Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

‘You are the salt of the earth; 
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 under foot.

Salt of the earth is so well known that this saying has passed into common language.
How many times have you heard someone being referred to as ‘salt of the earth.’
We instinctively know it to mean a good person.
It has a rustic character to it.
There is no nonsense in this person.
I wonder if it has not been confused with ‘down to earth’ in many cases.

My Grandmother who I spoke of a few weeks back was a heavy smoker.
She smoked all her life.
By the time she got very ill, her doctor told her not to give up as that would cause more trouble for her than if she kept smoking.

But like any smoker, her tastebuds suffered.
The older she got, the more her food became richer, most particularly, salty.
The amount of salt she would put into or onto anything was alarming.
A stew would be nearly inedible, it was that salty.
We wondered what we could do.
There was no point telling her.
She cooked by taste. It was fine for her.
I wondered whether we could get weaker salt.
It seems you can’t.

Salt is salt.
There is no strong salt or weak salt. It is what it is.
Sure, some salt is better than others,
but in the realms of saltiness, there isn’t much difference.
Salt is salt. It is salty.

So when Jesus speaks of salt losing it’s saltiness, he means something else.
We know he is speaking a metaphor.

if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

It can’t. Salt cannot become less salty.
It can only be mixed with something else to become diluted.
This would have been a common practice in Jesus’ time.
Salt was expensive and taxed highly.
To make more profit, sellers would have mixed salt with other cheaper compounds.

Salt was mainly used for the preservation of food.
I am sure many of you can remember a time before refrigeration where the meat you bought was preserved in salt.
Imagine in Jesus time how important salt would have been.
Imagine how useless and annoying diluted salt would have been.
It would not have done its job.
It would have made meat rot quickly.
It would lead to waste and hunger.

So if we are to be salt of the earth, we are not be diluted.

This kind of talk always worries me.
We have all heard about the dangers of worldliness,
being in the world and not of the world,
and they are quite right.

But there is a tendency to want to separate the church from the world.
This leads to cult like behaviour and self righteous holier than thou behaviour.

Jesus means we are not to let the worlds, or the power’s influence change what it is to be one of his followers.

Remembers salt’s use as a preserver.

If it loses this ability,

It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot

Followers of Jesus are to the element in the world that keeps it wholesome and stop it from decaying.

If a follower of Jesus fails to represent the character and spirit of Christ in the world, they are useless.

So we ask ourselves what is Christlike behaviour and action,
and what is going to water those down?

In our time and place,
I see two major elements that can cause our saltiness to be diluted.
A lack of love for our neighbour, and a lack of peace in our lives.

If we cease to love our neighbour, we cease to be the body of Christ in our world.
Nothing can dilute our Christian behaviour more than a lack of love for those who are suffering.
We don’t need to define who is our neighbour and who isn’t: all are.
An act of selflessness and compassion toward someone we do not know is an act of Christlike behaviour.
What will dilute that is seeing someone as not our neighbour,
as someone we need not care for.

Secondly, our need to be busy and be caught up in the rhythm of the world.
When our minds are filled with ‘to do lists’ so there is no time for peace, we lose our saltiness.
Time spent in stillness and silence, praying, contemplating, meditating help us to keep our saltiness.
Quiet allows us to focus on what God wants of us, not the world.

St Paul tells us:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

It is that spirit that makes us the salt of the world. It is that spirit that makes us understand what the salt is and how we are to keep it from dilution.

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