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This past Sunday, Jim Quigley preached from Matthew 5:13-16 on how Jesus calls his disciples the salt and light of the world. The implication is that wherever there is darkness and decay, Jesus’ followers should be there, acting as a preservative and purifier like salt, and shining the light of Christ through word and deed.
I was reminded of this truth recently during of all things, a college basketball game. During the Louisville-Duke game, one of the Louisville players, Kevin Ware, experienced a horrific leg fracture that many commentators have described as the worst sports injury they have ever seen. Sports Illustrated reported how, as Ware’s teammates were “spooked out” by the sight, bawling or collapsed on the floor, one of his teammates, Luke Hancock, ran from the bench to Ware’s side, put his hand on his chest, and said a prayer: “Dear Heavenly Father, please watch over Kevin in this tough time. We just want him to know that You're here with him, and that everything will be all right...”
Salt and light, right there on a basketball floor.
The story of the growth of the early church is in many ways a testimony to the power of what can happen when the church acts like salt and light, unafraid to enter the darkness and decay of the world with the truth and love of the gospel. One thing that contributed to both the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity was two health epidemics that took place during the years 165 and 251. The difference between the response of the Christians and the pagans was striking. Consider the words of Dionysius, the bishop of Corinth:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead… The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.
“The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
According to history, Galen, the famous classical physician of Rome, lived through the first epidemic because when it hit, he got out of Rome quickly, retiring to a country estate in Asia Minor until the danger receded. That typified the response of the Romans.
Not so the Christians. As Tertullian, another early Christian leader, said, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’”
And lastly, consider this quote from the Roman Emperor Julian: “Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of the Christians as their charity to strangers… the impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.”
Just as in the first few centuries after Christ’s death, the darkness and decay of the world give the church the opportunity to be salt and light in the world. From the recent bombing in Boston to the hurricanes and floods of last summer, from injury to illness, from abuse to poverty, we are called as Jesus’ disciples to not remain in the salt shaker or to keep our light under a bushel, but to enter into the decay and darkness, confident in the hope and eternal life we have in Christ, to love others as He has loved us. Where is the darkness and decay in your world? Where is God asking you to be salt and light?
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