Salt and light, sermon on electrons and electricity for Jesus

I presented this sermon on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka, SD. The scriptures used were Matthew 5: 13-20 and I Corinthians 2: 1-16. The rest of the lectionary for the day was included in the Call to Worship and the Confession read in unison by the congregation. I went outside of the normal and set up a small visual aid. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but I am working up to doing those things and not being called a geek. Things like that bother me. Anyway, I put out a stand with a couple of shakers of salt and a lamp from the church basement. I wanted to put up an easel like we used to use in Sunday school. It would have had a couple of pictures like the ones shown below. Hope this makes sense to those of you who take the time to read it.

Chemical compound of table salt.

Chemical compound of table salt.

Shaker of salt.

Shaker of salt.

Electrons/Electricity

This past week and a half, I have had the fortune, or as was some days and hours, the misfortune to substitute for a lady who teaches science in both Linton and Hazelton. She and her husband went to Hawaii on a trip he won through his work. James and I realized that as teacher, we picked the wrong profession. We will never be winning any trips to any place based on being teachers.

Anyway, this teacher has a chemistry class in both schools, and that made it fun filling in for her. I will give away my age when I tell you that it has been 40 years since I was a junior in high school taking chemistry. Ironically the section that was being covered this week was the part of chemistry that I enjoyed the most; it was the part where you work on how many electrons are in a chemical and how it combines with other electrons to make compounds. And then I began reading over the scripture for this week, and I found the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples, and as some read it, to future Christians such as us, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Now, I couldn’t resist looking into salt more in depth. And of all things it kept staring me in the face because some of the questions on the worksheet that the students had to do this week were directly related to the compound (NaCl—Sodium Chloride) which is salt/common table salt. Sodium and Chloride alone are not completely stable elements, but together when they share an element, they are what chemists consider stable. In looking at table salt, you see that you can crush it to make it smaller, but unless you put it in water, you cannot get those electrons to float freely and carry an electronic charge. A block of salt is not a conductor of electricity, and that is what makes it stable. We might not think of it that way because it dissolves in almost any liquid, and salt water carries an electric current better than plain water, but those are the chemical terms.

In today’s world we are constantly being told to use less salt in our food. We are told that too much salt causes high blood pressure and other physical ailments, and so we are supposed to avoid it as much as possible. And truthfully, if we use fresh herbs or spices, we do gain much flavor that we used to depend on salt for, but, salt is also a flavor enhancer thus making makes the other flavors more pronounced, so without at least a little of it, we might not taste the flavor of the herbs or spices as well.

If you Google or whatever else you do on a computer, the word, “salt,” you find all sorts of uses for salt besides setting on the table to put on your food. A pinch of salt will make your egg whites whip higher. It will also keep cut up fruits and vegetables from turning brown. I didn’t know these before. Salt is also a stabilizer when dyeing cloth. It stops the color from running.

Salt is a cleaner. If you mix it with ice cubes, it cleans hard water stains out of the bottom of glasses or glass jars or coffee pots. Put it on fresh stains in your carpet or clothing to absorb the stain. It also absorbs grease from things like wooden counter tops or odors from wooden cutting boards. You can pour it over spills in your oven to help with the clean ups. It can also be poured on grease fires to put them out or on ice to melt it.

Salt can be used to scour pans or even the dead skin off calluses. Salt water is good for testing the freshness of eggs. Bad eggs float in salt water. Salt water can also be used for soaking your feet or for gargling when you have a sore throat, though, maybe not the same water in that order. Salt can be used to keep ants or moths away from an area or even to kill weeds, particularly poison ivy.

I can remember that salt used to be used heavily in sports. When I was a student at Jamestown College and worked in the athletic department, I remember there was a salt dispenser on the wall in the locker rooms, much like the soap dispensers beside the sinks. If you pushed a lever one or two tablets would come out the bottom. Athletes were encouraged to take salt to replenish what they lost when they sweat. I guess we don’t do that anymore, though I wonder just how much salt we would find in the recipe of the “electrolyte” drinks today’s athletes are encouraged to consume.

When I was in grade school and high school, I remember my parents using salt for curing hams when they had a pig butchered. We had the large old fashioned crocks, and they would rub the hams with salt and put them in the crocks and cover them with a dishtowel and keep them in the cool cellar until they were cured.

According to the commentary in the UCC website, in Bible times, salt was rubbed on children when they were first born. It was also sprinkled on sacrifices and used as a seal on a covenant. Salt was also a symbol of wisdom, which might be the underlying point of connection of the scriptures that we read for today.

