By now, we’ve likely had our fill of winter, and with it, the familiar sight of salt on our roads and sidewalks.
Bits of salt melting tiny holes in the hard-packed ice on the sidewalk.
Salt spread widely on our roads, turning snow and ice into a slushy, mushy mess.
Grains of white salt on our carpets, tracked in on our boots, making a mess to have to vacuum up.
Salt is everywhere!
But not only for melting ice in a Canadian winter.
It’s been estimated that salt has over 14,000 other different uses:
…for flavouring food, and curing of meats.
…for the manufacture of plastics, dyes, insecticides, explosives, rayon, chlorine gas, and cosmetics, to list just a few.
…Salt is a natural preservative for foods.
…and is necessary in making bread, cheese and other foods.
…Salt hinders the growth of bacteria and yeast.
It really is amazing the incredible variety of different ways salt is used.
But the really interesting point about salt is this:
Salt exists, not for its own benefit, but for the benefit of something beyond itself, something else.
A dash of salt on our steak makes not the salt taste better, but the beef taste better.
Beef gets its glory from a dash of salt.
The natural, wholesome flavour of a baked potato, is enhanced by just a little sprinkle of salt.
A sidewalk is made safe to walk on, by the application of salt which melts dangerous ice.
Many examples can show how salt exists for no other purpose, than the benefit, the glory, the elevation of something else beyond itself.
So, one could say that salt has an inherently self-giving, self-sacrificing aspect about itself.
A similar thing happens with light.
If you think about it, we have the pleasure and benefit of light, but only because something, at that very moment, is being burned up, consumed and used up in the process.
The sun, which is our primary source of light, is a continually burning ball of fire – hydrogen and helium gasses are constantly being used up, burned up, to produce the light that we see.
Take a simple candle. The beauty and warmth of a single candle light, is there for us, only because the wick and wax are constantly being burned and used up.
Jesus says, “We are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.”
So, as “salt” and “light”, we give up, sacrifice, or use up something for the benefit of others.
What talent, or gift, or resource of time or money do we divest ourselves of, all for the well-being and elevation of others?
We know of course, that in our culture today, we see the exact opposite: the primary drive is…
…to serve one’s own best interests first,
…to make oneself look better than the other,
…to seek all the glory for oneself at the expense of others,
…to elevate oneself often with complete uncaring, disregard for anyone else’s situation.
Ours is the “me-first-who-cares-about-anyone-else” culture.
We see it in the drivers on the roads.
We see it in our work-places, and played out in our highest institutions and businesses.
But, I think instinctively, deep down, we know that the way of Jesus, the way of being “salt” and “light” – for the benefit of others — is ultimately the way of health, wellness and life for everyone.
The prophet Isaiah (58) says how feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked, leads not only to others’, but our own healing.
Deep down we know that it’s better for everyone when, for example, we sacrifice getting that second large flat-screen TV, and instead, give that money so that homebound seniors from our faith community, living alone and feeling isolated, would instead receive the friendship and joy that come from regular visits and human contact.
Deep down we know that, it’s better for everyone when we give time to our family; talking and listening and playing with our children and our spouse; sacrificing some of our own personal, narrow self-interests and desires.
The analogy goes further.
Of course, being “salt” and “light” also brings so much needed “spice” to life – so much needed light-heartedness and humour.
We know that life can be grim and pretty difficult at times. Being “salt” and “light” can help us all endure some of that.
Isn’t it true, having a friend who encourages us to laugh, especially during times of suffering, pain or struggle, can be such a real gift, a real grace?
Historians point out that Martin Luther in the 16th century, who suffered much at the hands of church officials, and who also suffered from a variety of physical ailments, used humour as a way of surviving from day to day. Wit and humour – along with a good beer and good music – shared around the table among friends, was the most effective way to endure the trials of life.
Sprinkling a bit of good cheer here, a dash of hope there, shedding a ray of hope and joy in a dark and dreary world – what a difference that can make!
But, the analogy goes even further.
Salt and light can also irritate.
We know the saying: “pouring salt into an open wound.” Irritating!
We know the annoyance of having too much light – whether from too much sun in our eyes, or so much white snow in an open field.
We squint, we squirm, we’re irritated.
Being “salt” and “light” as followers of Jesus, will also lead us into situations that might really irritate others. And we followers of Jesus I think find that very difficult. We like always “to be nice” and “kind” to others, even to the point sometimes of being too nice, too kind.
Take the example of Peter Storey, who was a Methodist bishop in South Africa during apartheid.
Before elected bishop, he was pastor of a large church in Johannesburg.
He wanted to integrate his church, bringing black and white South Africans together, following in the way of Jesus.
He preached, and taught, and worked towards realizing this integration and reconciliation between the black and white populations.
But some in his congregation were really irritated by this, disagreeing with Storey’s approach, and fighting against it.
And so, about two hundred ended up leaving in a huff.
Pastor Storey was being “salt”.
We too are “salt,” whenever we name, and call out, oppression and injustice, in the name of Jesus, wherever we are – whether at home, at work or in the community — even if it may end up irritating or annoying some.
Salt and Light. Powerful, enduring, potent images of what it means to follow Jesus.
We are this way, because we know it ultimately brings healing, wholeness and wellness, not only to others, but to ourselves…
…all while bringing praise and glory to God in Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate and true Light and Salt,
…whose light and life is ever with us, filling us, inspiring us, embracing us.