Saving Civilization

Saving Civilization
Matthew 5:13-16
A sermon preached by
Rev. Teresa Holt
First United Methodist Church
Hot Springs, AR 71901
July 11, 2010
"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 by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot
be hidden. 15Neither 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. 16In the
same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
In the early 5th century, a man name Patrick was growing
up in what we now call Great Britan. His family had been greatly
influenced by the Romans, and therefore were Christians. In fact,
his Grandfather was a priest, though it is said that Patrick himself
lived a life on the wild side. At 16 he was kidnapped by Irish
Celtic pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. Patrick was sold to
a tribal chief name Miliuc. During his captivity, he reconnected
to God and became a devout Christian, learned the language and
culture of the Irish people (becoming an intricate part of the
culture), and truly began to passionately love the land and people
of Ireland.
After six years, he had a dream where he heard God speak
to him telling him that he was going home and needed to wake,
because there was a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran to the
seacoast and found the ship and negotiated his way on board. He
spent some time possibly at a monastery at Gaul, but eventually
returned to England and became a priest in England for many
years. (George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Abingdon Press,
How do you live in a world that is unfriendly, unsafe, and
foreign? How do you grow to love a world that is unchristian,
that has different morals and perspectives on life? What is our
role in such a world?
Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth. In his day, salt
was so revered, that soldiers were paid partially in salt. There was
a saying among Romans, “There is nothing more useful than sun
and salt”. It represented purity, preservation and flavor. Purity,
because it came from the purist of all things: sun and sea. It has a
glistening whiteness to it. Preservation, because it kept meat from
going bad (i.e. Salt cures meat). Flavor, because it allows food to
taste like more of itself. If you are a cook, you know that you add
salt to sweets as well as savory food. It makes the sweet taste even
better. I have a friend that has lost some of her taste buds due to
radiation therapy. The interesting thing is that she can no longer
taste sweet. When she tastes chocolate chip cookies – she only
tastes the salt. Salt in sweet is something our taste buds can rarely
Jesus says that we are the light of the world. Light
represented openness, radiance, and joy. Lamps were utilized as
nightlights in the ancient world. The higher the light in the house,
the more the light would flood the house. You never extinguished
the light, unless you were leaving. Then you put the light outside
under a protective cover. It was easier to cover it, than to re-light
when you returned. If a house had light, people knew that there
were those inside who were sleeping. A dark house represented
an empty house. Light was so important, that oil would be
bought, many times, before food.
Apparently if society thought that there was nothing more
useful than sun and salt, Jesus thought we were representatives of
usefulness in the world. So as useful people, how do we perceive
the world? Is it good? Is it evil? As a saved people, is our
mission to save a lost world?
Hard questions, and yet some of the most crucial questions we
can ask ourselves as the Body of Christ today. What is the role of
the church in today’ culture? How do we influence culture and
bring glory to God?
Charles Colson has said that we many times talk about
“saving grace”, but rarely acknowledge “common grace”. Saving
Grace “is the means by which God’s saving power, through the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, can redeem people from
their sin and give them new life in Christ and throughout
eternity.” Common Grace is “the grace of God by which he gives
people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. This
common grace is available through and to all of His creation.”
We might, as Methodists call this prevenient grace (the grace of
God that we receive before we are even aware of God). This
common grace calls us not only to build up the church but also to
build a society to the glory of God. “As agents of God’s common
grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to
uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue
science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to
heal and help those suffering.” (Charles Colson and Nancy Pearce,
How Now Shall We Live, Wheaton, IL, Tyndales House, 1999).
Common grace allows us to see the beauty and good in the world.
Because of God bestowing his grace upon all in the world, we can
appreciate that the world in so many different ways gives Glory to
God. So acknowledging the goodness and grace in the world,
how does the church that has experienced a “saving grace” make a
At the age of 48 (an old man in that time) Patrick had
another life changing dream. An Angel called Victor brought him
letters from his captors in Ireland. As he read the letters, he heard
his captors crying out in one voice to come and walk among them.
