Salt & Light: Reaching Our City for Christ
By Dr. Andy Bannister
I don’t know if you know
this, but the provincial government here in Ontario have recently gotten nervous
that the rest of the world didn’t know much about Ontario, let alone Canada, so
they set up a website to which people could email their questions about Canada.
Great idea. However, some of the questions were so utterly bizarre that one
employee collected his favourites and posted them anonymously on his blog, along
with what he thought the answers should have been.
Here’s a small selection:
Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants
A. We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch
Q: I want to walk from Edmonton to Toronto. Can I follow the Railroad
A: Sure, it’s only 2,000 miles, take lots of water.
Q: Which direction is north in Canada? (USA)
A: Aim south, turn 180 degrees then keep walking. Phone when you
arrive and we’ll give you the rest of the directions.
Q: Are there supermarkets in Calgary and is milk available all year
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is
Although questions like that make us laugh, they also show how much it
is possible for the rest of the world to entirely misunderstand us as Canadians.
And that can be very frustrating.
I think Christians often have similar feelings of frustration. That no
matter how hard we try, that the culture outside these four walls entirely
misunderstands what we believe and why we believe it. That most of the time, if
we’re honest, we feel we’re talking past the culture.
One problem is that we live in a culture that is torn in two
directions. On the one hand, it’s rabidly secular. According to a recent Ipsus
Survey, almost 50% of Canadians no longer believe in God. (That figure goes up
in Toronto every time the Maple Leafs play.) Yet this atheism hasn’t necessarily
produced a cold, hard rationalism. Everywhere I speak—from secular universities
to business settings—I meet people who tell me they’re open to spiritual or
religious things—provided that religion or that spirituality doesn’t make too
many exclusive truth claims. “True for you, not true for me” is a mantra I hear
again and again.
So truth is under attack from both sides. From relativism: my truth is
my truth, your truth is your truth. And on the other side, from secularism and
atheism—those voices that shout that science and reason have disproven God.
So, a question for you this morning. How do we connect the gospel to
such a culture? How do we reach our mixed up city for Christ? Challenge it?
Inform it, shape it, transform it with the love of Christ? Show people the
beauty and the wonder and the joy that is to be found in Jesus. Is that even
possible, or is our message doomed forever to be lost in translation?
What might the Bible have to say to that question? Listen carefully to
these words from Matthew 5:13-16:
“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.
Most of us have probably heard this passage before. Perhaps you’ve
heard sermons on it before—it’s an old preaching favourite. But I wonder, have
you ever wondered what Jesus was actually doing in this parable? Salt and light?
Aren’t these two very different metaphors?
I don’t think Jesus was confusing two images here. I think he was
quite deliberately using salt and light precisely because of the contrast
between them. Salt and light are very different. The heart of the passage lies
in the very contrast between them. I’d like to highlight three particular
contrasts that can help us think through how we bring the gospel to bear on our
First, distance. Light can operate at a distance, it can be broadcast,
transmitted, seen from afar. And this is true of the gospel. There is part of
the gospel that can be broadcast, spoken and proclaimed. We call this preaching
— we call this evangelism. Yet I wonder sometimes if we’ve lost a bit of
confidence in preaching. We live, I’m often told, in a culture in which people
have short attention spans, don’t think, don’t read, aren’t interested in God —
all these reasons and more why preaching and proclamation no longer work. We
need to be culturally relevant, we’re told, we need to be popular.
But here’s an interesting thought. Preaching has never been
particularlypopular. It wasn’t in the book of Acts. In fact, it was so unpopular
that it led to arrest, persecution and banning orders for the first Christians.
Preaching is not popular in Iran, where the church has grown to over a million
strong in the last few years. It’s not popular in China, where the church is now
over 100 million. Preaching and proclamation have never been popular or
fashionable. But it’s powerful. There is part of the gospel that when proclaimed
is very powerful. It confronts, it afflicts the comfortable and it comforts the
Do we genuinely
believe in the power of the gospel to change lives? Are we able to explain and
articulate the good news? After all, good news that is not explained to people
is neither good nor news.
