Salt and Light, sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
I have a friend that loves using salt on his food. Whatever fine dining establishment or self-serve joint we go to, he always asks for the salt shaker. The thing is, he has borderline high blood-pressure, so it’s not a particularly healthy choice! And his boyfriend always intervenes, saying, no, that’s enough! You know you’re not supposed to do that! Stop it right now! Please, for me?!?
But he can’t help himself. The taste of food for him is just not the same without more salt! – dinner would lose its taste and its value for him, he just can’t stop himself! He puts it on his pasta and his salad, on his chicken and his brisket, on his vegetables, and, I’ve even seen him put it on tortillas chips, that are needless to say, already very salty!
I gave up salting my food long ago. And I found that it doesn’t take that long for your palate to get used to the change. In due time you begin to appreciate the intrinsic flavors of the actual food you’re eating. You begin desiring all the spices that are found in the many and various ethnic cuisines, that are so readily available all over this diverse restaurant city. Your palate begins to discover savory, and sweet, and spicy flavors, much deeper and surprising-delicious, than you knew imaginable! But my aforementioned friend is sticking to the saltiness of salt!
Salt, of course, way back when, before refrigeration, was used mostly to preserve meats, and fish, from spoiling. It was a treasured and valuable commodity, and absolutely necessary to feed the multitudes in 1st century Palestine. It was also used as an antiseptic, and even as the currency, Roman soldiers were paid in.
If salt were to lose its saltiness, become dissipated or diluted, a very important commodity was lost. And then, you might as well throw it out on the ground and let people trample it, Jesus said.
And so, with this image, Jesus calls us, to be salt – a salt that doesn’t lose its potency, but remains tasty and valuable. To be salt – like it is for the food chain – a salvation for the world.
And then Jesus also said, ‘you are the light of the world.’ Don’t hide your lamp underneath a big bushel-basket, shutting it off from the world! You must put your lamp on the lampstand where it can light up the whole house. (Or course, compared to us, they had rather small houses, two millennia ago!)
I’m calling you to a high calling, says Jesus. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. …For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
It’s a wonder that anyone is a follower of Jesus! What, with Jesus’ railing against Jerusalem’s leadership and accusing them of hypocrisy – on the one hand. And then this, holding all the rest of us, to the impossible standards, of the Sermon on the Mount!
How can we – today’s disciples – fulfill the law and the prophets?
Barbara Lundblad understood the difficulty of this passage, when she commented recently: “For Jesus, salt and light came out of a long tradition of biblical teaching: salt and light were images for the law of God. Salt and light must take us back to the fullness of the law and the prophets, and the fullness of Jesus’ radical teaching in this Sermon on the Mount. The prophets plead for fullness of life: freedom from oppression, bread for the hungry, homes for those who have none, clothing for the naked (as in our reading today from the prophet Isaiah).
Is this not what it means to be the salt of the earth, to keep this prophetic word alive in the midst of our world? If we lose this vision, if we give in to other values, if we forget God’s longing for justice, our salt has lost its taste.
If you think Jesus’ call is impossible, remember that the One who is our bread is with us and within us, empowering us to be salt and light in this world.” From ELCA Sundays & Seasons, 2/9/2020
God gives us the will and the tools to be salt that stays valuable, and light that shines brightly in our world. So it is not us who do it – but God in us. Like the bread of Holy Communion that we chew and take in, God is with us, and within us, always.
And this gives us the room and confidence we need to be salty-lights! – for our God is big enough to enter all our realities, all our good days and bad ones too. God’s gift of love and grace is unending, in Christ’s empting himself for the life of the world.
This is captured well, I think, in a recent meditation by Kat Banakis, “Sometimes the worst things that we can imagine actually do happen, and when they do there are moments when we do indeed lose our saltiness and the light goes out. There are moments when we are in need of basic care, when we are not up to showing up and certainly could not imagine leading the revolution. … sometimes we are hungry and thirsty just to get through the day. In those moments, we need one another to nurse us back to life, singing songs when we cannot make a sound on our own behalf. … Sometimes we need to let rage and sadness enter (to speak their truth) and to sit with those inevitable realities as well.” Kat Banakis CC, January 21, 2020
We cannot always be the light for the world. Sometimes, we are the oppressed and downtrodden Jesus loves, just where we are. Sometimes our health lets us down, whether we’re young or old, and we cannot be the light and salt we so desperately want to be. Sometimes we try and we fail, and we are afraid of God’s judgement. Sometimes we are not strong enough to speak up against the injustices we see all around us. Sometimes we cannot imagine leading the revolution Jesus calls us to.
But that’s when our community of faith steps up for us – and we know they’re our community when we can ask them! That’s when we become the Body of Christ together, one the feet, another the eyes, another the ears, and so on – and we learn to wrestle with our value, as salt and light together, led by the Spirit.
And, after this past week, we need each other more than ever! We now know (some would say, once again!) that the bones of our social fabric, the salt of our elected leaders, have truly lost their saltiness, and it’s left – I’m guessing – a bad taste in our mouths. Our Constitutional rule of law has been put under a bushel – its light has lost its luster. The separation of powers, of our government, has been made a mockery of.
Now we know, we have ourselves, alone – the communities God has given us – to trust. We have the high calling of being God’s lights in the world, of being salty and valuable, for the sake of Christ’s mission, in our neighborhoods, and country, and world. “For truly I tell you,” said Jesus, “until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
‘Let your light’ – our light – ‘shine [for the world], so that they may see y/our good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.’ We are valuable! And as God’s people, we have a calling that only we can accomplish together – a mission that God will work through us, for us, and with us – Christ’s mission of righteousness and justice, that is announcing the arrival of the kingdom of heaven – in our midst!