“Please Pass the Salt”
1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20
This morning we pick up our Gospel reading in Matthew immediately where we left off last week. Last week we talked about the Beatitudes, how people are blessed when they do the work of God in the world. How, when they suffer for what God has called them to do, they will be rewarded for their efforts in the heavenly kingdom.
In this morning’s reading, Jesus follows those words with some words of affirmation. Words to give everyone a bit of a boost, which is good, because he then moves directly into a warning.
Jesus starts us off today by talking about salt. We use a lot of salt in the world. In 2007 we produced 257 million tons of salt globally, and it continues to increase every year. We tend to think of salt as a seasoning for our food, but that’s just a small part of it. Salt is also used for de-icing our roads, water conditioning, animal nutrition, and it’s used in a lot of chemicals. Road salt is by far the most extensive use for salt in North America. Makes sense, we have a lot of ice on our roads and we want to keep them safe. (source: Salt Institute)
But traditionally, before the industrial age created all these other uses, salt was primarily used as a preservative. It helped keep food from going bad, and we still use it for this purpose today, but now we use a lot of it just for taste.
Certainly in Jesus’ use of salt, he would be referring to preservation. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have fridges back then, so they needed a way to keep food from going rotten. One way to know if you are using “good” salt is to taste it. If it can’t keep your food preserved, why would you use it? So you throw it away.
Jesus tells his listeners that they are the salt of the earth. They are the ones who preserve God’s presence on the earth. By following the commandments and showing people the works of God, they are keeping things from rotting, from turning bad, turning away from God.
Jesus also tells people they are the light of the world. Light chases away darkness and those who live in darkness seek light so they can see. The presence of darkness in the Bible usually refers to evil, sin or some other related topic. Jesus urges us to be lights to chase away these things so that people may see the source of that light.
Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He didn’t come to throw away the commandments, he came to show how they look and what they mean. We are how we live. We are how people see us. If we outwardly show we are living by the laws of God, then people will know because they will plainly see it, and maybe we will inspire others to follow God as well. But if we live by breaking these simple rules, how then will other people see God? Will they see God as someone they need to follow because He changes lives, or will they see God as useless and unimportant because that’s how he’s shown in the actions of those who claim to be members of the church?
There’s a topic that’s been causing quite a stir with people the past few days, and I want to address this, but first I think we need to look at our reading from 1 Corinthians. Paul is telling the Corinthians the importance of realizing they are agents of God’s Spirit. It is through God they have received the Spirit, and the Spirit gives them wisdom and knowledge on how to act in the world.
Starting at verse 12 Paul says,
“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Who reads the Observer? Did you get your copy of this month’s magazine? If you did, and if you read it, you probably know where I am going.
In this month’s magazine there’s a story about an emerging movement in our church. It was first reported a number of years ago and appears to be gaining support. The movement I am referring to is the removal of God from the church.
The removal of God from our society is not a new thing. I’d say we can easily identify the removal of God from our institutions and public places for at least the last 40 years. There is no room for prayer or references to God, and it’s even getting to the point where many actually find it offensive to see the public display of something religious.
This year a religious group sought to buy a commercial during tonight’s Super Bowl. It shows a group watching a football game when the words John 3:16 are displayed. Two men wonder what it means and one says, “I dunno, I’ll look it up”. The commercial ends by displaying the website, lookup316.com. This commercial was rejected based on religious content. While there’s no explicit religious content in the commercial there certainly is on the website as it explains what that famous passage means.
This weekend also features what has become a traditional spike in the under-age sex trade that happens in the host city for the game as people from all over the country seek to make money in whatever way they can this weekend.
This leads me to believe the church has to take on a greater role of teaching people about Jesus Christ and equipping people to go out into the world to be lights to chase away the darkness.
Yet, we have stories like what was in the Observer this month, telling us about churches that have embraced this trend of rejecting God to the point of removing all imagery and reference to God from their services. The story tells of group prayers which are nothing more than people mentioning things in their lives for the community to be aware of. There is no appeal and thanks to a higher power, it is just the simple sharing of feelings. It’s more like a group therapy session than a prayer.
There are no hymns, no Psalms, no Christmas Eve services. These churches, and I use the term very loosely here, are being lauded as places where people feel safe to explore their spirituality.
My concern for these people is if they are concerned about their spiritual health, shouldn’t they be learning about the source of the Spirit? Shouldn’t they know where their spirit comes from and what it is for? Don’t they want to know who gave them this spirit and what it means to have it?
Their definition of spirituality is very different than the one used the Paul this morning when he addressed the Corinthians. Paul says we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God! These are two very different spirits. Paul tells us the Spirit of God helps us understand what gifts God has given to us so that we may be true lights in a darkened world. We can preserve the commandments of God. We can be salt in a world that has gone bad.
The other spirit, the spirit of the world is just that. It’s is the spirit of a fallen place, where evil and sin abound. It’s a spirit that justifies the rejection of God because we seem to be doing just fine for ourselves. Look at all the technology we have developed, look at how it helps us be so much smarter and more helpful in the world. We don’t need God anymore because we have figured it all out for ourselves.
If that’s true, then why are young, under-age girls being stolen from their families and sold for sex this weekend? Why are there millions of people around the world starving to death? Why are people hiding in fear for their lives because of people who rule over them and exploit their land for their own good? Why are we hearing on the news all the time fears about the world and its ability to provide a sustainable living environment for our children and grandchildren.
My friends, we don’t need less God in our world, we need God more than ever before. We are on a path to destruction, approaching the line where we will never be able to turn back on our own. Only God can help us now.
If we look at the Old Testament, we see story after story of God’s people being punished, captured, occupied by foreign countries. Some people read these as incidents where a vengeful God punished them for their disobedience, in fact some stories might even state this. But these stories are written from the human perspective. They are in trouble and looking for someone to blame, so they blame God. But God is not to blame. The people got themselves into trouble by ignoring God’s commandments, but not just that, they also ignored calls from God to turn away from their wicked ways. God continually spoke to His people through the prophets, urging, pleading with them to come back to Him, but they ignored His calls. As a result, they found themselves in great distress. Only then would they call out to God for help, and in His love He would rescue them.
We, those of us who are left in the church, at least the ones who claim to still follow God, we are the ones who are the prophets. We are those who can still call out for people to turn away from their sinful ways and come back into a loving relationship with the One who gives us life.
It’s not going to be easy. The world has turned far away from God. It is full of darkness and it needs light. It is beginning to smell a bit rotten and it needs God’s preserving love.
We are the salt of the earth. We carry this love within us. We are full of God’s Spirit, not the spirit of the world. We are the voices, the beacons of God, called to share what we have with those around us. It doesn’t take a lot of salt to change the taste of food, nor a lot to preserve, yet we have an abundant supply. Feel free to share it… to pass it on.
For that is what God asks us to do.