Salt, on the other hand, works differently. Unlike light, salt only
works if it makes contact. And there’s part of the gospel that only works if we
make contact with people. Through hospitality, through compassion, through
discipleship and mentoring, through our character. When people come into contact
with you, do they see a difference? Our world is crazy, mixed up, hurting and
broken. Are you good news to those around?
In the ancient world, salt was used for its medicinal and healing
effects. Today we have more advanced medical techniques, for example,
immunisation. Do you know how immunisation works? What you do is you expose a
patient to a weak, watered down version of the virus and that allows the body to
develop antibodies to fight it. I wonder if sometimes we’ve done the same with
our culture. If too often people have been exposed to a weakened, diluted form
of Christianity and so have developed an immunity to it. In such a case, the
only solution is a potent form of the real thing. Are you being that radical
disciple in the places where God has put you?
A second contrast between salt and light concerns speed. Light is
quick, fast, sexy, travelling at 186,000 mph, even up hill. There’s an aspect of
the gospel that can be quick and dramatic. When God shows up it, sometimes it
can be exciting, dynamic, powerful. Do we believe this? Do we really believe it?
Are we looking each day for the God opportunities, places and lives where God’s
spirit is at work, where he’s calling us to step in?
Salt, on the other, is pretty slow and undramatic. And there’s also a
part of the gospel that is slow. God works at his own speed. Are we prepared to
be patient? To hang in there, trusting patiently for God to work in the lives of
our friends, family, colleagues. Are we praying, day in, day out, for the
not-yet-Christians in our lives, believing that God can act?
Often when God shows up, it is a combination of dramatic power and our
Are we listening, praying, prepared to take risks, to look foolish for
God? But at the same time, faithfully and expectantly believing that God will
One final contrast and that’s hiddenness. You can’t hide a city on a
hill. It’s obvious, for miles around. There are parts of the Christian faith
that cannot be hidden, it’s designed to be public. Other things can be hidden.
You can be a secret Christian, the kind of person whose faith is rarely noticed.
When you’re around unchurched friends, are you comfortable and relaxed? Are you
able to talk about your faith, about your hope in Jesus in a natural way? Do you
feel happy answering their questions?
You see many of us I think have lost our public voice. We need to
rediscover our boldness, our confidence.
A light can always be relit. But salt, that’s a different matter. In
the first century world of the New Testament, salt was a valuable commodity. But
sometimes impurities got into it. And there would come a point when the
impurities were so great, that the salt became worthless. In fact the Greek word
here in Matthew 5 for “good for nothing” is the Greek word “moron”. From the
Greek word “moron” we get the English word “moron” which means “moron”. Stupid,
foolish, idiotic. The text literally says “if salt becomes stupid, how can it be
made useful again?”
The gospel never becomes irrelevant, it always has something to say to
a culture. But sometimes our lives can become cluttered, the moral or
intellectual impurities building up so that we become moronic.
So, a challenge.
What does your walk with Christ look like this morning? How do you
stand before him? Is he the centre of everything, has he replaced every idol in
your heart? Are you living for him with every fibre of your being? Are you
living wisely, or are you becoming a moron?
Many years ago, an old pastor and mentor said to me that there are two
questions that every Christian should ask themselves on a regular basis — two
questions your answer to which will determine how effect you will be in reaching
your friends, your family, your workplace, your school, your neighbourhood, your
city with the gospel. Two questions. First, how much time you invest with God
and second how much you invest into the lives of others. Only that will
determine the impact you make on those around you.
In a city desperate for answers, we need Christian men and women
prepared to commit to Christ wholeheartedly, live boldly, give dangerously,
think deeply and speak and live authentically.
The gospel is always relevant. But it is we, Christ’s ambassadors, who
are called, every one of us, wherever Christ has placed us, to translate that
gospel into the lives of our friends and family, into the worlds of education
and business and art and politics and culture.
Wherever God is calling you to be, I pray that your light might shine
before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in