed? Bless are those who have good people skills, they get ahead. Blessed are those who have jobs that are both interesting and well paying. Those are blessed in our culture. That’s the life. Blessed are those who have the coolest gadgets. Blessed are those who find the love of their life, the romance story is their story. Those are blessed. Blessed are those who live in a good neighborhood, surrounded by perfect Instagram photos, great restaurants, parks you could walk around just 10 minutes away from downtown. Blessed are those. Blessed are those who have smart, well-behaved children, who don’t embarrass their parents or ever make them look bad. Those are blessed. That’s the life because they will inherit the good life.
We might agree with some, we might disagree with others. We might have our own list, but you know what this points out? Jesus’s list has a rather sharp contrast, because He’s saying, “Blessed are you when you start to become the kind of person who acknowledges your need. Blessed are those who mourn, those who do not pretend, hide, or deny the pain of life. They don’t try to numb it, they acknowledge it. Blessed are those. God blesses those.” Jesus says. “Blessed are those who acknowledge the need for justice.” Jesus would push it a little further. He did in this message, not just external justice in the systematic places of our society, no, but internal justice within the systems of our own soul that hunger and thirst for justice. “Blessed are those who would show others mercy and restrained their judgment. Not quick to draw conclusions.” Some of these are celebrated, most of them are not. There is something of an inverted nature of Jesus’ ways and what we see. He almost flips it upside down to what our culture celebrates. He says, “If you really want to make an impact, there is a radically different way of going about this.” This is what I love about Jesus, He was not blind to the reality. He was speaking in a culture that didn’t necessarily embrace each of these qualities.
As he’s sharing this, He continues his beatitudes. His lists of who is blessed, who will make the greatest impact, who God will demonstrate His hand in their lives. In verse 10 He says, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right.” Which requires the question. “God, why would anyone be punished for doing right? How could that be? How is it possible that doing right creates a blowback of punishment?” Jesus is saying, “Here’s the ideal, and yet I’m not blind to the reality.” He’s recognizing, yes, this is what will make the greatest impact. But this is deposited in the circumstances of a broken-in world that we know something is not quite right. Something will happen. You may receive a little bit of resistance and that small resistance may lead to something as lethal as what He says, it’s persecution. He says, “God blesses those, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. They will own where God dwells. His realm will be theirs.”
He says, “God blesses you.” Jesus continues to push it. He says, “God blesses you when people mock, persecute, and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” If I were in that crowd, I would say, this is where you would sense Him losing the crowd. If you were to come out and say, “God blesses those who are humble.” “Yes, I’m with you.” “Show mercy, you will receive mercy.” “Jesus, I’m loving this. Tell me more. What else?” If you make peace, if you strive for peace, that’s great, yeah. There’s a part of us. All of us, we’d say, “Yeah, yes. That’s right. I need that.” You could strive for peace in my life. Listen to Jesus. Yeah. Then He turns the corner and says, “Hey, don’t be shocked, because you start to live into these qualities and define yourself as one who is mine, people start to mock you.” “What?” “Yeah. God blesses you when you are mocked when lies are said about you.” Some of us would say those lies may have a grain of truth, which makes it a little harder when mud is slung at us. That mud is not completely made up. He says, a little tougher, “This is going to happen sometimes. This may happen. Do not be blind to it.”
Remember the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. Then Jesus makes this widely known statement. He says, “You are the salt of the earth, but what good is the salt if it has lost its flavor, can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” In other words, “As you lean into these qualities, seek to follow me, allow your life to be transformed by these habits and ways of thinking and being, you start to receive resistance. People start to marginalize you. People start to mock and undermine you. Don’t shy away from who you are.” He said, “Don’t back off.” Which is easily what all of us would want to do. He’s saying, “Don’t do that because the minute you start to shy away from the core of who you are, you start to lose the very reason you are placed in this world, to begin with.
