You might find that saying Love is a sponge seems a little odd. Aren’t we supposed to be a fountain of Love? But there’s more to it than that. Let me tell you a story involving the once-great mining town of Butte, Montana, where my next oldest sister was born. Back when it was a bustling mining town, Butte made a full third of the copper used in the United States. But as time went on, things turned sour, even after the mining company blew the shaft open to make copper extraction more efficient. Finally, in the early 1980s, economic forces forced it into bankruptcy.
And it wasn’t just the company’s lights that got turned off, but on their way out of town, the firm shut off the pumps it used to keep water from collecting at the bottom of the mining pit. Slowly, over the years, the water level at the bottom of the quarry began to rise. It started as a puddle. Then it got fuller and fuller until, at 40 billion gallons, it became one of the largest lakes in the United States.
One oddity of geology in this region of Montana is that the ground is full of iron pyrite (which looks like “fool’s gold”). And it turns out that when air, water, and pyrite get together, they produce sulfuric acid. So, this huge lake became a massive vat of sulfuric acid, which hastened the rate at which heavy metals in the remaining copper ore seeped into the water. The lake became a toxic brew.
Then one night in the mid-1990s, a great storm swept over Butte just as a flock of snow geese passed overhead. Not knowing any better, the birds took refuge in the waters of this pit. When the residents of Butte woke up the next morning, they discovered the carcasses of approximately 350 geese floating on the lake’s surface. This was a pit of death, inhospitable to life.
One day, several years later, someone walked into the nearby University of Montana biology department brandishing an algae-covered stick. The researchers gasped when they learned it had been pulled from the lake. They had written off the lake for years. Nothing could live in it, right? But somehow, life had found a way.
The researchers got curious. They decided to see what else they might find in the lake. And after a year of looking, they discovered this black, blobby glob floating around in the water. It turned out to be a kind of yeast. And it had the most remarkable property. It was absorbing the heavy metals from the water around it. It was acting like a sponge.
Scientists and engineers have used bacteria and other microorganisms to filter heavy metals from contaminated water for years. Usually, these bacteria remove about 10-15% of contaminants. But this black blob absorbed 85-95% of the heavy metals in the water around it. So it was purifying the water in what was once a toxic brew. Excited about their find, the researchers worked up a profile and ran it through their databases to see where else this yeast might exist in the natural world. They certainly, weren’t the first people to find it.
Their search came up with a single hit. This yeast occurs in only one place – in the digestive tracts of geese. As I say, love is a sponge. Think about it for a moment. If the love revealed in Jesus’ death on the cross can, like yeast, soak up the world’s violence, brokenness, hatred, and division, then purify it, transform it, and reorient it into a new life, then let us never lose sight that at the heart of our faith is this conviction that God’s love can take what is the very worst in us and turn it into good.
With that being true, why can’t we use God’s love to do the same for those around us – in our homes, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods, so that it becomes a great blob acting as a sponge? The Apostle Peter was the first one to come up with this idea. He wrote his constituents, “Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so keep your minds clear and control yourselves. Stay wide awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes you willing to forgive many sins. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and He’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything. Then, God will be praised in everything through Jesus the Anointed One. Power and glory belong to Him forever and ever. Amen!” (1 Peter 4:7-8, 11b)