In I Corinthians 2, Paul uses the word “wisdom” 7 times. He speaks of human wisdom and divine wisdom. And some of the wisdom he refers to when he write of the wisdom of the rulers is the wisdom of the Greeks because there was a great Greek influence in the days of Jesus. It is hard for us to understand his meaning here because we probably don’t see the idea of the crucifixion in the same way as the people of that time did. A crucifixion was an execution. It was more like what we think of as someone being killed in an electric chair. It was a death associated with murderess, thieves and mostly with someone who we would say “deserved” it.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that he is preaching NOT wisdom as the Greek teachers did when they stood in the market places and asked questions and had people argue out the answers. No, Paul says that he has come to teach the truth about Jesus and the truth of the Crucifixion and what it means for all people. Paul is telling all of us that Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection is all we need to know to gain the spirit of God that gives us the understanding of what it is we are to do in this life. It is that spirit from God that helps us find our gifts, and understand what Christ wants from us.

The words recorded for us in the second and third parts of Matthew chapter five are challenging words. They were a challenge from Jesus to his disciples when they were first spoken, and they are a challenge to us today as we read them. Jesus first said these words to the disciples when he went up on the Mountain, followed by all sorts of people, and spoke to them in what we call The Sermon on the Mount. It started out with the Beatitudes, which should have been the focus of our sermon last Sunday, but with the storm of the previous week is a passage we missed. So what we have today are the challenges from Jesus to his disciples and to us.

In verse 13, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” We have already gone through all of the things that salt can do and what it might mean. Salt is a flavor, a flavor enhancer, a preservative, a stabilizer, a cleaner, an exfoliator, and one we haven’t mentioned before, a penetrator. Think of putting salt on an open sore. It penetrates and it hurts. It gets in deep where you can’t always see. In verse 14, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” Light is also a penetrator. Light gets deep into the cracks of the darkness and to illuminate the area so that we can find our way.

And when you think of light in terms of today’s light, it becomes more than just the candlelight of Bible times. Light today is associated with electricity which in our area especially at this time of year is really a necessity. One of the teachers in Linton mentioned that their pump went out on the well a few weeks ago. She said it was much easier to survive without water from the tap, using only bottles and jugs of water than to survive without electricity for half a day as most of us had to do a few weeks ago. When I hear electricity, I think of the flow of current, the shock, the spark of life.

But Jesus doesn’t stop with just telling the disciples or us about being salt or light. No Jesus lets us know that salt without its flavor is worthless. And he warns that a light is not meant to be hidden as in under a basket. Jesus tells us that the light we have for him needs to be like a city on a hill, a beacon, something that cannot be hidden. Our lights for Jesus need to be shining so intensely that it is a glory to God. The flavor of the salt we are needs to be what puts the zest into life, not the salt that is thrown out on the path to destroy the weeds or melt the ice. We need to be more.

But again, what good is the light and the salt and all of our happy, “we love Jesus,” if we never do anything about it? In the final part of what we read in Matthew today, Jesus explains that the law is still to be followed. We are not off the hook of following the commandments just because Jesus died and rose again. His resurrection gives us hope that we can be saved by grace, but that doesn’t give us a free pass to go out and commit every immoral act and thought possible.

In fact if we look closely at what is said in the final verses of this section, it says that we must follow all of the laws, even the least of them, and it especially warns that we are not to pull others astray. Yikes, I have found myself pondering that one lately. When I am angered by something that another says or does, how does my reaction reflect what Christ wants me to do? Then the real kicker comes in verse 20 when Jesus says that we are to be more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees, and I am so tempted to say, “that is easy, aren’t they the ones always being put down for how they act?” And I realize that it is not for me to judge. It is not for me to decide who God sees as righteous and deserving.

No, my job, and our job as a church as a community of Christians is the same as that of the disciples. We are to be the light that isn’t hidden under a basket. We are to be the salt, the zest, the flavoring that penetrates into the deep darkness that surrounds us in the world. We are the preservative and the cleaner that keeps out the decay and wipes up the stains. We need to be the agents that choke out the flames and weeds and melts the ice. We must be the agent that helps to polish ourselves and others to be ready for the kingdom of heaven when it comes, whether it is when we pass out of this life or when the new life of heaven comes to us. Amen!

Many thanks to those who write the Samuel sermon seeds for the United Church of Christ which is posted on their website. Also to the site below which was were I picked up many of the facts on salt. Some I knew, but some were new to me. www.care2.com/greenliving/23-wonderful-ways-to-use-salt.html#ixzz2sky8PuNc

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