Building Blocks of Life – Sermon on Matthew 5:13-21

There are two extreme schools of thought when it comes to what the Bible is good for. Either it’s 100% factually an accounting of what transpired, or will transpire, word-for-word, or it’s a mere collection of allegorical writings that, while good for moral living, isn’t reflective of reality as we have come to know it with our now-enlightened 21st-century minds. Neither is a good, healthy, or even faithful way to approach the Bible. The Bible is not meant to be a science or history book, nor is it meant to be a handbook for life. To be sure, it could be used that way, and there are things in the Bible that are historical accountings of events, and there are portions of the Bible that set out a code of conduct for us as God’s people, but that’s not point. And the power, the soul, the thrust, the importance of the Bible doesn’t rest on its historical accuracy or its moral usefulness. The Bible is a book with all the fragility of a book, but like the frail infant Jesus who came into our world to bring us a message of God’s love for us, so the Bible brings that same message of God in our lives, and most importantly in Jesus, to life for us through the words on the page. And so it doesn’t compete with science, nor should it be reduced to a life handbook. We look to the Bible because of what it contains, not what it is. It contains God’s living and abiding Word that reveals to us, in ever new ways, the love God has for us and the many, many ways that God will communicate that love to us.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

In the beginning, before God created time, the spirit of God hovered over the face of the primordial, chaotic, churning depth that was everything. And God decided to create something new. God decided to create light. Light erupted into the world, piercing through the darkness, and time itself started rushing forward. Over three billion years, give a million years or so, the earth transformed. A few mountains rise up—but not mountains like we might expect. Tumultuous, volcanic monsters that spew both lava and chemical steam, creating more land and our very atmosphere. As the water in earth’s early atmosphere condenses, it absorbs other chemicals and rains down upon the fiery mountains. This rain is rich in one chemical in particular—salt. Salt in the air and salt imbedded in the few pockets of land is dissolved by this prehistoric rain and flows into the primordial sea This primordial sea covers the vast, vast majority of the world. The water teems with elements and minerals, including 35% salt. In this chemical bath, life abounds. “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarms,” Genesis tells us. For the first few billion years, there were only single-celled organisms and they swarmed, as the Bible says, throughout the oceans.

Even as more and more land amasses and continents emerge, life stays in the ocean, clinging to water and salt. Some animals experiment, they take their first steps on land. But they need to return to the saltwater to reproduce. Making the move from the salty ocean to living on land permanently meant early animals had to bring the salty ocean water with them. Enter the egg. When creatures started crawling onto the land, certain animals figured out they could lay eggs and have a nice hard shell that held the saltwater in a small space for them. Today, in mammals, even in us human beings, you can think about a mother’s womb with the amniotic sac as sort of a little ocean that a developing baby can live in.

Still life emerged from salt water. All creatures need it, crave it, and quickly die without it. Salt is one of the very building blocks of life itself. It’s a link we carry in our own bodies to this day, even. Our tears and sweat have the same salt content as in the ancient ocean. Even our minds are dependent on salt. Sodium helps transmit signals between our braincells. You could say that our very thoughts are comprised of salt. The actual cerebral activity inside of our brain is just a bunch of electrically charged sodium and potassium tidbits zipping in and out in and out of cells. Our consciousness itself is made of salt…Down through history, salt has been so important to humanity. Almost all early cities were built not only next to sources of water, but also next to sources of salt. And salt roads cropped up to connect those places without a natural supply to places that did. Salt silently engineered our global map, and you can trace its effect in our personal and collective lives today. Not too shabby for a simple atom of sodium and chlorine who decided to become friends.

Remember, though, God first created light, not salt. Light is also critical to life. Those first single-celled organisms that swarmed about the seas, they were the first form of life. With time, they developed in complexity, and soon became multicellular organisms. We’re not talking complicated by our own standards today, but instead of bacteria, made of one cell, new species rose up of several hundred cells. With time, these organisms, living in the salt water we just described, grew even more complex by interacting with light. The light transformed some of their cells and caused them to specialize, to take on a purpose beyond just taking in nutrients to keep the organism alive.

