Most people who don’t think they’re making a difference in the world actually are. Matthew 5:13-16 shows us that each of us is already wired by God as an agent of change, “Made to Make a Difference.”
Edith used to rent an alley apartment and lived on her late husband’s pension. Her five-foot frame with thin, white hair and thick glasses that magnified her eyeballs made a difference for cancer patients. Every Tuesday morning she and a hundred other white-haired ladies would meet at church to occupy themselves with the unglamorous concern of sore seepage from cancer wounds. They’d stitch together truckloads of disposable pads and deliver them to cancer patients through the week.
John and Liz turn a church classroom into a factory of volunteer seamstresses who make doll-sized clothing for premature infants. Joe is retired military and has heart problems. Liz has foot deformities. Both make sure these three pound babies have something to wear (Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life, pp. 13ff).
Caleb is nine years old. He plays basketball, avoids girls, and loves video games. His grandpa had surgery in the fall and when his grandma needed help raking leaves he volunteered. When the leaves turned to piles of snow he helped his grandma again. Now he’s decided that he’ll cut his video gaming in half so that he has enough time to help his grandma at least once a week.
You may not know anyone battling cancer. You may not own a sewing machine. You may not live near your grandma. But you’ve still been Made to Make a Difference in your own way. I’m not talking about random acts of kindness but real, meaningful contributions to the good of the world, specifically the good of the guy whose locker is next to yours at the Y … or your Facebook friend who posted that she hates life … or the couple whose never been to church but they sat next to you last Sunday. You are just the right person to make a difference. Most people who don’t think they’re making a difference in the world actually are. And most people who don’t know how they could ever make a difference don’t think of such possibilities because they never consider the reality: each of us is already wired by God as an agent of change, Made to Make a Difference.
Like salt, you prevent decay
Salt is one of the most important compounds in existence. Without it, the human body wouldn’t function. In ancient times, before the invention of refrigerators and freezers or sealed jars and cans and bags, salt was the only thing that kept meats, fruits, and vegetables from spoiling. Only salt stood between people and starvation during the winter months or dry season. Salt was so valuable that it was traded for gold, silver, and fine cloth. Governments used it as currency and the Roman soldier’s pay included a stipend of salt. Our English word “salary” reflects this practice, from the Roman word “salarium” which means “allowance of salt.”
In his sermon on the mount Jesus turns to his followers, like us, looks us in the eyes, and tells us how valuable we are. “You are the salt of the earth.” The only thing standing between humanity and their moral corruption is: you. Who is going to offer feedback to their friends watching the Super Bowl today that the materialism powering those commercials is really a sly lie of the devil that convinces us we need what we really don’t? Who is going to tell them that the thrill of gambling money, regardless of winning or losing, might be their fun but gambling with God about where you go after you die is not another form of entertainment? Who is going to raise an outcry that in 2008 one out of five pregnancies in our country ended in abortion? You … are the salt of the earth. You prevent decay.
“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.” Followers of Jesus lose our saltiness when our words and behaviors taste the same as the buffet of worldliness to those who don’t believe in Jesus. We blend in so well that they don’t detect a different seasoning, and they don’t consume what is preserved for eternity but instead what rots and then kills them. When we silence our Christian witnessing because we don’t want to sound judgmental, we lose our saltiness. When we tone down our Christian witnessing so that it sounds like a common denominator “everyone’s going to heaven” universalism, we lose our saltiness. When we adjust our behavior “out there” to look like the immorality that here in church we deplore, we lose our saltiness. When our congregation becomes enamored with ourselves, inward-focused on programs that preserve the institution and protect our comfortable scenery or our personal lives of luxury so that congregational outreach flat-lines, we lose our saltiness. “No … good,” is the sad judgment of Jesus who expects more from us than high fructose corn syrup that tastes great but slowly causes decay and even death. But salt can’t lose its saltiness. Jesus knows that. So he’s saying that losing saltiness is not you.
“You are,” Jesus promises as much as he commands. He doesn’t spin his words to sound good but hold back on promising anything we can’t deliver. He doesn’t say, “You could be … You might just … You ought to really … You are in a position to possibly one day become the salt of the earth.” Those aren’t saving words. Those words don’t make a difference. “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus the Creator of all built the compound we know as salt and created it in the beginning. Jesus the Savior of all creates us in new birth to be salt and to prevent decay. Not potentially, but actually. Made to Make a Difference.
Like light, you provide direction
With your help the Grace evangelism team compiled a survey last fall. Three-fourths of you who responded revealed that at some time you’ve been uncertain or afraid in your witnessing. Of that group of people, ¾ stated that at another time you’ve been confident in your witnessing. That indicates we are a group of people who are trying to witness but we want to do better. Then God’s promises are the perfect place to start.
“You are a chosen people,” he assures, “Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:9,12). When God picked his team of people to model Christian behavior and speak to others about Christ, why did he choose me? He could have done a lot better. He could have brought back Joshua or Peter. He could have hidden my bad behavior and blumbering attempts at witnessing – if I try at all – behind a desk in a nondescript cubicle far or in a storage closet far away from humanity. But he looked at me, and at you, and all believers, sized us up and said, “There is someone special I want on my side. How so? “You are the light of the world,” Jesus explains. The Bible explains further: “It is God who works in you … children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:13-16). God works in you. God made you his perfect child in baptism, shining like Jesus who stated, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). Jesus, the Light of the world, makes you the light of the world. Made to Make a Difference.
Still not sure you can make a difference? Jesus offers two metaphors describing you, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” People flying back to Milwaukee from Dallas tonight are going to notice Chicago. The kilowatts of power brightening the streets and buildings in Chicago can be seen from miles in the air. Jesus keeps talking about you, “A lamp … gives light to everyone in the house.” A lamp helps people see the corner table and walk around it, or see the remote control buttons. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Your good deeds can’t be hidden. Your good deeds will be noticed. Your good deeds will make a difference!
A witnessing survey asked when you witnessed most recently, and also when you last had the opportunity to witness but didn’t. Respondents gave exact dates, locations, and circumstances of their latest witnessing. At a get together with college friends. Last Thursday talking to a co-worker. With two friends who committed suicide. Witnessing is important to you! Does your witnessing make a difference? Ask the people in these pews today because a friend invited them. Ask the co-worker or the college friends who aren’t church people but are considering God in a new way. And finally, ask God if your witnessing makes a difference, because your witnessing is so important to him that he makes it his responsibility too. He makes you salt and makes you light. Made to Make a Difference. Amen.