Saturday, February 5, 2011

God's Precious Salty People

Epiphany 5/Year A/February 6, 2011

Bethesda Lutheran Church, Alexandria

Matthew 5:13-20

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“You are the salt of the earth.”

Notice, please, three things about this remarkable statement that comes to our ears from the lips of our Lord.

First, Jesus says: “You are…”

You are…the salt of the earth.

Jesus could have said: “Get serious—why don’t you?—and become the salt of the earth….or: follow these ten easy steps and make yourselves the salt of the earth.”

But Jesus didn’t launch us into a self-improvement program here. Jesus didn’t set up the Salt-of-the-Earth Transformational Leadership Institute.

No. Jesus uttered a promise. He simply announced: “You are the salt of the earth.”

It was neither a command nor a wish. Rather Jesus declared the way things already are…the way that things shall most certainly be.

Spoken by the One who was present on the first day of creation, who went to the Cross and the Grave, who has death behind him…these words are a promise we can count on: “You are the salt of the earth—no use trying to be anything else.”

…because this is God’s business, first of all. This is who God has made you to be…what God has called you to do. “Be salty, because that’s what I have made of you, that’s what I call you to be: ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ Salt is your identity. Be who you are.”

Second, Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth.”

You are not the honey of the earth, sent to sugar-coat all of life’s harsh realities.

Nor are you the pablum of the earth…you are not a bland, easy-to-digest food for babies and older folks with weak stomachs.

You are not the ointment or the WD-40 of the earth, sent to lubricate and smooth over all life’s hard edges.

Nor are you the duct tape of the earth, desperately trying to hold things together.

No. You are, rather salt.

Which, is to say: you are a force to be reckoned with.

Salt, after all, is not soft, delicate or inconsequential. Salt is—rather—a biting, bracing, reactive substance.

We should know. We’re Minnesotans, after all. We have two seasons of the year-- the season of ice and snow and road salt…to be followed soon by the season of road repair—fixing up all the damage to our highways done by the road-salt we can’t live without in this season.

Salt is a force to be reckoned with. Every living being needs salt just to survive. But we need our salt in the right quantity. Too little salt and we die. Too much salt and we also die.

Salt is a force to be reckoned with. Salt makes chemical reactions happen. Salt preserves food—keeps it from spoiling. Salt brings zip and zest to our eating. Salt makes food tangier, tastier.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says to us. You are a force to be reckoned with in the world. You are going to make a difference—whether you realize it, whether you believe it--or not.

You are catalysts for divine change, agents of God’s preferred future. Because you are present, things happen. You keep life going. It is your presence in the world as Christ’s precious salty people that, in a sense, preserves the world. God keeps the world going for the sake of the Promise you are sent to utter and live out.

You are here to make everything more interesting, more engaging, more fascinating. Your mission is to add zip and zest, to make tasty and tangy a world that can seem so bland, tedious and tasteless. You make the world sparkle with the spice of the gospel.

All of that is what Jesus is getting at when he says: “You are the salt of the earth.”

And, you know, one of the best things about salt is that it doesn’t take much to do the trick. A teaspoon of salt does wonders in a whole pot of soup. A pinch of salt transforms the flavor of a whole lump of bread-dough.

You, God’s precious salty people in Christ, have an effect on the world that is all out of proportion to your numbers in the world. Salt is like that. It only takes a teaspoon, just a pinch.

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the bigness of the planet and the hugeness of the world’s problems? Do you find yourself lamenting the fact that you’re just one person—“and what difference can one person make?”

Never mind! You are salt and salt is most effective in small quantities. Just a pinch, just a bit of salt makes all the difference in the world. God intends to use you to change, to preserve, to make more tasty the little corner of creation where God has planted you.

Third, Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth.”

Salt works only when it gets dissolved in the broth, mixed in with the stew, sprinkled on the pot roast. Salt has to get shaken out, salt needs to be scattered, salt has to lose itself to whatever dish it is being added.

When that happens, persons don’t say” “That sure is tasty salt.” No. Instead they say things like: “My this is scrumptious roast. Goodness, this is a delicious hotdish. Heavens to Betsy, this is a savory stew. My compliments to the Chef!” The salt gets lost. It “lives on” only in connection with whatever it is salting.

Salt needs to lose itself in order to be of any use.

Salt that stays hermetically sealed in the salt-cellar isn’t good for much. It may stay high and dry and “pure”…but it won’t accomplish anything. It will be useless—worthless.

I wonder if the fracas in our ELCA hasn’t gotten us overly focused on how pure we all are as salt—who is saltier, you or me? That’s always a temptation—and a danger.

Christian people who are aloof, Christians who hole up in their “mighty fortress” church buildings, pursue their “purity projects,” and never actually venture forth into God’s world aren’t good for much of anything. They may still look like salt…they may still have all the chemical properties of salt, but such salt really isn’t worth much. It’s like salt that somehow has lost its saltiness and is good only for being thrown on the ground.

You are the salt of the earth, Jesus declares to us.

Your purpose is to spend yourself, even as Christ our Lord expended himself on the Cross—to take away our sins and the sins of the whole world.

If you want to know what it means to be salt, after all, you need look no farther than your Lord Jesus Christ. He was no secluded Savior, no remote Messiah, no aloof Lord secluded safely away in a fortress—like salt hermetically sealed in a salt shaker. Jesus came among us to be expended, to be lost, to be dissolved in his calling to seek and to save the lost.

This same salty Jesus comes to say to each of us: “You are the salt of the earth.” You are salt for the world. You are most valuable when you are scattered, sprinkled, shaken out, lost—dissolved--in the world. You’re worth your weight in salt when you get close to others…especially when you get close to bland, tedious, tasteless, unsavory folks. You make them tasty by seasoning them with the Good News of Jesus Christ…for you are the salt of the earth.

On our better days, on our best days, we know that we who are Christ’s Body “live, move and have our being” for the sake of the world. Or, as one of my former pastors liked to say: “the church is the only organization that exists solely for those who aren’t members of it.”

Three astounding promises ring true and come through in this one striking sentence.

One: you are salt. God has seen to that. Salt is your identity.

Two: you are salt—not honey, not pablum, not ointment, not WD-40, not duct tape. You are a force to be reckoned with. Because of who you are in Jesus Christ, you make the world more “tangy,” you cause other persons to be more “tasty.” Because of the good news that you bear, you are the little pinch of salt that spices up all that is bland, tedious and tasteless in this world.

Three: you are the salt of the earth. It is for the sake of the world that God has sent you, just as God sent his only beloved Son. You’re here for the sake of others, here to lose yourself for others, here to be dissolved in winsome witness and self-giving service wherever God may scatter you, wherever God may send you.

For you are…the salt…of the earth.

And you have Jesus’ own word on it!

…in his name. Amen.

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