Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
We live in an era that is in the middle of a crossroad in history. Often it feels as if we are not on a path but in the middle of a busy intersection. Traffic is coming at us from all directions. If you were standing in the center of a busy intersection you would have a right to be fearful, every step taken could be the last. What we are feeling as we live in this crossroads of history is not uncommon. People throughout history have felt this way as they have faced major changes occurring around them.
We face changes every day. Technology has advanced at such a pace that a mere decade ago emerging technologies in computer sciences thought to be radical are now the backbone of the Internet. The table revolutionized by Apple’s IPad is now so common that you can purchase something similar for as little as $60. All of these devices that we can hold in the palm of our hand had their origins in massive machines that filled rooms. I have a great uncle that worked and programmed those massive computers and has lived to see the rapid progress, what was once a dream in their minds as they walked through the computer he actually saw shrink to fit on a desk, to the lap, to the smart phone.
This rapid pace is best seen in the computer science industry because most of us here are aware of it. But that is not the only industry that has changed at this pace. Since 1960 to 2010 the average yield of wheat has nearly doubled. This is also seen in every agricultural crop. This is the direct result of various agricultural sciences from biochemistry to genetic engineering. Each of these advances have allowed great advances while the percentage of arable land is decreasing at a rate of nearly 1% every 10 years. In the United States the life expectancy has increased an average of 3 years since 2000, and some analysts estimate that in the next fifty years our world’s population may reach 14 billion people. All that change and yet modern agriculture is staying ahead, still providing enough food to feed us. How that is distributed is still an issue but that is for another sermon.
All this change occurring all around us comes with fear. People fear the advancing technology expecting that one day we will be controlled by the very computers we now use to post funny videos of cats. People fear the food we eat to the point that if it says organic we are willing to pay extra, and it does not take any time at all to find opposition to GMO’s. We live in an era that is caught in a whirlpool of fear and often we are caught as well. Daily you can tune into any religious radio or TV station and hear a sermon about how the end of the world is just around the corner citing numerous news reports as proof. But each of us has heard these sermons for our entire lives, I am not saying that it is not a possibility but it is not a guarantee.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say it is ok to fear to a degree. At times when we see a problem the initial fear can drive us to make changes and improvements. There is a reason average yields have increased in agriculture because we fear food shortages and are driven to increase. The key is not to live a life controlled by fear.
I mention this as we look at this scripture because I think that that is the very attitude and mindset of the first century people. They too were living in a cross road of a rapidly changing world. And Jesus says to them, “You are the Salt of the earth.”
Salt is an amazing substance. This crystalline powder we have just laying around the house is one of the most dangerous and harmless substances known to mankind. This one substance is used to bring flavor, healing, famine, preservation, and decay. It is a very loaded word. We use salt to preserve and slow the process of putrefaction in meat. But salt can also used to increase the rate of decomposition of organic matter. That is why beef jerky has a high concentration of salt, and why salt is present in many fertilizers. But salt was also used as a weapon of mass destruction in ancient times as they would spread it over fields to kill crops, this is also why over fertilization of our house plants can actually turn the tips of the leaves brown. Depending on the use salt can remove water or increase heat so it is very useful.
You are the salt of the earth. What do you think Jesus is saying? I want us to look at this from a different perspective than we usually do. As we read this statement our eyes immediately recognize the word you, so it is easy to look at this from the individualistic perspective, but I would like us instead to look at it from the perspective of the last word earth or the world. That is the place we the salt are to be, this crazy, chaotic, rapidly changing, full of fear world. What are we to be doing here?
You are the flavor of the earth, you are the preservation of the earth, and you are the healing of the earth. Or you are the cause of famine in the earth; you are the decomposition of the earth. What is Jesus saying? These are all uses of salt and activities we can participate in as humans living in this world. This passage of scripture just got very confusing didn’t it?