“You are the salt of the earth. You’re the salt of the earth, that’s your purpose.” You’re meant to do what? Salt was a huge commodity in Jesus’ day. In the Roman empire, it was traded widely because it had the ability to do something that modern-day refrigeration does. It had the ability to preserve food for an extended amount of time. It also had the ability to enhance food, which is what it widely does today. Jesus was saying, The Message translation highlights a bit of what Jesus was saying in a different way. I would like us to put it in there. He says, “Let me tell you why you are here. Why you are on this planet. You’re here to be salt seasoning that brings out the God flavors of this earth.” I love that. You’re to bring out the God flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? If you back off of who you are, who you belong to, how will they ever know of the one you belong to? No, you’ve lost usefulness and will end up in the garbage. You will lose grip with part of the core reason as to why you are here. You will find this life somewhat meaningless and you will find it useless if you step away from this.
Jesus Is telling them something rather significant. The greatest impact is made when we embrace the qualities Jesus is asking us to lean into. Following Jesus sometimes will mean to be countercultural. Sometimes it will mean that everyone is swimming this way and He’s asking us to swim upstream. That’s not easy. He’s saying, “Do it and you will make the greatest impact. You will.” We will find ourselves in that tense place a lot. What does this look like? How do we impact this in our own lives? I just want to put a couple of thoughts up for us. What He’s saying is, this is not a starting place. This is a journey. This is not where we begin. This is inevitably the place where more and more we’ll become. A faith journey with Jesus will try to transform our core values. If we embark on this journey with Him in an honest, sincere way, the core of who we are will radically be transformed.
This is a classic. We know there’s a difference between stating something and believing it. The classic is, “Listen, I don’t want you to simply do the dishes. I want you to want to do the dishes.” Why? Because we know, and some of us have done this, especially in relationships we care about. Maybe we’re a little tired or don’t really want to go down this path. So we say the words, “I’m sorry.” They come out of our lips, but there is a difference between stating those words and meaning those words. There is a difference. Jesus is saying, this is not about simply stating a set of beliefs. If we’re going to do this, follow Him, and engage in what God wants to do in our lives, it will challenge us to be open to Him, moving in the deeper parts of who we are. It will require something of openness in us.
Paul wrote a letter to a group of believers in Galatia. The Message translation I thought nuanced this in terms of what we are talking about. He says, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the spirit. The spirit of Christ. Let us make sure that we do not just hold it as is an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” He’s saying, if we’re going to explore and lean into what Jesus is longing to do in our lives, then we should be open to aligning the core of who we are with what He says is worthy of our pursuit.
We might have our own set of beatitudes and Jesus welcomes anybody wherever we might be. But as we continue to follow Him, He will say, “Hey, have you heard what I say God blesses? Are you open and leaning into that? Will you bring the core of who you are into alignment with what I say will be a good life? It will be a life that will truly make an impact.” That aligning of our value systems is difficult. It’s difficult because we each carry scripts that say no. When everyone is swimming this way, we wonder why we’re not swimming that way too. When Jesus is saying, “No, I want you to go a little bit against the culture.” We each have thought patterns. We each have wounds. We each have habits. Alignment is challenging when we start to engage with it. It’s difficult because the reality and truth are, humility comes from a place of strength. Some of us don’t have the strength to line up with humility because we are carrying a wound. To be merciful is to have a power of judgment over someone else and to have the restraint of not exercising that power. To practice that is to exhibit a degree of wholeness and strength. So if we are wounded, it’s going to be very hard for us to do that. Which means we will have to address the wound.
It was about a week ago that I had just finished my responsibilities for that day. We have Friday as our day off, generally speaking, for our staff. It was Thursday evening. I love basketball. It’s sincerely, probably my favorite sport out of the big three, basketball, baseball, and football. But I love basketball. I remember making my way over here and going up to the streets at Dolores Park and playing. I grew up playing on the street courts by my house and neighborhood. Wherever I lived, I always played on the court and in pickup games. It was Thursday and I went up to Dolores Park and played. Have you ever played with somebody that takes their game just a little too seriously? Someone who behaves and acts and plays like they’re professional, but they’re not professional. They’re really intense about their game. A little competitive. I wouldn’t know anything about that, but that’s exactly what I stepped into. I remember playing this game and I was trying to win. That’s why we play.
