Just Be Yourself!
In Walt Disney’s Aladdin, we’re introduced to a poor street rat, a boy who is down on his luck. Aladdin feels like he has no choice but to steal to eat. One day, Aladdin unknowingly meets the princess in disguise. Unaware of how things work on the street, the princess finds herself accused as a thief. But before she has her hand chopped off, Aladdin comes to her rescue. The two of them hit it off until Aladdin realizes she’s the princess. Now, to Aladdin, being himself was no longer acceptable. He felt he needed to be someone else in order to impress the princess. An so, with the genie’s help, he conjures up an alter ego, Prince Ali, to try and impress the princess. He acts like he thinks a prince should act—pompous, arrogant, degrading of others. He think if he acts this way, the princess will be honored to be in his presence. He thinks this is what will win the princess’ heart. But it doesn’t work. She doesn’t like him. He’s just like all the other pompous, arrogant, degrading princes she’s already dismissed. And it seems like all is lost until he gets some rather sage advice from the genie. If he really wanted to impress the princess, “Just be yourself,” the genie told him. Just be yourself. It sounds so easy, but it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Why is it that we often feel that we need to be someone we’re not? I know you know what I’m talking about. Do we believe that people won’t like us if we just act normally? Could it be that we are ashamed of who we are? And isn’t what true for us personally often true for the church? If we could just be ourselves, we have more than enough to offer the world as a church! We have the inspired Word of God himself. We have the one message that will give people life for eternity. And yet, hasn’t the thought crossed our minds that if we want to impress the members of our community, that we might need to change who we are? It’s happened to churches all over the world! Churches all over the world have changed their teachings, they’ve adapted their beliefs; they’ve adopted new philosophies to fit in better with today’s society. And what’s troubling: they seem to be doing so well. People seem to be flowing through their doors. That begs the question, doesn’t it: would the same happen to us if we got rid of some of those so called “offensive doctrines”? What if we opened up communion to anyone and everyone regardless of what they know and believe? Wouldn’t that be the tolerant thing to do? What if we ignored the roles of men and women that God has given us because our society doesn’t recognize them? Wouldn’t that be the popular thing to do? Our church would be overflowing too, right? Those are legitimate questions. But before we do anything drastic, we would do well to listen to what Jesus says to us in he sermon today. It was no secret that Jesus and the religious leaders of that day, the Pharisees, didn’t see eye to eye. The Pharisees were proud proponents of the law—at least their version of the law. 613 of them to be exact. 613 extra laws the people were supposed to keep if they were to be considered among the righteous. Naturally, because Jesus often opposed the Pharisees, it gave the people the impression that Jesus was opposed to the Law. It made people wonder if Jesus was just trying to shake things up, trying to change what they had been taught and believed. That wasn’t the case. Not at all. Jesus wasn’t opposed to the law, but the idea that you could be righteous by observing the Law as the Pharisees taught. Jesus wasn’t opposed to righteousness, but the idea that you could earn your own righteousness and save yourself. Listen to what Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus didn’t come to get rid of Moses and the Prophets, as he was accused. Jesus came to fulfill them. Jesus didn’t come to promote disobeying the Law. Jesus came to be perfect under the Law. He came to accomplish what we couldn’t accomplish, what even the “righteous” Pharisees couldn’t accomplish. He came to earn the righteousness that God demands and then give that righteousness to us. And we know that’s exactly what he did! Right down to the smallest letter, to the last stroke of the pen. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law perfectly. He earned the righteousness, the holiness, the perfection that God demands. And by dying a sinner’s death as the sinless Son of God, Jesus exchanged the guilt of our sins for his righteousness. And it’s that righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, which marks a true disciple of Jesus. A true disciple of Jesus doesn’t look to themselves or their own good works for salvation, but to Christ. A true disciple doesn’t have to worry about impressing God by changing who they are. Because they have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ, they can just be themselves. Do you realize what that means for us? Instead of worrying about whether we have done enough to save ourselves, we can just rely on Christ’s righteousness. In that freedom, we can just be who Christ has made us to be. We can be ourselves: namely, salt and light! Jesus said: 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. 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Notice what he says to us today. He says, “You are...you are.” This is not a command to become. This is not an admonition that we aren’t but we need to be. Jesus simply states the facts. When Jesus made us his own at our baptisms, he changed us. He made us into his brothers and sisters, children of the heavenly Father. He made us into salt and light. You are salt; you are light. Just be yourself! Jesus reminds us today. “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.” In our experience, salt is primarily a seasoning or something we use to melt ice and snow. But at Jesus’ time, salt was primarily a preservative used to keep food from spoiling from a lack of refrigeration. Certainly, that’s what Jesus had in mind when he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” But that begs the next question, “How are Christians a preservative?” Do you remember what happened at Sodom and Gomorrah? Two cities destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven. But do you remember what would have happened if just ten believers had been found there? God would have preserved those cities. Christians are a preservative for the earth. God preserves the world for their sake. God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. So what doesn’t God just end the world and save the righteous? Why preserve the world? Paul tells us in his first letter to Timothy. “God wants all men to be saved…” God preserves the world so that more people might be saved! And how does God save them? Through the ministry of his salt. What happens when you get salt in an open wound? It stings, doesn’t it? Christians serve as salt for the world when they follow God’s will for their lives, when they don’t conform to the ways of this world. This makes the world feel uneasy—even guilty about their sin. It’s like salt in an open wound. And what that can do is lead those people to recognize their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. But what happens if we try to be someone else? What if we join in with the coarse joking? What if we don’t speak up when someone uses offensive language or we use it ourselves? “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.” If we aren’t functioning as salt was meant to function, we’re useless in the kingdom. But when we do what is right, even when it’s unpopular, we are being the salt of the earth. And that’s where the next part of who we are comes in. “You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The purpose of light is very simple: it’s to shine. Light is to shine not for itself, but for the benefit of others. Jesus’ two examples make that clear. A city that is hidden will still shine just like a lamp under a bowl. But they don’t do any good there. And we won’t do any good either if we try to be someone else and hide the light of Christ in our lives. If we live like the rest of the world, how can they see the darkness of their own sin and the light of Christ for their lives? But if that city is on a hill, if that lamp is on its stand, their light benefits everyone. Jesus says we are the light of world. Just like the moon, we aren’t the light bearers, but light reflectors! We reflect the light of the Son, the light of Christ, the light of the world. By our words and actions, we can point people to Christ. Through our lives of faith, we shine a light on the only way, truth, and life. And when we point people to Jesus, they too can join us in becoming reflectors of the light. And when they come to faith in Christ, then they too can sing the praises of our Father in heaven. A Christian cannot stop being salt and light and remain a Christian! The only way we can stop is if we throw away our faith! The only way we can stop is if we truly become something we’re not. Let’s not try and change who we are or be something other that what Jesus has made us to be. You are salt; you are light! Listen to our Savior’s sermon and Just Be Yourself! Amen.