Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” ~ Matthew 5:13
Like many young people leaving home for the first time, I never learned to cook for myself. In university I spent my first couple years in residence, and then when I was living off campus my idea of cooking was popping a can of something and heating it in the microwave or if I was really fancy on the stove top. I could make eggs and bacon for breakfast, and my one real food item that I could make was omelettes. But aside from that my repertoire was lacking.
When I got married it was more of the same, I was fortunate that at the time Bethany liked to cook, so I was off the hook for cooking duties. That all changed when she got pregnant though. She had a such an aversion to food and to the smell of cooking due to her morning sickness that the cooking duties quickly fell to me.
Now I must say I was a pretty quick study, and was soon putting together curries, and chilli and a myriad of other dishes, but there was one ingredient on the recipe list that I would almost always avoid: salt. You see growing up my father had high blood pressure, and the prevailing wisdom of the time suggested high sodium diets were to blame, so we didn’t use a ton of salt in our food and so in my young mind salt was bad for you!
I was fortunate that many of the dishes I made had other spices in them, to mask the lack of salt. This went on many years until Bethany realized what I had been doing, and set me straight on the role salt plays in cooking: it brings out flavour, it helps flavours to blend and accentuate, it balances out conflicting flavour so that the different spices and tastes wouldn’t clash but rather work together to create the right taste.
In baking enough salt can be essential to make sure the yeast and other ingredients do their job. In short salt is an essential part of the cooking process, even a little can go a long way to making a meal delicious. And yet our culture is convinced that salt is the great dietary enemy.
Funnily enough we are probably the first generation to be afraid of salt in our diets – for most of human history salt has been a seriously sought after commodity or even luxury. In some cultures, before the advent of coinage, salt was used as money. It was used to preserve food, the earliest roads were built to transport salt and wars have been fought over salt. In fact, salt is so important, that we would die without salt as it plays a vital role in our biochemistry.
And so it isn’t a surprise that Jesus uses the imagery of salt when speaking to the disciples and teaching about the kingdom of God as we heard this morning. In a continuation of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples ‘you are the salt of the earth’ – not you will become salt after years of following Jesus, not you will become salt of the earth when you are ready or want to be, but rather you are the salt right now, just as you are.
Jesus was saying that merely by virtue of being disciples, of being followers of Jesus you are salt for the earth. That means you and I here and now, are like salt for the earth. Those words apply to us here in this church, in this time and place as much as they did for Jesus’ first followers.
But what does that mean on a practical level for our lives of faith and discipleship? Well if you think back to the importance and role of salt in food then perhaps we can get a sense of what Jesus is getting at. To begin with we have the idea that salt only serves its purpose when it is mixed into the food; it doesn’t do anything to have a salt shaker next to the stove while you are cooking if you don’t shake it in and stir it into the ingredients. The proximity of the salt doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get mixed into the food you are preparing.
And so perhaps like salt, Jesus is saying that his followers, the disciples and the church which came after them, needs to be mixed into the world. They need to be involved in the world, involved with people, mixed into the cultures and societies of the world because that is how the grace-filled flavour of God gets infused in the world.
As we live our daily lives filled with the grace of God, filled with the blessings we heard just last week in the Beatitudes, then we are to be like salt bringing about the godly flavours of life which could not arise without us.
We are to be like salt helping to bring about the holy blending of people and flavours from all over the world a truth the diversity of the worldwide church, and even here at Grace Church, speaks to. We are called to celebrate the Godly gifts of people from every race and nation, and stamp out the racism, judgement and prejudice which can unfortunately and unknowingly rest in our own hearts.
We are called to be like salt helping conflicting cultures, ideologies, political allegiances and perceptions to create a just and loving society through our role as peacemakers, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness above the petty grudges and rivalries of the world.
We are called to be like salt in preserving the goodness of the gospel truth of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and welcome into the next generation and beyond – sharing with our friends, our neighbours and all around us how God’s love impacts us, and what God means to us, so that others might come to know the awesome truth in their lives as well.
Altogether this is a great responsibility that we have been entrusted with and we should see it as a privilege to be named the salt of the earth in God’s eyes – ready to be dashed and mixed in to bring about the delicious flavourful reality that the love of God brings when put into action.
But….and it’s a big one, if we are to be salt, then Jesus’ subsequent words also apply to us to and should be pretty challenging to the modern church.
Following the beautiful encouragement of calling his disciples salt of the earth, Jesus offers his disciples a warning: “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about tossing salt that had lost its taste, after all without its unique taste salt doesn’t serve the same purpose and isn’t much use in the kitchen. It no longer brings flavours together, it no longer balances out sweetness or other clashing flavours, it no longer preserves food. What good would salt and vinegar chips be, or salted caramel if the salty taste was gone?
I think that the church has often lost its own ‘saltiness’, particularly here in North America. We have lost the ability to go out into the world and let the Good News of God that we have encountered in Jesus shape our lives and actions.
We have been all too willing to buy into the lie that the world tells us: that our religious convictions are a private and personal thing, not something to talk about at a dinner party or in the office or among friends.
We have allowed our commitment to world-altering faith in Jesus Christ to be restricted to a couple of hours on a Sunday morning – leaving the rest of our lives to be shaped by the gospel of consumerism, or the gospel of the American (or Canadian) Dream, or the gospel of escapism, or a whole host of other competing gospels waiting to draw us away from the life that God intends for us and for the world.
We have all too often than become too comfortable with the people and practices we know well, building invisible walls and fences around our churches or around our church social groups in an effort to preserve our identity and keep people who look, think or act differently us from coming in and upsetting the apple cart so to speak.
We have shunned the gospel call to seek reconciliation and forgiveness and instead the history of the church is littered with church schism, the multiplication of denominations, congregations imploding over the smallest of arguments and grudges and mistrust festering where mercy and grace should be flowing.
Fortunately for us, the salt of the earth is not as easily cast away as we might cast away kitchen salt that had lost its flavour. Jesus’ words serve as a warning to us, a warning to rediscover the holy and joyous living that God invites us into. On top of that we have been blessed with the enduring power and presence of the Holy Spirit, to guide and direct us as we seek to live out our calling as salt of the earth.
Who is the salt of the earth? You are, each and everyone of you.
Go and mix into the world; Go and bring the godly flavours of love and mercy into your homes; Go and mix in the holy tastes of forgiveness and joy into every one you meet. Go and be the church in the world seeking justice, dissolving division, healing broken hearts.
Go and be the salt of the earth. Amen.
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