PEANUTS AND FLASHLIGHTS
MATTHEW 5:13-20 UPPER ROGUE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH FEB.5, 2017
I love peanuts. In fact, my wife sometimes has to take them away from me before I eat so many I get sick. Yes, it has happened. The other day I opened a jar of peanuts, took a handful, and almost spit them out! Where was the salt! I had inadvertently purchased unsalted peanuts. Ugh!
Salt, in appropriate quantities, is an important nutrient. Without it our bodies synthesize aldosterone. Aldosterone causes less sodium to be lost in urine and sweat, but it achieves that at the expense of the increased loss of potassium, magnesium, and probably calcium… Magnesium deficiency is extremely common,. Adequate salt consumption encourages a healthy weight and fast metabolism, as well as contributing to better sleep. It reduces circulating stress hormones and supports thyroid function.
And, of course, salt makes food taste better. In fact, salty is one of the basic human tastes. The tissues of animals contain larger quantities of salt than do plant tissues. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation.
In Roman times, Salt was a scarce and expensive commodity and its value was legendary. To sit above or below the salt identified precedence in the seating arrangements at a feast, according to one’s rank. Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt. It is said to be from this that we get the word soldier – ‘sal dare’, meaning to give salt. From the same source we get the word salary, ‘salarium’. A 1982 Time Magazine article reports:
The history of the world according to salt is simple: animals wore paths to salt licks; men followed; trails became roads, and settlements grew beside them. When the human menu shifted from salt-rich game to cereals, more salt was needed to supplement the diet. But the underground deposits were beyond reach, and the salt sprinkled over the surface was insufficient. Scarcity kept the mineral precious. As civilization spread, salt became one of the world's principal trading commodities.
Salt routes crisscrossed the globe. One of the most traveled led from Morocco south across the Sahara to Timbuktu. Ships bearing salt from Egypt to Greece traversed the Mediterranean and the Aegean. Herodotus describes a caravan route that united the salt oases of the Libyan desert.
...A soldier's salary was cut if he "was not worth his salt," a phrase that came into being because the Greeks and Romans often bought slaves with salt.
To be “the salt of the earth” suggests purity, preservation, and flavor. Salt as a symbol of purity derives from the practice of extracting salt from sea water by evaporating it in the sun. In using salt to describe his disciples, Jesus emphasizes the call to and influence of purity in the Christian life. A farmer went each week to the Farmers' Market to sell, among other things, the cottage cheese and apple butter made on his farm. He carried these in two large tubs, from which he ladled the cottage cheese or apple butter into smaller containers the customer brought. One day he got to market and discovered he's forgotten one ladle. He felt he had no choice but to use the one he had for both products. Before long he couldn't tell which was which. That's the way it is when we try to live a Christian life while the hearts, minds, and tongues are immersed in the coarseness and one-ups-man-ship of the world around us. Purity is important.
Additionally salt was, and still is, a preservative. Unsalted meat quickly turned rotten. As Christians, as Kingdom members, we are called to be preserving elements in society. Our lives show a different way of living: living a life directed by Jesus. The hope and love of God is enough to keep the lives of those we meet from going rotten and bad. Even more, our redeemed lives prove that the grace of God is enough to transform even the worst of sinners. The change our lives bring about in others are often unseen by us. When beef is salted to create corned beef, the result takes time. Paul says: “I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow.” Preservers don't often see the results of their labors.
Salt is integral to cooking. It not only accentuates the flavor of foods, it plays and important part in the cooking process itself. For example, when baking bread, salt is necessary to control the rising and dough strength, allowing the dough to expand without tearing.. It causes water to boil more quickly, and can even take the bitterness from a poor cup of coffee. As a binder, salt helps extract the myofibrillar proteins in processed and formed meats binding the meat together and reducing cooking losses. It also increases the solubility of muscle proteins. Properly used, salt does not mask,brings out the flavors of food.
Just as salt makes food foodier, the disciple, as Salt of the Earth, makes the earth more genuinely as God intended it to be. We don't stand against, but within the social order, striving to make it more pure, more just, and more holy. In making the world a blessing for humanity, we are acting as the salt of the earth.
Not only are we called to be the salt of the earth, but also the light of the world.
When I was in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we were only about two degrees below the equator: that's about the same distance as Medford is from the 45th parallel, which runs just south of Salem. (You've probably seen the sign as you drive to Portland...it's the halfway point between the north pole and the equator.) There we had sunlight and darkness for almost exactly 12 hours each. One Sunday, the doctor at the church-run clinic invited our team to dinner. During the course of the meal he asked us: “Where you live, I understand that during the summer it stays light til about 8:00 at night.”
“Yes, that's about right.”,
“What do you do with all that extra daytime?”
We explained that we used it to mow our lawns, (another strange concept) play golf, picnic, wash our cars, and so forth. Somehow we couldn't find it in our hearts to try and explain Daylight Savings Time.
The point is, that in a culture where there is no electricity to make the darkness light, human activity is limited to the daylight hours. What passed for candles shed very little light. But, then, it takes very little light to push aside the darkness. If you've ever toured one of America's deep caves, like the Oregon Caves or the Tukaleegee Caverns in Tennessee, a fun part of the tour is when they turn out the lights. It is so dark you cannot see your hand only even if you bring it close enough to your face that you can feel it. Then they light a match!
Back in the days before electricity, a tightfisted old farmer was taking his hired man to task for carrying a lighted lantern when he went to call on his best girl. "Why," he exclaimed, "when I went a-courtin' I never carried one of them things. I always went in the dark." "Yes," the hired man said wryly," and look what you got!" A lighted lantern makes a difference
“There are two ways to spread the light,” Edith Wharton writes: One is to be the candle, the other is to be the mirror that reflects it.” Have you ever seen the light bulb in a lighthouse? Lighthouses use amazingly powerful xenon lamps (a little bit like neon lamps) that are hundreds of thousands of times brighter than the lamps in your home.
They mount their lamps in towers high above the sea level, which makes them visible roughly five times further away.
They use specially shaped lenses and prisms called Fresnel Lenses to concentrate their light into a super-powerful beam.
“You he light of the world” Jesus tells us.
“let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” A single candle can move back the darkness. My brother, Toot, had a foul mouth: except around Fay. When she first met him, and his normal filth began to spew forth, she told him politely, but firmly that such language was unacceptable. In deference to her, he was very careful about his speech in her presence. On small candle pushed back the darkness.
As Kingdom members, we are called not to hide, but to live our witness in plain sight. Living our faith openly pushes back the darkness and brings light to the darkest places, and Christ's love to the least expecting. A gentleman was walking one day in the east end of the city of Glasgow. The streets were so narrow, and the houses so high, that little direct sunshine ever reached the houses on one side. The gentleman noticed a ragged, barefooted boy trying, with a small piece of mirror, to catch the sun's rays and direct them to a certain spot on one of the houses opposite. He became interested in the boy's earnest efforts. "What are you trying to do, laddie?" he asked. "Do you see that window up there?" the boy replied. "Well, my little brother had an accident two years ago, and is always lying on his back in that room, and it is on the wrong side to get the sunshine, so I always try to catch the light in this little mirror and shine it into his room." Just a little reflected light, pushing back the darkness.
When I awake in the pre-dawn darkness to go to the gym, the small flashlight I use to find my clothes casts just enough light to accomplish my task; until the batteries go dead. Then it's like salt that has lost it's saltiness. But unlike salt, I can replace the batteries and the light will continue to shine. This meal, it's a simple meal, a bit of bread and a sip of juice, but like a match at the bottom of the Oregon Caves, it makes all the difference. Come, eat, drink, and recharge. AMEN.