Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 9, 2014

2014.02.09 “Salt and Light” – Matthew 5: 1 – 12

Central United Methodist Church

Salt & Light

Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 5: 1 – 12

February 9, 2014

Dead Sea Salt 

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5: 13 – 16, The New Revised Standard Version

Long ago, on what I imagine was a sunny hillside in Galilee, Jesus called his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  When he did that, I’m pretty sure he had no idea how his followers here in the frozen north would hear it some 2,000 years later.

Let me explain, first with regard to salt. During this especially harsh winter in Chicago, we’ve all been working hard to keep up with the weather. Obviously, our sidewalks and driveways need to be as safe as we can make them, so that no one falls and gets hurt.  So last week when I noticed that we are down to two bags of rock salt (halite), I stopped by Home Depot to get more. I pushed my rattling cart down the aisle to where the salt was the last time I got it; there was nothing there. I circled a few more aisles, thinking they had moved it, nothing.  I finally pushed my cart over to the service desk and asked, “Where did you put the salt?” “I’m sorry,” the woman said with a smile, “We don’t have any; we are completely out.”

Yes, the snow and cold we have had way too much of this winter is exhausting our supplies of salt. Did you know that approximately 15 million tons of deicing salt are used each year in the United States? A study by Marquette University showed that salt on snowy roads reduces accidents by up to 88 percent, compared with untreated roads. But, it has its downside: sodium chloride is effective only above 15°F to 20°F, and can harm aquatic life and vegetation when the ice-salt mix seeps into groundwater, streams, and lakes, where it can remain for decades.  And also – as we know way too well – salt causes rust, which never sleeps – eating into metal, cars, and concrete.

Given the shortage and therefore increased cost of salt in winters like this, that’s why some state highway agencies are experimenting with not only with calcium chloride, but beet juice, pickle brine (New Jersey), and yes – in Wisconsin – cheese brine.  So, if while you’re driving down the road in Wisconsin you get a strong hunger for lasagna or a four-cheese pizza, this may be why.

But if the bad news this winter is that we’re running out of salt, the good news is, we’re gaining in light. According to Tom Skilling at WGN, since the winter solstice on December 21st, we’ve gained an additional hour of sunlight a day. And the sunlight we get (when we get it) delivers 82% more energy. (I just wish I felt an equivalent 82% more energy, don’t you?)

When Jesus used the twin metaphors of salt and light to describe his followers, did he have any idea that someday, somewhere in the world people would think about such things? In fact if Jesus had envisioned the kind of life we’re living here in the frozen north, I’m pretty sure Jesus would have fallen to his knees and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

As we learned last Sunday, according to Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus said this he was speaking to fishermen, farmers, merchants, men, women, and children, in what would be known as his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.

As we also learned last Sunday, he began by blessing them, in that series of eight blessings known as the Beatitudes, like the first one, which perhaps you have heard:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Beatitudes, in addition to the surprise of the people God blesses, is that they are not a call to attitude or action; they are the pronouncement of a blessing upon people who already are what the beatitude describes.

This week, it’s the same with Jesus’ description of his followers as salt and light. We want to read it as requirement rather than blessing, as command rather than commissioning. But that’s not what Jesus said. He did not say, “If you want to become salt and light, do this….” or, “before I’ll call you salt and light, I’ll need to see this from you….” Rather, he says simply and directly, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It is – as last week – sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning. (David Lose, “Salt and Light,” http://www.workingpreacher.org, 1/30/2011)

But when Jesus says we are salt and light, what does that mean?  In addition to being universal religious metaphors, both salt and are common in the Holy Land, especially salt. In the wilderness area around the Dead Sea, there are columns of salt, one of whom is known as Lot’s wife, from the story in Genesis 19:26. And the Dead Sea itself is full of salt (not just sodium chloride, but bromide, magnesium, sodium, calcium, potassium). Today, large quantities of salt are produced in Israel by evaporating seawater in evaporation pools.

salt-productionDeadSeaSalt dead-sea-reading

We should note, while we’re at it, that one of the biggest suppliers of salt in the United States is located right here in Chicago: That’s right, Morton Salt.  We, too, know salt.

We know – as Jesus’ hearers then knew – how important salt is in life: as a preservative, and as a spice.  Salt is essential to life; if in modern life we are on a low sodium diet, it’s not because of what you do with that salt shaker, it’s because of how much is added to processed food. Anybody eaten Campbell’s soup lately; how about a Big Mac?