These cells reacted to the light, and the whole organism starts responding to the light. It meant more energy. These early organisms that developed light-sensitive cells could take in more energy than from simply passively taking in nutrients from the water. These light-sensitive cells change over billions of years, and become more complex in their own right as the organisms they’re part of grow in complexity. They specialize further. This is the beginning of our eyes, which are the precursors to our entire nervous system, and ultimately the massive knot of nerve cells that make up our brains. The first cells in our bodies, from an evolutionary point of view—the first cells in our bodies to change, adapt, and take on special purpose were cells that responded to light.

Together, because of light and salt, we are who we are. We are living beings who think, live and move and have being. Without light and salt, our lives, all life for that matter, would be very different—if not impossible.

Today’s gospel text picks up in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching to the disciples and the crowds. This is no short sermon, either. The Sermon on the Mount spans two whole chapters out of Matthew’s twenty-eight—nearly 10% of the gospel. Many of the iconic lines from Jesus’ ministry are part of it. Today’s pronouncements are no exception—“You are the salt of the earth,” he says, and then he says, “You are the light of the world.”

A lot has been said about both of these statements throughout the ages—too much for me to say now. We most definitely could explore what they mean in great depth, but sometimes, the simplicity of things is enough. What could Jesus mean by saying these things?

Before we go too far, though, it’s important for us to see that Jesus doesn’t tell us to be salt or tell us to be light. He tells us that we are salt, that we are light. These are statements of fact. Whatever salt does, that’s what we do. Whatever light does, that’s what we do. Do we get it right always? Of course not. But that’s not the point. We are salt, and we do what salt does. If salt lost it’s saltiness, it’d be worthless. Likewise, we’re light, and we do what light does. A light kept under cover accomplishes nothing. So Jesus isn’t commanding us to do anything here other than what is already is in us…But what is that?

Simply put, we have within us the building blocks of life—the same life that has been chugging along since before history. God has set our lives into motion in ways so deeply interconnected with each other and the whole creation that we are surprised just how closely related we are. Our lives may seem simple to us, like a grain of salt, but what we do with our lives has a huge impact.

What makes us different than many, though, is that we know the power that comes with life. We know we’re salt. We know we’re light. What is this saltiness? What is this light? It’s the goodness of God, the power of God, the love of God. God didn’t form the world for no reason. God wanted a relationship with something, with someone—with you. And so God created life, and everything that goes into it. And God promises us that nothing will stand in the way of that life. God is so invested in that promise that he becomes part of the world he created and lives among us in Jesus—and tells us that we’re part and parcel to this great big mysterious adventure called life, even if we don’t quite understand how it all hangs together.

But knowing that we’re salt, knowing that we’re light brings with it a certain kind of responsibility. Not a responsibility as in a need to do something, or an obligation, but a response-ability, the ability to respond. The light that shines upon us opens our eyes to see more clearly, with more complexity how we might respond. Think of those early organism when they encountered light. They developed the ability to see. God’s light of truth creates in us a new vision to see how to live our lives…

How do we live our lives knowing that we share the same life that creatures of the primordial sea lived? How do we live our lives knowing that we share live with the trees of the forest, the birds of the air, the animals in the field? How do we live our lives knowing that we share life with people living across the street and people across the globe? How do we live our lives knowing that we share life with people we would spend hours eating and drinking and laughing and with people who are desperately cold under a bridge in our same town? Or people whose way of life is different than ours? Who are scorned and ridiculed? Who are forgotten? Who are sick? Who hate us? How do we live our lives knowing that we share life with all these—and so much more?

In a world so full of rancor, strife, suspicion, and backbiting, how do we live our lives in such a way that builds life, using the building blocks that are within us for good?

I’ll let you with a final tidbit about salt. One of the uses of salt is in cooking. It can be added to sweet things, like cookies and cake, not a lot of it, but a pinch of it, to cut down the bitterness from other ingredients and make the sweetness of the sugar stand out. There is a lot of hatred and bitterness in our world today. When we live our lives like the love of God that we’ve already experienced matters to us, when we love as we’ve first been love, we live our lives as the salt of the earth just like Jesus called us. Just a pinch of salt can do a lot to reduce bitterness in a recipe, and so too does a pinch of love, the salt we are, bring peace to our world. Just a little light can clear the darkness of our sight and give us new eyes to see.

Salt and light—simple yet powerful, necessary life-building blocks for creation, and ultimately, the kingdom of God. You are salt. You are light. You are the building blocks life in the kingdom of God. Will you live like that matters?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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