The Chicago Tribune headline on Wednesday read, “Drivers Fume over Suburbs' Low-Salt Diet.” And the roads were truly a mess! No one predicted this winter, one of the coldest and snowiest on record. And now everyone, is running out of road salt. On Wednesday, commute times were astounding! Not quite the standstill Atlanta had, where drivers just left their cars on the freeway and walked home. But take the worst commute you can remember this past year, and double it! On average, we’ve had a measureable snowfall every other day, this winter. So, when plow-trucks were put on a low-salt diet last week, even on the major highways, drivers couldn’t see their lanes, and from the Eisenhower to the Kennedy, and from the Dan Ryan to the Jane Addams, traveling descended into chaos!
It’s not that salt is scarce exactly, but local municipalities just haven’t budgeted for any more. Salt has been seen as a low-cost answer in keeping winter roads clear for decades. But now, in the first study of its kind, Minneapolis-St Paul found, the stuff doesn't just disappear when the snow and ice melts, but 70% stays within the region's watershed, washing away into lakes and streams and seeping into groundwater supplies. Once it gets there, the contamination is difficult and expensive to remove, making for salty drinking wells, and dead-zones – which becomes not only a health issue, but a largely invisible environmental danger.
So, because ‘extreme times call for extreme measures,’ help may be on the way! Don’t laugh – but maybe it’s time to try the recipe used in Polk County Wisconsin, which, coincidentally, isn’t far from the Twin Cities. The Highway Department there has been blending liquid cheese brine, a mere waste product in the dairy industry, into the county’s salt supply, for the last 5 or 6 years.
Emil Norby, the Polk County Highway Department’s Technical Support Manager explains: “For each ton of road salt, we inject anywhere from five to 12 gallons . . . of cheese brine, and that saves us approximately up to 30 percent of salt usage.” Norby swears by the cheese brine, which he says activates the salt faster, and works better in colder temperatures.” And, says Emil, the brine – used to store cheese in its curing and cooling process – is free! It’s a win-win, as the dairy farms in the area are saving about $25,000 a year in disposal fees. No report yet if the badgers, bear, and other critters have discovered their free lunch, on the Polk County roadways!
The headline for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount today is, “You are the salt of the earth!” Jesus had gone up the mountain – more like a hill to us, probably – to spread his salty message. Using a little Jewish branding, Matthew’s description of the mountain, was a clear sign that this was a Moses kind of thing, like going up the mountain to get the 10 Commandments. Salt and Light are also known as Hebrew symbols for God’s Covenant or Law. In 2 Chronicles, God gave David and his descendants the kingship of Israel forever, with a covenant of salt. Salt, of course, has always been a well-known preservative for food. And salting the covenant, or promise, between God and God’s people, meant it would last, it would be preserved.
On the mountain, Jesus started his Sermon, his teaching, with the Beatitudes. He offered blessings, not just to the well-off – the 1% who because they were at the top, assumed they had divinely earned it. But he blesses the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and the peacemakers. Jesus is a new Moses, but he does not eclipse Moses. He brings a new Law, to include a wider circle of the people of God, but it does not eclipse, but fulfills the Law and the Prophets, and the expectations of all those who are all eager to for the Messiah and Anointed One. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets” said Jesus; “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
How do we keep and fulfill the law of the Lord? How do we keep our saltiness and spread it around, and continue to make it effective in today’s ‘low-salt diet’ world?
The headline in the sleepy little village of Sochi, Russia on Friday, might have been, “A city built on a hill cannot be hid!” Did you see the 3 hour Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics which culminated in the dramatic lighting of the Olympic Cauldron? Like the mountain slopes surrounding the city, where the competitions are taking place, the flame, from the Olympic Torch bearers, climbed up its own spectacular fiery slope that lit the huge Olympic Cauldron, and set off Olympic rings of fireworks around the town. Sochi was lit up, for all the world to see!
Yet it’s hard to see Jesus showing up for these festivities. I suspect we could have found him in the nearby village, in solidarity with the meek and the poor in spirit, who had little or no water due to the massive construction project in Sochi, and the new road that ruined a pristine wilderness area as well as that little town of the humble working poor. I imagine Jesus would have told them, you are the salt of the earth. And, if we have eyes to see, we’d be able to recognize that, they are the light of the world, not the offering of fireworks lighting up the skies of Sochi.
Jesus asks us: How can we be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, in today’s steady diet of glamor and glitz?
Just as salt and light do not exist for their own benefit, but are gifts for the good of all of God’s creatures, so the local community of Jesus’ followers, does not exist for itself, but rather, comes together and comes alive, to incarnate and become, God's reign of forgiveness and justice.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not the least of which we heard today, from Isaiah (58). When the people of his time complained that God didn’t notice, and reward them, for their good works of fasting, Isaiah declared God’s answer: “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and [you] oppress all your workers. … Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” Perhaps this has a familiar ring to us, as we argue over increasing the minimum wage, while 20% of our children, one in five, live below the poverty line! But God was not finished: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, … to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, …Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
Is this not what it means, for us, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, even today? If we lose this vision, if we give in to other values, if we forget God's longing for justice, has our salt not lost its saltiness?
And so, in today’s world, we find we need to be creative when it comes to being the salt of the earth. We live in a country that is sometimes merciful, but also sometimes complicit in oppression. Sometimes we need to add cheese brine to our salt to find a new way to be lights for the world, and salt of the earth. We must be creative as the called people of God, spreading our salt over every highway, further and further. Standing in solidarity with the farmers in Texas whose land is being destroyed for the XL Pipeline, and with the people of Lawrence House, just blocks away, being evicted to make room for a heartless developer’s rehab. A light on the hill may not turn out to be the most glittery firework in the sky to best announce the Good News about Jesus. It may be, a more complicated CFL, Compact Florescent Light, warming up slowly, but lasting longer – burning cooler, yet getting more out of every watt.
Jesus is our teacher on the mountain, standing in solidarity with the blessed poor and the hungry seekers. And, of course, we don’t need to fast when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is with us. Which is why at the banqueting table of Our Lord, we celebrate the "high" every week, dining together on the feast of justice and love – in this meal that transforms us, one person, one village, at a time – in this humble walk of faith with our God. And then, from here, we are Sent out, where we become, the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. And through us, God will be writing a new headline, for the salvation of the world.