We were playing and I was playing defense. There was a sweet spot on the court and I slipped out. That’s somebody else. I remember the guy came against me and it was just a freak accident. I fell back and hit my wrist on the concrete. It was one of those things. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to let people know I’m in pain. My face was like, “Ha ha ha.” But my body was shrinking in pain. I was thinking, “That really, really hurt man. That really hurt. Slow down.” I was mad and frustrated. The others said, “Oh my gosh, you okay?” I got back up. I said, “Yeah, man, your ball, let’s go.” I just kept playing and kept trying to win. We finished the game and I walked back to the car. Thankfully I didn’t have the motorcycle, I had my wife’s car. I’ve never broken a bone. Gosh, this one is tough. I’ve never sprained my wrists this way. I’ve had ankle sprains and things like that.
I’m making my way and the adrenaline is wearing off. The pain is starting and I’m driving home. I make my way home. My wife’s a nurse. She has her women’s group over. Her women’s group has several people in the medical profession. I walk in and said, “Hey ladies, something weird happened to my wrist. The thing is, as I was playing, it felt a little funky. It wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. It was flopping. I’m explaining to them that it wasn’t bruised. It was a little swollen, someone said, “Wow, you have two wrists on one.” Somebody said, “Hey if it was broken, you’d be in excruciating pain. You wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’s probably not broken.” I said, “All right, sweet. How long before I can play ball again? What do you think?” They said, “Well, maybe a couple of weeks, just wrap it up and leave it up.” I said, “All right.” I wrapped it up. I slept this way. I don’t know how I slept, but I did it. My wife went off to work. I’m sitting at home and I cannot move my hand. It’s stiff. I can’t move it. I call my wife. She says, “Oh, you probably just need to go in.”
I end up going in to get an x-ray. The smallest of the biggest bones, the scaffold right underneath your thumb, commonly broken, is fractured in half. I thought, “Wow, man, that’s intense.” “We need to cast you up.” Then the real pain came. The guy casting me up says, “All right, sit down.” He just happened to give me a black cast, which I’m very grateful for. He sat me down and said, “All right. You need to cup your hand this way because we need to bring your bone and your hand into alignment so it heals correctly.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “All right, cup it.” I said, “That’s as far as I’m going to go.” He said, “No, you need to cup it.” “All right. All right.” He said, “If you don’t, I will.” He was bigger than me. I sat there and he said, “I’m going to do this.” I said, “Okay.” He pushes in. The pain.
Grown men shouldn’t cry. At least that’s what we used to think, but I just start feeling it. I’m like, “Ah, ah.” He goes, “Now, hold it there.” I said, “No, it wants to go back.” When we’re wounded, our body compensates for the wound. Our body ends up compensating so that it can protect the weakness. It gets out of alignment to protect the weak. To bring it into alignment hurts. Some of us are walking with real wounds and compensating factors. We see them all the time. Some of us have amazing defense mechanisms. We are the fastest draw in the okay corral. “Wow, you’re fast.” “Yeah. I’ve been trained. Survive, survive. Don’t mess with me. I’ll come at you fast, and hard.” We have that because our soul has compensated.
When we start to become open to what Jesus wants to do in our lives to “Bring this into alignment,” some of us say, “Yeah, okay.” But there are parts of us saying, “No, that hurts.” If we remain open to it, we’ll become the kind of people Jesus says. You will make the greatest impact. You will heal and have strength. You will be able to give. If that’s the case, if He wants to align our internal beings to what He says is great, we also find a faith journey with Jesus will give us a heavenly motivation. It will empower us with heavenly motivation because Jesus in other places would say, “Throw parties. Yes. Do it. Throw celebrations and gatherings. Invite people who can never invite you back because they don’t have a place to invite you to. When you give given secrets, no one knows who you’re giving to you because when you do that, your reward is in heaven.”
Jesus was eliminating the opportunity human nature has to create a different form of a politic. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. A quid pro quo. He knew it. He was stripping away. He was saying, “If you have heavenly motivations, it strips away the self-interests, greed, and coercive tendencies. Any of us could so easily fall into why we do what we do.” He says, “If you do that, you will do amazing good.” You will be rewarded in heaven. We know God is a great rewarder. History is filled with different examples. One would be our modern day. No matter what we might think of it today, it was people who follow Jesus, who lean into what Jesus was saying ‘seek heavenly rewards,’ that ended up thinking, “There is a class of people who can afford their own education. But there is also a wide range of people who cannot. They don’t know how to read or write. Let’s teach them how to read or write.” Many Christ-followers did this in churches throughout entire countries and not just this country. It became the foundation for what we know today to be the modern-day public education system.
