February 5, 2017, First Presbyterian Church of Holt
Growing up with lake effect snow from Lake Erie I am well acquainted with the beauty of winter. We all know the beauty of that new fallen snow. Each snowflake coming together to form a blanket of white… But, we’ve also been around long enough to know what comes next… the not so pretty colors of this season.
Michigan Live drew up this handy depiction of the winter colors that set in later on. Here we’ve got “just another cloudy day,” “pothole cold patch,” “parking lot snow pile,” “dirty car,” “it’s snowing again,” and “Vitamin D deficiency.” We know these colors all too well.
If we look at our shoes or our cars in this season they are inevitably covered in salt. It’s impossible to keep a car clean, as they all turn grey from the salt. In winter, we use salt to melt the ice, salt to make traction for our safety as we drive. Salt is very important. However, salt in and of itself does not eliminate the ice. Rather, it is aided by sunshine, by just enough warmth that it can do it’s work.
Our scripture today carries this same equation of elements to revitalize the world: salt and light.
When Matthew’s Gospel calls us the salt of the world it’s an interesting comparison. What does salt mean to our faith? What does our flavor do to the world around us?
On a basic level, salt is about balance. It can cause harm or good. Salt is a building block of life, it aids in processes of the body, directly affecting functions of the body such as blood pressure. Too much salt in the body can lead to hypertension or stroke, not enough salt can create low blood pressure.
To follow the apostle Paul’s metaphor, belief in God without understanding of God’s abundant grace can also cause great stress in our lives and those around us. Faith in God’s mercy without understanding of the breadth and scope of God’s love for all around us creates a faith without flavor, a faith that lacks the ability to reach beyond one’s self.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read his prayer for such a faith: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
In Jesus’ time and for many years before we had the conveniences of modern refrigeration, salt was used as a preservative, helping to keep something edible over long winters or periods without fresh meat or produce. Maintaining the flavor of faith requires preservation, opening ourselves to the spiritual practices that keep us fresh over time. As the salt of the world, we are to preserve and protect God’s creation, in all of its forms among all of God’s people.
Another application of salt is the ancient practice of “salting the earth” or “sowing with salt” as an act of sabotage or revenge. This act would prevent water filtration and drainage and make the land unusable for farming. This was used after conquering a place in war, salting the earth so that it would not produce life for many years to come.
In Deuteronomy 29:21-25 those who have knowingly defied their promises to God are faced with such a fate. The scripture says, ‘The LORD will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the law. The next generation, your children who rise up after you, as well as the foreigner who comes from a distant country, will see the devastation of that land and the afflictions with which the LORD has afflicted it—all its soil burned out by sulfur and salt, nothing planted, nothing sprouting, unable to support any vegetation, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD destroyed in his fierce anger— they and indeed all the nations will wonder, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused this great display of anger?’ They will conclude, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.’”
Salt can be a dangerous thing if used incorrectly. Salt used out of spite can cause destruction. Unfortunately, there are many who profess a faith in Christ who use the title of Christian as a weapon, wielding judgment and unbiblical messages of hate. If you’re not sure what this looks like in practice, here’s a hint, all messages of hate are unbiblical. Our God calls us to love others and to leave God alone as the judge, a judgment we are saved from by the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
1 John 4:20-21 says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
This cartoon reflects humorously on the way some people, unfortunately try to use their faith as a weapon.
Romans 5:6-13 affirms our confidence in our salvation through Jesus Christ. The scripture says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.”
In popular science fiction and folklore, salt is used as a deterrent for evil spirits, ghosts, and vampires. In some stories, it is even said that fairies and vampires must count every grain of salt if they come across it before moving on. Salt is cast in these stories as a purifying element, which we experience medicinally through saline used in cleaning and healing the body.
Scripture also speaks of the importance of the purity of our faith, and how it may be an example. In 1 Timothy 4:12 we read: “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
When we eat something with salt, salt can bring out the best of the flavors, aiding bread in rising, helping water to boil. While salt in all of its applications has quite a bit to do with balance and order, we also know, that salt in and of itself is not so exciting. In fact, I bet none of you want to go home and just eat a spoonful of salt. If Mary Poppins had suggested that I am certain her song would have far less fame. Salt causes thirst, a desire for something beyond that taste, something to wash it down, or at least complement the flavor. Salt by itself will not satisfy.
It is a Christian tradition to place salt on the tongue of a candidate for baptism saying, “Satisfy him [her] with the Bread of Heaven that he [she] may be forever fervent in spirit, joyful in hope, zealous in your service.” The symbolic significance is that the truth of baptism will be preserved from error, that the baptized person will reflect the flavor of Christ in life, and that by tasting salt they will have a yearning for the sweetness of Bread of Life and the Living Water, that is to say, Jesus.
This week I heard a new, new to me that is, application for salt: putting salt on a bird’s tail as a way to catch it. Show of hands, who has heard of this one before? So, the story goes, that if you are able to sneak up to a bird and put salt on it’s tail, that the salt will weigh it down just enough so that it won’t be able to take off and then you can catch it. Now the member who told me about this and I did some googling to figure out if this were indeed true, and the answer we got was a “sort of,” the logic being, if you are close enough to a bird to be able to put salt on it’s tail, you just may be close enough to grab it as well. In our faith, when we are receptive to the flavor of faith, it’s not the flavor that draws us in, though that may be the initial lure, it’s our God that comes close and brings us into God’s arms.
So how are you being this salt in the earth? Are you keeping your faith fresh? Are you preserving the Gospel of Christ? Are you demonstrating a purity of faith? Are you causing others to thirst for God?
Scripture tells us that we are the salt of the earth. Not we might be or we need to work to be, but we are. How will you use your saltiness for good? How will you create balance and create newness?
Certainly, we do not do these things by our own means but through Christ, our light and salvation, working together as salt and light for the goodness of all.
Next time you look at the saltiness on your shoes or coating your car, may you think about how salt and light work together to make this world whole again. Amen.