February 5, 2017
5th Sunday after Epiphany, Communion Sunday
“Blessing and Responsibility”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Because of this morning’s scripture passage, I thought it would be appropriate to begin this message with a joke or two about salt. But when I Googled “salt jokes,” I found a lot of references to chemistry, and I was reminded once again why I went into music rather than nursing. I and all those -orides and odiums and fancy endings like that just don’t get along all that well.
It was not a search in vain, however, in that I discovered a rather new vernacular meaning of the word “salt.” According to funnycaptions.com, nowadays, “when someone is salty, it means they are bitter, upset or agitated and is generally used as an insult. A person can be salty for any reason: like about a comment made or an unfortunate end to a romantic relationship. That definition, however, is not necessarily helpful in-regards to this morning’s scripture that references salt as a good thing. But it may help you when in conversation with a young person or reading graffiti.
So I went looking for light jokes. Naturally lightbulb jokes came up, but if you think about it, so many of those jokes come with the price tag of stereotyping, and in today’s culture, I am trying harder to be sensitive to things that may not be funny to everyone. Except that there was the one about how many computer programmers does it take to change a lightbulb. How many, you wonder? None. It is a hardware problem. But again, if you don’t have a friendship with computers, it’s not even remotely funny. Some days you win, other days you are boring.
For those who haven’t been here the last couple weeks, the Lectionary has been visiting the book of Matthew, and last week it was the verses commonly referred to as the Beatitudes - the “Blessed are” verses. The Beatitudes are a smaller part of Jesus’ most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount; that mount being northwest of the Sea of Galilee. Immediately following the Beatitudes are the verses for this morning.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Fulfillment of the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Thank you, Bill. For most of our lives, a reference to the “salt of the earth” has been taken as a compliment. These are the people thought to be down-to-earth, fundamentally good, reliable, straightforward persons. That phrase was probably derived - in part - from the fact that salt is the only mineral that we human beings take directly from the earth and eat. Without it, food is not only less interesting, we would die.
Historically, some cultures exchanged salt as money, the earliest roads were built to transport salt, the earliest taxes were levied on it, and whole military campaigns were launched to secure salt. Salt gave Venice its start as a commercial trading empire in Europe and it helped Gandhi bring India to independence in the mid-twentieth century. Besides helping cheese to ripen and preserve meat, too much salt for some individuals can be deadly. It’s an interesting and vital point, that Jesus did not say to become salt but that by virtue of being a disciple, each of us IS salt. The same is true of Jesus’ reference to us being light.
The thing about salt is that it does no good unless it is used. Having a shaker of salt next to the stove will not season the pot. Nor can you put all the salt in one part of your concoction. It has to be stirred into the mix. It makes our “being” salt less opportunistic and more significant.
Jesus talks about salt losing its saltiness. Actually, under all the layers of translation, in Greek Jesus wonders about salt becoming moronos, from which we derive our English word “moron,” or “fool.” If salt becomes foolish, Jesus asks, then what good is it?
While all this talk about salt may make us crave a few potato chips or pretzels, it is one thing to know our identity as salty lights. It is completely another thing to live out that identity.
Karoline Lewis of workingpreacher.org suggests that our default settings are probably more geared toward comfort, conformity, and complacency when what Jesus really needs from us is to be the salt and the light—the salt that just might sting and the light that just might expose what we do not want to see. When I read that statement, I thought, “Oh, great!” as I am generally lazy and not wanting to cause irritation.
Then Ms. Lewis said, “What if Jesus’ intention was for us as disciples to imagine and live into a righteousness that makes the kingdom of heaven possible? If this is true, no wonder Jesus tells this to his disciples from the beginning. They will need the rest of the Gospel to make sense of and embrace such a request.”
When Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” his reference to the Law was not only the Ten Commandments, but all the other parts of the Old Testament that were intended to help others and keep the peace, which hasn’t work as well as maybe even God figured. His reference to the Prophets was not only about the prediction of a coming Messiah, but of his fulfillment of that prophecy. His fulfillment of those references comes in his later words in Matthew, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” and all the hungry are fed, the thirsty receive drink, strangers are welcomed, people are clothed, the sick are tended and prisoners are visited. When Jesus ends his comments in Matthew 25, and we hear him say “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” we get a better idea of just how important our tiny grain of salt and our little light is.
I had thought to give each person here today a tiny stub of a candle, probably those little ends of Christmas Eve candles, as a means of reminding all of us of the importance of our “lights,” no matter how small that light. But then I figured that I really needed to add to those lights, lighters, and it got a lot more complicated than I could even mentally handle. But as you take the bread, that has salt in it, and the “wine” that was grown with sunlight, to fortify you in being the salt and light for those around us, we become fortified for others needing those things from us.
Whether they are religious or not, known or unknown, political issues or not, each of us has things that we deal with, things that can isolate and cause monsters to grow from such isolation. When we share our light and salt, the kingdom of heaven becomes more of a reality in this world, in our here and now, giving us glimpses into the beauty and glory of the kingdom of heaven in eternity.
Ms. Lewis is right. To be so blessed as to be light and salt carries an important blessing and responsibility to us and others. And sometimes we get tired in bearing those blessings. Sometimes our hearts and souls need tending to weed out the things that threaten to overgrow or overtake the blessings. God gave us this meal, to give us sustenance and reminders of who we are and to whom we belong. So let us prepare our hearts, clear our minds and open the windows and doors to our hearts, to let the Holy Spirit drift in with the sweet breeze of love and forgiveness and mercy and grace.
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, thank you for an early spring cleaning of our hearts and minds and souls. Forgive us, God, when we are tired and comfortable and not wanting to go out of our ways for those who need us to be a little uncomfortable. Thank you for the blessings you give us, and help us to remember the responsibility that goes along with them, to raise those around us and our own selves. We are grateful for this gift of food and drink, that mean so much more than their elemental states, the reminder of your sacrifice for us, and the depth and height of your love for each and every soul. For each and every blessing, each and every soul, each and every heart, all your people say, Amen.