What was their purpose? So that they could read and write the very words of God speaking life and love into them. They did it for a group of people who could never repay them. Other Christ-followers decided that some can afford their own health practices, medicine, and all of that. But there is a group of people who cannot. They’re the poor, rejected, dejected, and marginalized people. Christians started saying, “Let’s create societies and organizations to care for them.” This created the foundation for what we know today as the modern-day hospital system. People leaned into the very thing Jesus said, “If you do this, it will make the greatest impact.”
It says heavenly motivation leads to tremendous earthly good. It’s the opposite of irrelevant. It becomes the most relevant work. It benefits without requiring repayment. If that’s the case, what we find is a faith journey with Jesus will also lead us to a place where it will remind us to enhance and preserve all that is good in this life. It will call us to a place appealing to the brighter side of human nature. Jesus knew as the scriptures say that every single person on the planet has been marked with the image of God. That image is marred. There is an aspect to it. We have a tremendous capacity for good and a tremendous capacity for evil. That is true. But Jesus is saying, “You do this, you will appeal to the part that desires the higher virtues. You will start to point out the beautiful, elegant, creative, life-giving, gracious, merciful, and encouraging. You will be part of the one who longs to see good prevail. You will be the one who will root for the underdog because everything in human nature desires that. You will be the one who will point out all that is good, you preserve all that is good. You will be the one who will strive to believe. Not in the second, third, fourth, but fifth, sixth, and seventh chances. You’ll be that one. You will be that salt. You will be the one who will call people to the better side of themselves. You will make such an impact. God will call you blessed.”
Anne Snyder is a Christian journalist who graduated from a small Christian college in the Midwest. Three years after she graduated, she ended up getting a job with a man named David Brooks. David Brooks is an editor and journalist for the New York Times. He is widely known, nationally known. He wrote a book called The Road to Character. It’s a fantastic book. He wouldn’t call himself a Christian. He wrote a book about the need our society has for the higher virtues of life. Very good read. But I found this interesting. In his acknowledgments as every author does, he acknowledges people who impacted the project. Anne Snyder became his research and editing assistant.
She lived in Faith House. She asked people she knew to pray for her to glow, to be able to point out all that is good and to preserve all that is good. Brooks wrote. “Anne C. Snyder was there when this book was born and walked with me through the first three years of its writing. This was first conceived as a book about cognition and decision-making. Under Anne’s influence, it became a book about morality and inner life. She led dozens of discussions about the material, assigned me reading from her own bank of knowledge, challenges the superficiality of my thinking in memo after memo, and transformed the project. While I was never able to match the lyricism of her prose or her sensitivity to her observations, I have certainly stolen many of her ideas and admire the gracious and morally rigorous way she lives her life. If there are any important points in this book, they probably come from Anne.”
He was saying, “Anne Glowed.” She was the salt in all of us. Jesus said, “We all have influence potential. All of us. If we do just lean into who we are.” We do it, not because we don’t know Anne, but I could tell you one thing for sure, she didn’t do it condescendingly. She didn’t do it judgmentally. She didn’t do it in a coercive way or by any means self-righteously. It is impossible that an audience would be given that type of attitude. No, she did it authentically and genuinely, lovingly and humbly, sensitively and graciously, he said. We may not impact national authors, but I’m just wondering, who are we supposed to be salt to? Who do we have an audience with? Whose project can we transform that may actually hit others and lead to that life being transformed. Jesus said, “You lean into this, you will make the greatest impact. God will say, “You are blessed.” Maybe we do that. May we glow, unashamed, with love, sincerely not perfectly. May He use us to be salt in the earth.
Let’s pray, “Lord, I thank you that you invite us to such a privilege of getting to be a part of what you long to do in other people’s lives. I pray that you would help us, God. Those of us who have things you are longing to address, I pray you give us the courage to be open and allow you to bring us into alignment. I pray you give us the courage to be humble, gentle, loving, and unashamed. I pray that you would use us to be what you said we were. You called us the salt of the earth. Help us enhance and preserve all that is good in our world. We pray for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”