Being salt among alternative facts.
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, Matthew 5:13-20
There are movements to reduce our dependence on chemicals. Some are to remove chemicals from food. Others are to reduce our dependence on chemicals known as hydrocarbons. There are people that are against western medicine at least in part because they see these medicines as toxic chemicals.
One problem with thinking that chemicals are bad is that this is simply not true. Some chemicals are bad for our health, some are bad for the environment but, many chemicals are essential for our life and survival. There are two chemicals that man has known about and depended upon long before the word chemical existed. The first and most important is dihydrogen monoxide. It is a fact that we cannot live more than three days without consuming significant amounts of dihydrogen monoxide, better known as water. The other chemical is sodium chloride which more of us readily recognize as salt. At times, salt was so important that people were paid their wage in it. Salt is even the root of the word Salary.
Salt is integral to the function of our bodies. We need salt to maintain proper fluid levels; for good neural and muscular function. Barring certain diseases, our bodies can adjust and accommodate a large amount of salt in our diets; which most Americans do have. We tend to eat 10 times more salt than is necessary for good health. Today, Jesus isn’t speaking to us about our consumption of salt and its effect on our bodies. Jesus is appealing to our sense of taste. Face it, salt tastes good!
Interestingly, most people around the world consume about the same amount of salt as we do.[i] We crave it not only because of it tastes but because salt enhances the flavor of food and salt can extend its shelf life. In my family, we make a lot of homemade bread. A few years ago I was making a sandwich. I cut into a new loaf, put on mayonnaise, lettuce, turkey and provolone. I sat down and took a bite. Suddenly I thought, “What did I just put in my mouth?” The texture seemed right but the taste was way off. The bread was like dried paste. It had absolutely no flavor at all. Soon we realized that we forgot to add the salt. I was absolutely stunned that one-quarter of a teaspoon of salt could have this dramatic effect on a loaf of bread.
You are the salt of the earth,” said Jesus. He is not saying that you are an immovable pillar of salt such as Lots wife turned into, but you are like the salt we season our food with. To be effective salt, we cannot sit on a shelf. We cannot stay in the salt shaker; we have to mix with the other ingredients that are not salt. Who is the salt? Jesus says, you are the salt! His followers, or we Christians, are the salt of the earth. The rest of the world is what we are to mix with. To reiterate this idea Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” What good is a light that is hidden from view? It is about as much good as salt that remains in the shaker when it belongs in the bread.
Much like salt, it doesn’t take much light for people to see the difference it makes. Anyone who has flown in an airplane at night, and looked out the window, has seen the glow of a city in the distance. Or if we travel down a dark road at night we can see a solitary yard light in the distance. The yard light can be seen miles away; pointing the way home for some, allowing others to know that they are not alone. If we are the salt and the light, then we should not be hiding the fact that we are the followers of Christ. We are called into the world, to be the light of Christ to others; to awaken others to the presence of Christ in their lives much like salt awakens flavors in food.
This means that we cannot stay put in our homes or in our church building. We have to get out into the world to be examples to others. For some, this can mean knocking on doors. To be honest this is an excellent way to get to know your neighbors and tell them who Christ is. It is even the most effective way to actually have new people come to church. If this was not effective, then the Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons would not be going door to door. But, for many, knocking on doors may be the most intimidating way to be the light of Christ.
Another way to be the light or salt is to uphold the truth. The truth seems to be a threatening concept for many people anymore. We don’t only have truth based on facts but apparently, we now have truth based on alternative facts. When we are talking about concrete measurable things there can only be one set of facts. Anything outside of this is either opinion, conjecture, or just false. When we have metaphysical or metaphorical ideas, facts are very personal. “God is my rock.” For me, this is a fact even though I know he is not a hard, cold, tangible mineral; whether the size of a pebble or a mountain. He is none of these but he remains ‘my rock.’
We also have facts that get confusing because of imprecise language. I’d imagine that all of you would say it is a fact that you have seen a sunset, at least once in your life, and that sunsets are real. The truth is that the sun doesn’t set because it is not the sun that moves; it is the earth that turns. We are witnessing the earth turning, but from our perspective, and using terminology that dates back thousands of years before science proved otherwise, we claim that the sun sets. We could say that a sunset is an alternative fact. However, over the years we have agreed to change the definition. The word sunset no longer means the movement of the sun but “the time when the… sun disappears below the horizon as a result of the diurnal rotation of the earth.”[ii]
As Christians, we are to uphold the truth. The ninth commandment requires us to, “not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And again here is that word neighbor. I have seen lots of what is now being called fake news. There are also memes all over Facebook demeaning one or another of our neighbors. Many of which are only half truths. Many graphics on the intent are there to deceive not just to be humorous. Humor can make a satirical point but when all we spread is satire as if it was fact, then people get hurt. Half-truths which are lies are being spread as fact and the truth gets lost.
Where is the Light in doing this? Are we being more like pepper than salt? Are you shining the Light of Christ, or being Christ-like to your neighbor? We are to uphold a higher standard; we are called to take the high road. We are even called to correct blatant lies when we see them; not to spread false testimony. A few of you may know that I have commented on Facebook posts that are absolute lies and I’d encourage you to do the same. This can be done without being a troll, inflaming debate, or arguments, by simply stating facts.
Before I give you an example, let me say that the Bible does have some contradictions and a few inaccuracies. There are some people that deny that there is any truth in it at all. And I respect them if that is their belief. But if we are going to talk about Christianity, and Jesus specifically, then we have to use the Bible and we have to read what it says; we cannot just go off of our opinion.
A few days ago, Al Sharpton tweeted this statement. “Before you head to church today, remember to thank God for his Son, Jesus a refugee who fled to Egypt.” A daily news show picked up this tweet and was beating up Al Sharpton for his claim that Jesus was a refugee.[iii] After the co-hosts brought in an apparent expert, Carley Shimkus, they claimed that Sharpton’s statement was inaccurate, then alluded that it was just false. After some short banter, they wondered who gave Sharpton a gift certificate to be a reverend. Instead of bringing in the Bible for evidence to prove that he was incorrect, the co-hosts read tweets from their viewers. The tweets spoke of Jesus’ family traveling to Bethlehem to pay taxes. No one seemed to have picked up on Egypt being mentioned in Sharpton’s tweet.
Matt 2:13-14 “Now after [the Wise Men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”
As we know, again according to the Bible, Herod sends his army to that region to slaughter all male children under the age of two. This is known as the “Massacre of the Innocents.” According to Merriam-Webster, a refuge is “one that flees; especially: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.”[iv] Regardless of how we feel about the refugee crisis, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt, a foreign country, to escape both danger and persecution. Jesus was a refugee.
To fact check something like this really didn’t take very long. Even without a theological degree, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes with the internet at your fingertips. When Christians spread fake news, disparaging memes, or any half-truth, it makes us look stupid. It harms the credibility of anything else we have to say.
By uncovering the facts and pointing them out, we are spreading light. We can spread Light by knocking on doors or we can also spread Light by holding ourselves and others to a higher stander, the truth. We can be like some chemicals which are toxic to ourselves and our neighbors or we can be like other chemicals such as salt and enhances the discourse. To be the light or the salt we cannot hide from what others are doing or saying. We have to be in the mix, lighting the way or adding to the flavor with truth.