When he awoke, he perceived the dream as a call to take the
Christian gospel to the people of Ireland. He asked the church if
he might be sent on a mission to the people. Patrick was
ordained a bishop and appointed to Ireland to minister to the
“barbarians”. The Catholic Church considered these people as in
need of ministry and that they were emotional and hot headed
people, unlike the Romans who were “civilized”. The Irish were
known to behead their enemies and practice human sacrifice.
Patrick had had twenty years to think about how the Irish might
be reached. (George Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism,
Abingdon 2000). So when he returned, he ministered to the
people of Ireland with discernment and sensitivity. He and his
followers “sensed what was good in a community and blessed it
accordingly, or they sensed evil, in which case they sought to
combat it with prayer”. (Michael Mitton, Restoring the Woven Cord,
pp 90-91) The mission teams would visit a settlement, befriend
the people, engage them in conversation, eventually share the
good news and encourage the building of a church. There was no
manipulation, coercion or force. They did all this, building on the
Irish people’s current religious beliefs. They didn’t ridicule, but
instead used their beliefs as a starting point. They took the pagan
monuments and rituals and encouraged the people to transform
them to Christian Worship of God. Through this process, they
began many monasteries and schools preserving much of the
Christian writings of the past. When the Barbarians destroyed the
Roman Empire, it was the Irish (due to their geographic location)
that saved the writings and art of Christianity, therefore saving the
“Roman culture” and allowing us to have these writings and art
Because of the spread of Christianity in Ireland, it is said
that the Irish saved Civilization. Of course we would have had
civilization if they hadn’t preserved the writings and art of the era.
But they perceived the beauty of things. They didn’t separate the
world into the sacred and secular. In less than 200 years after
Patrick’s death, Ireland was a devoutly Christian land which
historians say ushered in a “Golden Age”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We cannot “save” the world
from its sins. That is the saving grace that God is responsible for.
A lamp cannot light itself. The light that we have in our lives
comes from Jesus Christ. We radiate God’s grace to others and
therefore give Glory to God. We are instead called to go into the
world – saving civilization – as the Irish did. We need to be in
politics, in schools, in the workplace, in the arts, in science. We
need to find as many opportunities to be in culture. We need to
understand the world today. Just like St. Patrick, we need to begin
to speak the language, understand the culture, and love the people,
so that we can be salt and light.
As salt, we need to bring purity. Our lives need to be
those of holy living. We need to be the purity that makes society
better. Our very presence among the community should
encourage others to be better people. We need to be people, who
by our holy lives, raise the expectation of others. We need to be
preservation that keeps culture and society from rotting. We are
the flavor that helps society be the best it can. We bring out the
true “image of God” in others. Just like salt brings out the flavor
of other foods. “Our role in society is not to be over against it, so
much as it is to enrich or purify the social order, making it more
truly a realm of blessing for humanity.” (Myron S. Augsburger, The
Communciators Commentary, Word Publishing 1982)
As light, we need to radiate God. We are not to hide from
society, but be a witness; to point to God. This cannot occur if
we are not in the daily world as Christians, seeking to make a
better world. We cannot separate our lives from this church
building and the rest of our week. We must seek to discover
where God is at work in the world and find ways to point to God
as the author of the good and beautiful. There is nothing
secretive about light. Our light should dispel the darkness just by
being in the world. But, if we are not a moving force in our
communities, either individually or corporately, we might as well
be under a bowl, telling everyone that no one is home.
N.T. Wright tells that the early church truly understood
this idea of saving culture. In the Roman Occupation, many
people lived far outside Rome (like Patrick), but still considered
themselves Roman citizens. Their job was to make the community
more Roman by sharing the ideas and culture of Rome. They
were to make civilization Roman. The early Christians saw their
role in the same way. They were serving in outposts on earth, but
they were citizens of heaven. It was their job to become a part of
their communities and through their influence make it more like
heaven. (N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, Zondervan)
John Wesley, our founder was also a “saver” of
civilization. Some say that it was the Methodist movement that
prevented a revolution in Great Britain like that which occurred in
France. John Wesley’s England had horrible working conditions
(due to the growing Industry of the time). There was a two tier
system of the rich and poor. The poor, who came from the
surrounding agriculture society, experienced the indescribable
cruelty of the factories and would seek release in cheap rum and
gin. Drunkenness became a way of life. Crime became rampant
among all classes and murder and robbery were predominant.
