Some thoughts on ministry, a collection of sermons, theological musings and of course, random thoughts.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Don't Forget the Salt
The other day I happened upon a website called, “Chowhound: A forum for those who love to eat.” A woman had come to the forum with a question and her post read like this, “I made some regular white sandwich bread yesterday and only realized this morning when I had my first piece of toast that I forgot to add salt. You can imagine that it's not very tasty - even slathering it with salted butter and honey didn't do much to fix the problem. Any ideas for what to do with 2 loaves of unsalted bread?”
She forgot the salt. I sympathized with her- this sounds exactly like something I would do. Those of you who bake- have you ever forgotten the salt? It seems like a minor omission to forget the salt- but even if you forget the pinch that the recipe calls for your creation just tastes off somehow. The woman on Chowhound couldn’t even compensate for her salt oversight by adding salted butter. There is a quality to salt that cannot be ignored- it seasons; it adds flavor.
The use of salt, as well as the use of light is a universal human experience. Even if you exist on a simple diet, and even if you only ever see the light of the sun- you know the experience of being without salt or light. The commonality of this experience with salt and light is what makes this such a powerful metaphor to use as Jesus teaches those gathered on the side of the mountain that day. I have to make a confession here- I said that Jesus was using a set of metaphors- do you realize what that means? This means in a sermon series of parables- I have cheated and slipped in a metaphor instead. What is the difference? As I understand it, parables usually have a story to them, not a factual story- but a story with characters, and plot and action. Today what we have is a metaphor- Jesus comparing his audience to something else.
Let’s talk a little bit about that audience. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is really addressing his disciples, those twelve followers that he is trying to educate in the short time he has on the earth. However, as with everything Jesus did, he drew a crowd when he started preaching. Jesus is addressing his disciples, but as the action in the Gospel story progresses, this becomes an increasingly larger and larger number of people. Jesus has just shared with the crowd the Beatitudes, those statements about what kind of people are blessed. He has lifted up the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. With these words Jesus is forming a community. He is giving his followers instructions on how to live by telling them what kind of people are blessed in the Kingdom of God.
Next, Jesus goes on to tell them what kind of people they already are. I want you to hear these words this morning and realize that they are just as much for you as they were for the audience on the hillside. When Jesus says “you are…” he means- you! You, sitting there in your pew this morning. You, who hopped out of bed, excited to come to church this morning, and you who wouldn’t have come if a family member didn’t drag you here. These words are for YOU. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If you hear nothing else I say this morning then hear that YOU are God’s beloved and you have already earned your status as salt and light to the world. As my pastor from home is so fond of saying, “God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
However, Jesus wasn’t just talking to you as an individual, he was talking to you all (yes, that’s right, Jesus was talking to ya’ll). Jesus is speaking to his followers in a communal sense. You all are the light of the world; you all are the salt of the earth; you all are a city on a hill. Let me explain the difference between you and ya’ll. On our first choir rehearsal together, Matt reminded us about singing together as a choir. He told us that singing, as a choir is different than a bunch of people singing together at the same time. Singing as a choir means we are working together to produce the sound that is written in the music. This means there are times when we sing softly together and times when we sing loudly together. We all have to start at the same time and rest at the same time and end at the same time if we are singing as a choir. Otherwise- we’re just a group of people holding the same music, singing the same notes, but singing as individuals. When we sing as a choir, you shouldn’t be able to pick out one person’s voice above another’s.
Jesus is speaking to a group of followers. We are not all the same, but we mix together to become the beloved community of God. Collectively, we are the salt that adds seasoning to the world. Together, we are a beacon of light in a dark and hurting world. As a group, we are a city on a hill. Jesus is saying that we already are all these things. We don’t have to earn them, or become them- we are salt and light. We are an example to the world.
If we study Jesus’ teachings at all- we know how to be salt and light. We catch glimpses in his sermons and his stories. We become salt when we love others- even if we are not supposed to love them according to the world’s standards. We become light when we make peace with our neighbors, when we act in humility and when we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We, First Christian Church, are a city on a hill when we live up to our mission statement that says, “We celebrate Christ’s unconditional love by welcoming, loving, serving and teaching all.”
The next part of Jesus’ preaching is a warning. This is not simply a feel-good sermon. Jesus’ point was not for his followers to leave feeling puffed up and proud. There are some warnings that go with being salt to earth and light to the world. Salt, Jesus says can loose its saltiness. Light, when covered by a bowl or a basket can be hidden from those who need it. When you have to take the ethics that Jesus taught and apply them in an imperfect world, there is a danger of loosing the very essence of who you are. There is a risk of losing your saltiness, and your light. We live in a world of achievement, where it is not easy to be humble and meek. We live in a world where justice often times means vengeance and punishment instead of peacemaking. We live in a world where it is easier to welcome into our lives those who are just like us, rather than those whose culture, or skin tone or religion we don’t understand. Do you see how easy it is to live in the world and let the light of Christ dim inside you? Do you see how easy it to loose your saltiness and not taste quite right? Jesus is issuing a warning! He is saying, “I have told you how to live, how to be a city on a hill, how to be the kingdom of God, but it won’t be easy! You’re going to get out there in the world and forget! Don’t forget the salt!”
The world needs to experience the love of God. The world needs us to leave here today and not forget what we have been taught by our great teacher, Jesus- the light of the world. The world needs us to be a city on a hill- with all the humility and love we can muster. Jesus needs us not to forget the salt. On occasion it becomes essential that the Christian community not fail to be salt and light for the world. There was a preacher in Nazi Germany around 1936 who preached a sermon on this very topic. About two weeks before his incarceration in a concentration camp, Martin Niemoller spoke to his congregation about the importance of speaking out against the injustice they saw all around them. He told his congregation about how crucial it is that they actually become the salt of the earth. He said, “Our responsibility is not how we shall pass on the salt, but 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 it for His purposes.”
Niemoller spoke to his congregation about the importance of being salt and light in the face of the imprisonments and killings that were going on around them because he feared he might not be able to do it the next Sunday. At great personal risk, Niemoller did not let the salt loose its saltiness- he spoke out even when he knew it would result in persecution by the Third Reich. What is it that we are risking by being afraid to be salt and light in our world? Who needs us to speak for them? Who needs us to love them, and show God’s love to them? One of Niemoller's most famous quotes goes something like this, “In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me- but by that time there was not one left to speak up.”
Who do you need to speak up for? Who do you need to speak a kind word to? Is there someone in your life you can go out of your way to share the light of God’s love with? That is your challenge this week: find someone who is hurting, broken or who simply cannot speak for themselves and share the light of God with them. Listen to them and allow them to tell you their story as well. Take the time to let someone else know that they are they light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Tell them, “God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it!” Friends, it is so true- God loves each and everyone one of us so much that Jesus was sent to remind us that we are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our job is to go out into the world and make sure others can see in our attitudes and our actions that we not about to let the salt loose its saltiness. There is no way that we will forget the salt! Amen and Amen.