A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 9, 2020
Today we heard the famous gospel passage, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can saltiness be restored?” from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
I had some hands on experience with salt this week. I’ve been doing some Spring Cleaning at home, and I found a box dated 2008 that my parents left in our garage when they downsized to senior living. It was filled with bottles of spices wrapped carefully in newspaper.
My Mom collected a lot of spices over the years but she really didn’t use them much in her meat and potatoes style of cooking, so there was a lot left in each bottle. All the herbs had lost their flavor, so I emptied out them out.
There was also a carton of Morton’s salt in the box. Of all the seasonings wrapped up the garage for ten years, the salt was the only one that still had flavor.
It made me think as I studied today’s text, can salt lose its flavor? What does it mean to be the “salt of the earth?”
It helps to examine salt for a few moments.
“Salt, A World History” by Mark Kurlansky, is one of my favorite non-fiction books. It looks at the history of civilization through the lens of salt.
Among many things, salt is a natural preservative. Salting fish, meat, and preserving vegetables by pickling them with salt was one of the only ways to preserve food before refrigeration or the canning process. The Latin word for salt is sal, and so common English words like salad and salary have their origins in salt. The Romans salted their vegetables, which gave us the word Salad. Roman soldiers were paid partly in salt, which brought us the word salary.
Salt is elemental to life. A human body contains about 250 grams of salt, which would fill about three or four salt shakers, but we are constantly losing it through bodily functions, so everyday we need to replace this lost salt in the right balance.
Salt shows up time and again in the Bible. Remember how Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom; Sodom was near the Dead Sea, famous for its black salt.
Salt is a symbol of the eternal nature of God’s covenant with Israel. In the Book of Numbers, it’s written, “It is a covenant of salt forever, before the Lord.” As a preservative, salt symbolizes the eternal agreement between God and God’s people. On Shabbat, Jews dip the bread in salt, which symbolizes the keeping of the covenant. We can see how Jesus’ uses salt as a symbol of constancy and covenant to teach faithful discipleship in our passage today.
Salt is constant, and at the same time, it’s capable of change. It can move from crystal to brine and back to crystal; and when it’s used to preserve food, it transforms the food into a self-stable product. Perhaps Jesus also sees salt as a transformational agent as well as a symbol of constancy.
Jesus pairs the image of salt with the image of light to talk about discipleship and how to share the knowledge and love of God.
Like salt, light also changes. It shines, it dims, it reveals. Like salt, light has an eternal quality.
Kurlansky writes in “Salt, A World History, that “from the beginning of civilization until about one hundred years ago, salt was one of the most sought after commodities in human history.” I think this is important to remember as we consider what Jesus says to us today.
In a world where we salt is just another kitchen staple we occasionally buy at Safeway, we can easily miss Jesus’ point that salt is valuable. If we are salt, and salt is precious, we are precious, we are valuable. We do not need to become a better person to be salt, to prove ourselves in some way. We ARE the salt of the earth.
Think of the people Jesus spoke to originally. They were downtrodden, they were poor, they were people who needed hope. And Jesus says that they are the salt of the earth, that God loves them. He sends them out as bearers of the Gospel, and bearers of God’s light in the world. He.’s speaking to us, too.
As I mentioned earlier, the carton of salt in the box of faded spices earlier this week was still salty after ten years. I ended up putting it on my kitchen shelf with my collection of spices because salt is salt, and doesn’t go bad. And I expect we’ll sprinkle it on food as we cook, and it will enhance and bring out the good flavor of whatever we make.
The old-fashioned label on Morton’s salt has the motto, “When it rains it pours,” which reminded me that salt needs to be poured out, it needs to be used to do its flavorful work.
By calling us salt, Jesus tells us that our saltiness is meant to be poured out in the world. Here’s our passage in the modern translation called “The Message”:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavor of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness…You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept.
Today’s passage also made me think about who we are as a parish in transition, and it made me thankful that we at All Saints’ are a salty, well-seasoned! We’re really flavorful, even spicy. That’s going to bode well for us as we move into the next faze of our interim period. That is Good News!
This morning I want to acknowledge that this has been a difficult week for those of us invested in the health and wholeness of our country. It is tempting to retreat and hide from the news; it’s understandably tempting to be weary and jaded, and to check out. But I think our passage about salt is timely in several ways.
For me this week, remembering my own God-given saltiness gives me courage to stay engaged, to mourn, and also to hope. With God’s help I will continue to live into my saltiness, my values as a liberal Christian. Our saltiness, our Gospel values and standards of behavior and ethics are needed more than ever. Please do not despair.
It’s Good News that our ancient story that we tell over and over is one of brokenness and healing, death and resurrection. In our passage from the Isaiah this morning we heard God calling God’s people to listen to the Lord, and promise that when they do, “they will be like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. You shall be called the repairer of the breach.” And in the reading from First Corinthians, we hear Paul speak of God’s wisdom which we have and the rulers of this world do not have. Paul ends profoundly with, “We have the mind of Christ.”
We’re called to be the salt, the light, the mind of Christ. The world needs us. Amen.