You are the salt of the earth. There is an aspect of salt that was not very common in first century Judea but one that we today this week are very familiar with, the ability to melt ice. I want us to begin with this aspect of salt in our crossroad analogy. Life controlled by fear often freezes us. It can harden our hearts and prevents us from moving. If we were caught unexpectedly in the center of an intersection fear would grip us causing us to stop where we are. If fear controls us at that point we would stand right where we were hoping that by standing we would be preserved. But we are the salt of the earth we cannot stay in the middle of the road but must get moving. Salt can begin to melt away the fear and hardness allowing us to think through the situation, we can begin to see a pattern and a rhythm to the traffic and begin to work our way across to the other side.
Salt can begin to melt the icy hearts of those caught in the world. You are the salt of the earth. You are to spread the salt over the people around you letting it work itself into their hearts where little by little they begin to open up to the Spirit of God.
You are the salt of the earth. As the ice begins to melt, we start adding flavor. This flavor is the relational aspect of faith. We build friendships, laughing and crying with one another. We share life and encourage growth. As we add salt the fear slowly decays and we begin to provide healing. As fears decay a hunger is created which must be satisfied, again we add flavor to fill the void. Little by little there is preservation.
You are the salt of the earth. The problem with salt is we can also miss use it. If you let the salt sit too long on your car it will eventually start to promote rust. If we eat too much salt it can cause our blood pressure to increase, which can cause death. If we dump salt on a field it will eventually cause that land to become unable to support life. So with the blessing also comes a warning. You are the salt but you are at work in the world. The world around us is fragile; a little salt can encourage and promote life, but too much could render our efforts dead. Relationships are important, learning to read and respond to others is important. To assist in the healing of others we first need to build a relationship so that we can know where to start. The Apostle Paul explained it as milk and meat. You give babies milk but eventually you build up into solid foods.
Light is another great word. You are the salt but you are also the light of the world. The words translated, as light in ancient Geek and Hebrew is pregnant with various meanings. Light is often referred to as the presence of God, which is why light was very important and still is important in many religious ceremonies. Light also references wisdom or knowledge from God, so it is the inspiration that drives our lives. Light like salt adds flavor. There is a reason we manipulate light. The stain glass of cathedrals casting the colorful designs of light can inspire and promote people in worship. The reflection of light is what we admire as we view classic and contemporary art. Light reveals things that were once hidden in darkness.
You are the light of the world. You are the promoter of wisdom and the teacher of knowledge, you are the inspirational and thought provoking work of art, and you are the awe-inspiring stained glass mosaic. You are the light of the world.
Jesus then speaks of righteousness and that to be a part of the kingdom of God our righteousness must exceed that of the most religious of His day. This too is loaded because what is righteousness? Is it the legalistic keeping of a list of laws or is it something fundamentally different? It is light of the world; it is salt of the earth. It is living a life encouraging others to take a step out of fear and inspiring others to emerge from the shadows. It is adding flavor and providing healing. It is building the relationships and walking the pathways of life with others nurturing the fragile souls around us.
With the blessing comes the warning. The source of the salt and light does not originate in us, we cannot be salt and light without first receiving it from elsewhere. The origin of the light within and the flavor of life is God himself. If we lose our saltiness, if we misuse what has been given to us we stop the flow of his power to us. Our salt what we once used to encourage becomes no better than blowing sand stinging the skin and driving people away from the very God who loves them enough to come to live, teach and die for them.
Being salt and light is difficult, because it requires us to constantly refresh. We cycle in and out in a rhythm of life. It requires discipline, study, and a lot of work. It requires that we sacrifice ourselves so that someone else might be preserved.
We live in an era that needs more salt and light. We live in a time with great challenges that require inspiration to overcome. We live in a time of rapid change with fears that need to be dissolved and icy hearts that need melted. We live in a day seasoned so heavily that we cannot taste what is good. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting, or preserved life. You are, we are the ones God wants to use to facilitate the preservation of the world. How will we respond? Will we respond with coarse overpowering words and actions, or tactful flavorful deeds? Will we respond and will we be salt and light? Will we be a people loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? And will you let God do His work through you?