So today’s question… salty or sweet? Potato Chips or Gummi Bears? Salt is in everything… Did you know that a McDonalds milkshake has more salt than their French fries? Salt makes everything taste better, despite the criticism it catches in the healthcare field.
I try hard to take all the health “recommendations” and fad diets that flood magazines and television commercials with a grain of salt (pun fully intended.) After all, if you search hard enough, there is an “expert opinion,” to justify any choice. Chocolate is good for the heart in one article and causes heart attacks in another, a drink a day prevents cancer in one magazine and causes it in the next, and salt leads to hypertension at McDonalds, but runners suck it down by the pill during a Marathon.
My friend Philip is coming in to preach next Sunday, so of course have to tell a good story about him before hand! So we’re driving up to South Bend, Indiana last summer, fittingly for a marathon, when we took a pit stop at McDonalds for a quick snack…
“I’ll take a double quarter pounder,” Philip commanded of the drive thru computer screen. “With bacon.” He paused, “but no bun, condiments, or toppings… Actually, could you make it a bacon cheeseburger?”
I looked at Philip inquisitively, see, Philip had just spent half the car trip telling us about his latest diet, making his choice of snack seem slightly contradictory. (On top of that, though everyone loves a bacon cheeseburger, we were running a marathon the next morning and that order was a one-way ticket to a midrace porta-potty visit!)
“What?” He said, sensing my obvious disapproval… There’s only like 1 carb in that.
On a quick side note, has anyone heard from Dr. Atkin’s lately? That may be because he passed away after hitting his head during a fall (a fall caused by a Cardiomyopathy.)
At this point you’re probably wondering, “What’s the lesson here?” One word: Moderation. “Variety,” like salt, “is the spice of life,” and today I encourage you to take time to look around and embrace the variety and diversity in your life, all the while recognizing the places, people, and/or activities that add flavor your faith life. Today we are not going to be afraid to spice things up a bit!
Our passage comes early on in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, the 1st and most popular of Jesus’ five “discourses” in the Gospel of Matthew. To set the scene, Jesus had been baptized in chapter three, gathered his disciples in chapter four, and now, in chapter five, finds himself on the mountainous shoreline of Capernaum with a crowd in trail.
This “sermon” was not the first time Jesus had spoken publically. Despite its placement in the beginning of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry, we must remember that there were 30 years of unrecorded life between chapters 2 and 3, and Matthew alludes to this time with the introductory statement, “Jesus had been all about Galilee preaching.” Ever wonder what miracles and messages went unrecorded?
Jesus’ ministry stretched far beyond what we read about in the Gospels, Matthew’s 28 chapters cannot contain all the wisdom of the greatest teacher to walk the earth (And his love is far too beautiful to put adequate words to period; Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or pig-Latin.) So allow scripture to be the launching point for a truly personal relationship with a God who speaks in a variety of ways… because the Gospel is still being written and Jesus is still very alive and working in the world.
With that in mind we return to the written passage as Jesus, from atop a mountainous perch (make a note here that Jesus didn’t do the “pulpit” thing) starts his discourse with what are known as “the Beatitudes.”
The Beatitudes are a series of statements, using formulaic the line, “Blessed are the… “ that look at the character of God’s people. “Blessed,” or happy, are the meek, the merciful, the humble, the peacemakers, etc… before concluding with the statement “Blessed are you.”
That’s where we find ourselves today… Blessed are we. And that’s where today’s passage picks up:
Matt 5:13 “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 underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
“You are the salt of the earth…” So to answer that earlier question, I much prefer salty to sweet (Rebecca actually brought me this pink Himalayan sea salt a couple weeks back, so I can now feed my sodium cravings with sophistication.) However, despite my love of salt, I still find the abundance of Biblical references to the spice to be a bit peculiar.
A young man by the name of Martin Luther also preached a sermon on salt, back in 1532, and though not from a mountaintop, he nevertheless helps answer that query. After much deliberation and study, an enlightened Luther declared there were three central “purposes” of sodium chloride as applied to our callings.
First: “The purpose of salt is to preserve.” As difficult as it is to imagine, refrigerators weren’t around in Biblical times; instead, salt was used to keep things fresh. The practice is still alive today, just look at the sodium content on beef jerky, our fridge-free meat. So when Jesus says, “you are the salt,” he is declaring that you are the agent of moral preservation of society. Quite simply, without people like you and I bearing the love, holding on to the values, and sharing the teachings of Christ; society may get a little stinky!
Second: “The purpose of salt is to bite!” You may have heard the expression, “throw salt on a wound,” but have any of you ever tried it? Much like our fridge has made for salt-free preservation, we also have sting-free antibacterial creams to put on our cuts. Not the case in first century Galilee.
As a child, like last week, my favorite thing about getting hurt (keep in mind this is a very short list), was to watch the bubbles of hydrogen peroxide when it was poured on a cut. Not only are the bubbles fun to watch, they let us know that it’s working.
So is true with salt, the “bite” was a sign it was working. Being the salt isn’t always pleasant or easy, and can really sting, but that’s how we know that we haven’t “lost our saltiness,” that Christ is working in us and we are becoming clean. (And for further reference the only other thing on the list of injury positives would be the aforementioned, salt-infused, McDonalds milkshake that my mom would buy me to stop my whining.)
Not only do we need to be the bite occasionally, we need to hear a good “biting” message, a reality check that may not always feel great. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount probably stung a few folks that day in Galilee, and it’s quite apparent that his years of ministry did.
Luther’s final “purpose” of salt was to “add pleasure and tastiness to life!” Sometimes it stings, yes, but sometimes it seasons! Salt is what adds that extra kick to our favorite dishes, just like our faith adds flavor and meaning to our lives here on earth; and as Disciples of Christ, we have the unique ability to add flavor to the lives of others.
Living out these three roles (being the salt), preservation; bite; and seasoning, are what allow us to be fresh and alive to the world, but much like a balanced diet, we must constantly balance between them. If you find yourself the eternal preserver, feeling a constant need to bear the burdens of your friends and family, and/or you constantly give of your time and energy to preserve the world, your going to find yourself fatigued and burnt out… risking “losing your saltiness.”
Much the same, if you are always “the bite,” the harsh word of truth to the world, you may find yourself alone most Friday nights. We mustn’t take life too seriously, but speak the truth when the truth needs to be spoken, and out of love; not condemnation.
Finally, seeking to be the “flavor of life,” the always happy-go-lucky friend, can leave us searching for a deeper purpose and meaning. One of the loneliest lives is that of the person who feels like they always have to smile… I long yearned to take on this role… I was the class clown in school and always trying to add laughter or goofiness the situation. To season life doesn’t mean being happy and fun all the time, it’s a call to be real, sincere, and organic.
This passage ends with Jesus switching metaphors from salt to light and that’s where we will conclude as well. Do you remember the first time, way back in 5th grade or so, that you held a prism? I never truly respected sunshine before that. Growing up I always wanted colored light bulbs in my room, blues and reds… the white ones were boring! Then I held that prism one day in class and saw, for the first time, the rainbow that made the true light of the world.
“You are the light of the world,” declares Christ, and that means that you (we) are the brilliant balance of reds, yellows, oranges, blues, violets, and greens. We are the light, but not the source…
Have you ever spent the night on the coast? A lighthouse is an amazing thing. Its not a giant flashlight as a passing glance would have you think; a lighthouse bulb is actually an incredibly intricate network of mirrors that reflect light in perfect balance and fashion as to brighten the way for all who are lost. We are not the source of light, but the reflection of the one true light, and we are called to let our light shine bright for all to see… and that requires balance, moderation, and diversity.