The religious life was one of apathy. John Wesley and the
Methodists sought to save English civilization. John Wesley
himself, “visited English prisons many times, preaching to their
inmates and commenting bitterly in his letter on the misery of
prison conditions. He set up a simple loan society among his
Methodists to help keep his poor followers from the clutches of
the pawnbrokers and out of debtor’s prisons. He fought hard
liquor as much for economic as for moral reasons. He edited a
Christian Library, fifty volumes of extracts form Christian
literature, for popular use. He established a free medical
dispensary and wrote a book of simple home remedies for
sickness, called Primitive Physic, which ran to twenty-three
editions. He established a home for widows and a school for poor
children”. (S Paul Shilling, Methodism and Society in Theological
Perspective, Abingdon Press, 1960, pg 62). As United Methodists
today, this is our legacy. We have a strong history of social justice
and holiness.
So are you saving civilization? Are you being the salt and
light to the world? Are you making this world a better reflection
of God’s glory? Jesus says that when a salt loses its saltiness, it is
thrown out and trampled under. Interestingly enough, it was used
on the floors in the temple to keep it from being slippery during
winter rainy months. Are we being salt that is only good for our
church building? Are we giving light to the world, or are hiding
our light under a bowl and telling the rest of the world, “no one is
home”! St Patrick wrote a beautiful poem, “Deer Cry” that
reflected how he lived in the world. I think this poem is a
wonderful way to show us the way today – reminding us that
Christ is in the world ahead of us.
“Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,
Christ in the eye of every man who sees me,
Christ in the ear of every man who hears me.”
I think it is time that we as citizens of the kingdom of
God, become residents of the world. May the Holy Spirit guide
our feet, give us words to say, and gifts to glory God; so that we
can point to Jesus’ saving grace, love and forgiveness. Amen
God: We thank you today, that we are citizens of your kingdom.
A kingdom that is both in this world, and a world yet to be. We
are grateful for your never failing love, forgiveness and grace. We
rejoice that when we fail to be the holy citizens that we should,
your grace and forgiveness is there for us – we know you will
always take us back into the family.
God, we pray today for those who are sick, who are hurting, and
who are in need of forgiveness and healing. I suppose that would
be us all. We lift to you now those fears and hurts that we are
nursing. God take these prayers and heal us – give us new life in
God, though we are citizens, we confess that we rebel. We
become self absorbed and our world becomes one that becomes
cloudy and focused on our needs. Forgive us. Forgive us when
we have hurt others in anger. Forgive us when we have
deliberately disobeyed you. Forgive us our self-destructive
behaviors. Today we ask that you convict us of our sin. Show us
our true selves. Soften our hearts so we can give in to you. Then
God, create in us clean hearts – renewed right spirits. Free us – to
joyful obedience.
God, through we are citizens of your kingdom, we are residents of
this earthly world. Do not let us forget our roles on this earth.
Show us how we can be in relationship with others. Give us the
words and actions that reflect your glory and grace. Make this
church an instrument of your love to Hot Springs. Let us be the
light on the hill and the salt of the earth. Give us courage to reach
out and the determination to continue through failure. Let us be
the yeast that gives rise to a better world – starting in the places
that we work, play and go to school.
For all these prayers today God, and for those that were named in
our hearts, we give thanks that you have already heard and
responded. Give us ears to hear – whether they be those small
voices in our souls, or the spoken words of our friends and family.
Give us mouths that speak your holiness. Give us eyes that see
your wonders at work. May we truly be the body of Christ this
week that points to you. Amen