As for light, well, we know what that means too; we never miss it so much as when the power goes out. Jesus first hearers knew that too; remember, before gas or electric lights, they appreciated the power of light to illuminate darkness even more than we do. Remember Jesus talked about a city on a hill? The first evening we stayed on the Sea of Galilee I couldn’t wait to walk out on the pier and take a look. The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills.  So, looking out into the darkness, this is what stood out: the city of Tiberias, a city on a hill.  Even before electric lights, that’s what Jesus was talking about.

tiberiasnight

So what is Jesus saying? As his followers, as citizens of the kingdom of God, as children of God in the world, we are salt and light. While we are in the world, we are preservative and spice, light illuminating the darkness.  The world is a better place when God’s people function as light and salt in the world.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Jesus was talking about – that I’m talking about – people like Albert Schweitzer, or Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr., people like that were definitely salt and light in the world. But remember, when Jesus was talking that day, he wasn’t talking to people like that, he was talking to people like us, ordinary people.  By the life you live, you, too, can function as salt and light in the world.

One way we can do that is to be a “do-gooder,” committing random acts of kindness. I was fortunate to have learned this from my father; my father was always helping people. I remember asking my mother, “Where’s Dad?” “Oh, he went over to help John fix the plumbing.” Because of this, I have always tried to help people, in whatever what I can.

And then I joined the Boy Scouts, where the expectation is to do a “good deed” every day. Isn’t that right? To help somebody, even though, as we eventually learn, “no good deed goes unpunished.”

In England, where Scouting began, it was called a “Good Turn.” And it was begun not so much to help people, as to help each young person make the practice of good deeds a practice in their life. Did you know that as the story goes, Scouting came to the United States because of such a “good turn?”

According to the story, William D. Boyce, a Chicago publisher, was in London, in that infamous London fog. A young boy – a street urchin, as they call them – noticing Mr. Boyce’s confusion, came up and saluted Mr. Boyce and said, “May I be of service to you, Sir?” Mr. Boyce said, “If you can show me how to find such-and-such an address it will be a real service.”  The boy smartly saluted and said, “Sir, follow me,” and took Mr. Boyce to the place he desired.

When Mr. Boyce pulled out his coin purse and offered the boy a shilling, the boy promptly saluted and said, “Sir, I am a Scouts.  Scouts do not accept tips for courtesies.  The man said, “What did you say?” The Scout repeated, and then added, “Don’t you know what the Scouts are?” He said, “No, I don’t, but I would like to know.”  The boy said, “Follow me.”  Boyce pleaded for the time to do his errand and then found the boy waiting for him outside, who then took him to the office of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, where he got more information.  When he came home he went to Washington, where with his good friend Mr. Livingstone, who was for 15 years the president of Boy Scouts of America – he incorporated the BSA under the laws of the District of Columbia, in 1910.  All because of one “good turn.”

What will our good turn be?  What will we do, to express our true nature as salt and light in the world?

  • Who will shovel snow from the walk or driveway of the elderly widow who lives down the street?
  • Who will serve as a tutor at a local school?
  • Who has extra time to work at the Food Pantry or homeless shelter?
  • Who will extend care to those who need someone to listen, to care for, and to love them?

Because you never know the influence even one good deed may have.

Karen Armstrong is a British scholar and author, world-renowned for her books on comparative religion, perhaps the best known of which is The History of God.

karen_armstrong

At age 17, she entered a Roman Catholic convent. From the start, Armstrong says she had trouble adjusting to the strict lifestyle that included periods of complete silence, mandatory needlework and sacred rituals. “It was the old way of doing things,” she says.

Still, there was one sister at the convent who had a lifelong impact on her. Though Armstrong says she was dying of cancer, she was “one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.”

Before she passed, Armstrong went to say her goodbyes. “And she called me back, and I knelt beside the bed and she said, ‘Sister, I want to tell you something,'” Armstrong recalls. “She said, ‘When you came here, I was told you were going to be a problem. I want you to know that I have never found you a difficulty at all. You are a good girl, sister. And don’t forget I told you so.”

A lifetime later, Armstrong says she’s never forgotten those words. “And sometimes when things were really, really dire after I left, and I had many dark years, I remembered that,” she says.
What struck Armstrong was how a few simple words of kindness could carry so much power. “Ten minutes later she’d have forgotten all about it, but I’ve never forgotten,” she says. “And it was a lesson to me. We can all do that for somebody, every day.” (6/09/2013, Oprah and Karen Armstrong: Losing Faith, Finding God)
“You are the salt of the earth,” said Jesus, “You are the light of the world.”  Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Amen.

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