Empowerment, Jesus Style – being Salt and Light

Over the last few weeks, and building up an opportunity this morning to preach at Headland Baptist church on the subject of Salt and Light ( Matthew 5:13-17) ,

 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

I have been continuing to reflect on Jesus’ way with the disciples, the crowds, and the sense of empowerment that he ushers in with them, and how this is a call for those who follow to continue.

Thinking about management in a youthwork setting, and values of youthwork, Empowerment is a fine line to seem to balance, when, on the one hand its great to have discussion about issues and ideas, and make collaborative decisions, yet on other occasions the decision has to rest with someone, usually the manager. But managing in youthwork is about passing on the value baton, being an example of good practice, so that those who are being youth workers can perform. Its a fine line, and one that I can find difficult. For the youth worker, Paulo Friere would appear to be the Godfather of Empowerment, yet Friere’s own inspiration might likely have been from his Christian faith background.

Last weekend I went back up to Perth to do a days training with a group of clergy and volunteers about how they might go about starting right with ministry with young people ( in a broad sense), in my introduction, given that its what I’ve been thinking at the time, we read the same passage and we reflected on the salt, and the City on a hill – the source of the image of the light. Over the course of the day, I hope that I was able to empower the group, to think differently about the involvement they have or could have with young adults, to reflect on the possibles, and enable others to be empowered. We also had a conversation about enabling people to use their gifts, rather than fill need gaps, to identify people as with, and as friends. It felt that in a 6 hours of talking, of getting to know people, their situations, their gifts, their ideas, that an element of empowerment was occurring in the room – starting from their own desires to want to do creative work with young people – maybe all that was needed was a room for them all, and someone to light the spark paper.

So, today I preached on the same passage, and whilst I wont bore you with the details or the transcript ( the full sermon will be uploaded on the Headland Baptist church Facebook page), the following points in regard to empowerment struck me again;

  1. Jesus gives the people, the disciples a clear indication of their importance as people from the outset. Well before they do anything, even before they hear their instructions for ethical behaviour, missional commands, or tasks post resurrection – virtually the first thing that Jesus, and Matthew the narrator, commands is that they are something. “You are….”, that “You are…” only appears once more by Jesus in the whole gospel (except the If you are) , must mean that the chronology, and imperative is important.  Might it be that they were to be something, before they became something?
  2. To be salt as a preservative, means that it attaches to the meat or food, and the same for adding it to flavour something. Yet without the meat, or the flavour of the meat there would be no need for salt, salt only enhances what is already there.
  3. To be light. Light encourages action and movement. Without light people find it difficult to see, difficult to move. Light shines from the city on a hill so that people can walk along well trodden, or newly created paths.
  4.  Jesus describes the crowd, and the disciples not as a fixed item, a timebound item, but as an eternal, universal metaphor. One for all generations, all ages, all cultures, all races and all situations.  Can you imagine a world without Salt, or Light? To be a follower, is to be eternally empowered, eternally a metaphor.
  5. And, if we’re not salt in the situation, not sustaining, preserving the goodness in the world, acting make things distinctive, will people give you a second thought, no they’ll reduce you back to the ground you came from, trampled underfoot. If we’re not enhancing and guiding – what use would we be?

NT Wrights description in Virtue Reborn  is that “Jesus invites his hearers to something more radical, stating that Gods people will serve and love him, will live out the genuine humanness of which the ancient Law had spoken, and do so naturally, and from the heart, it will be a God given ‘second nature’ a new way of being human. And this can be practiced now, difficult as it might be, because Jesus is here, inaugurating Gods Kingdom. Its as if Jesus says; follow me, and authenticity will begin to happen”.

In his book Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer, describes the Christian as the ‘little Christ’ who’s purpose is to follow the way. The Christian who has a continuing responsibility in acting according to the Kingdom.

It feels like following the way of empowering others gifts, others strengths, others ideas, passions and visions is part of the Kingdom, part of being Salt and Light. Jesus first role it seems was to empower others to become followers, to announced upon them a new identity in which they had to connect, had to guide, had to preserve goodness.



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