Please Pass The Salt

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Sunday, February 6, 2011, Epiphany 5, Year A
Isaiah 58: 1-9a [9b-12]; Psalm 112.1-9; 1 Cor. 2.1-12 [13-16]; Matt. 5.13-20
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

Grace to you and peace from the One who declares us to be salt and light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How many times in your life have you asked the question or heard it said, “Please pass the salt.” Or…”Anybody got a light?” These are common phrases with common words. Today we hear Jesus telling his disciples that they are in fact salt and light, not only individually but together as people. What does this mean?

Well, what I know about salt is that when you add it to foods it generally makes them taste better and almost every recipe I have ever done requires at least a little bit of salt. It makes certain dishes come alive and enhances flavor that is already part of what’s cooking. Salt also preserves and if you have a lot of it, it makes you thirsty. You can even put salt in wounds, believe it or not. “Putting salt in a wound” has been a common phrase with generally a negative connotation because it stings so dang much, but I decided to look up whether or not it was actually good to put salt in a wound. Sure enough, with the trusty old internet, I had my answer in five seconds. The answer is yes. It not only prevents infections, it also enhances healing.    Info about salt

It is certainly curious that Jesus tells his disciples that they are salt, a common everyday thing that everyone knows about, yet has great purpose in its many functions and necessity in this world. Followers of Jesus, as salt, are to bring a different flavor to the world other than what is so commonly seen, are to bring out to good things that are already in the world, and are to be a source of healing in the wounds of creation and humanity. Followers of Jesus, as light, are to shine light in the darker places that are filled with fear and pain. “You are!’ Jesus says. Not, you might be. Not, you can be a member of the kingdom if you do this or that. Not, you should strive to be. Simply, you are (Richard Jensen, Preaching Matthew’s Gospel, p. 77)!”

Please pass the salt.
Anybody got a light?

I have three/four different examples for you this morning on how to think about being salt and light for the earth and world. Now I have to have a disclaimer on how I will be using “earth” and “world.” Today I’m going to refer to them in their brokenness, in other words, what’s not right in the world. I am certainly not implying that the earth (or world) is bad because it is in fact God’s good creation; I am, however, recognizing the realities we face as we live in the world.

Okay, example #1:

I’m sure many of you have heard this week about the up-rising, protesting, and chaos that Egypt is in right now. Tens of thousands of people have poured into the streets to protest corruption in a government that has left people in poverty for a very long time. Many people have died and many have left the country if it was in their power to do so. Bullets, tear gas and death are common on the streets of Cairo right now. This is the earth. This is the world.   What's happening in Egypt

Please pass the salt.
Anybody got a light?

There are 2 missionaries with North Dakota connections that were living in Cairo and have recently been evacuated. In an e-mail to our Synod, they wrote these words about Christians who remained in Egypt: “A call to the seminary in Cairo this morning told us that seminary president Dr. Atef, academic dean Dr. Magdi, and the other staff have joined the patrol of the nearby streets to insure security, and they are very tired but hopeful for a good result. We felt bad to leave them behind. Join us in keeping them in your prayers.”

Instead of joining the violence taking place or hiding in their homes, Dr. Atef and Dr. Magdi take to the streets to work for peace, adding a different flavor of courage to what is going on all around them. And we who are here, pray. They are a bold edge of salt for a stew of violence; a light for the darkness in chaos.

Example #2:

I recently read a story about an Alaskan Native, Susie Delgado, who grew up hearing racial slurs. She felt unwelcome at Anchorage High School because she wasn’t allowed to speak her native tongue and she wasn’t white. Racism exists and corrupts humanity. This is the earth. This is the world.

Please pass the salt.
Anybody got a light?

Now that Susie’s grandchildren are going to school she wanted something different for them and other Native Alaskans. “With the help of her community and her congregation, Anchorage Faith and Action – Congregations Together was formed.” Alaskan natives were finally able to voice their stories and their pain to public officials and be heard in order that lasting change could happen. Susie and Anchorage Faith and Action are healing salt for the wounds of racism; light for the darkness in the face of oppression.   Susie Delgado's story

Example #3:

Many of you sitting in the pews today are here because you have some junk going on in your lives. You have been hurt by people who are supposed to love you and you in turn have hurt others too. Perhaps even you have felt betrayed or hurt by people of faith. People hurt each other and often times it is the people we love the most. This is the earth. This is the world.

Please pass the salt.
Anybody got a light?

Today we will be blessing 46 quilts that were received from different congregations throughout Lutheran churches in North Dakota. They were hand made by people who care about you, who want you to feel their prayers of health and healing for you, who want to see you have a new beginning. We all desire for you to feel the love and presence of God in your life. Therefore, when you leave this place and go back to your families and communities we will give you a quilt. We hope that the quilt you receive will be a symbol of God’s love for you and the people of North Dakota who continue to love, accept, and pray for you.

Example #4:

One year ago today, my husband Ben was laid in the ground after being killed in the Haiti earthquake. People we love die. This is the earth. This is the world.

Please pass the salt.
Anybody got a light?

Not long after Ben was buried I received a quilt from Florida. It was made by a group of women from Spirit of Grace Lutheran Church. The note that came with it read: “This quilt was made for you in memory of Ben. It symbolizes the hope we have in the cross of Christ. Each tie on the quilt is a prayer of comfort, healing, joy, hope, and love for you. May you feel our prayers and the loving arms of God around you through this difficult journey.” Healing salt for the wounds of grief; a light for the darkness in loneliness.

Here's the deal: we cannot live through this life and all of the trials it brings without the Church to be salt for our wounds and light for our darkness. I know an awful lot of you are going through some tough times right now. And yet we carry and proclaim hope to one another and then in turn, the world.

In the book, Traveling Mercies, author Ann Lamott quotes her pastor who said:

This is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken—those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. The world sometimes feels like a waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers (p. 106).

When Jesus talks about the “city built on a hill that cannot be hid (Matt. 5.14),” he is talking about the Church. And when I say the “Church,” I want to make it absolutely clear that I mean people, human beings, real people, who try their darndest to follow Jesus and shine the light given to them. I don’t mean a building with nice stain glass windows. I mean real, baptized, chalk full of gifts human beings, complete with brokenness and sin…the Church. And guess what: whether we like it or not, we’re it.

The good news is that being salt and being light is not a reliance upon one’s self to always be these things in the world, especially if you are the one really hurting. In baptism we give a lit candle to the newly baptized and then we say the very words from our Gospel reading today: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5.16).”

When the candle is given it is already lit, symbolizing the light of Christ that is already shining in their life. One doesn’t need to light the candle themselves or even keep it going. The task at hand is not to keep the candle lit…Jesus does that…but rather, it is to make sure it doesn’t get hidden by bushel baskets, which can be anything from materialism, to selfish desires, to fear. We are to do our best to not let our salt lose its flavor by going to worship and being fed each week with hope and new life.

Martin Niemoller, a pastor during WWII, writes this in one of his sermons: “We are to see that the salt really is and continues to be salt, so that the Lord Jesus Christ – who is, as one might say, the cook in charge of this great brew – can utilize the salt for His purposes.”   Martin Neimoller's Sermon

We are the salt; we are the light; we are the city on a hill that cannot be hid. This is who and what we are and the world needs us to act like it. It definitely needs some ‘flavoring up’ with all the bad tasting stuff in the world. It needs healing for its wounds and light in its dark places. It needs a bright city of refuge and strength, to find rest and renewal for the people who walk on it.

You are the light of the world, so shine where you are. You are the salt of the earth, so be a healing balm for those who are hurting, all the while knowing that Jesus is your salt and your light. Thanks be to God.