Monday, February 10, 2014

Salt & Light

Matthew 5:13-16

Perhaps some of you tuned into the debate that was held this past week between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on creation versus evolution. I will leave you each to decide your own views. When I was asked who I thought won my answer was something like, “does it really matter?” Obviously both camps would and have declared their proponent to be the winner unequivocally. The beginning of today’s homily will give you a clue as to my own thoughts regarding the intersection of science and faith, but ultimately you are free to disagree with me. I truly mean that.

Somewhere between four and four hundred million years ago (crystal clear, of course) it is believed the very first tetrapods began to crawl out of the salty ocean waters and took up residence on dry land. It was from these bizarre and daring creatures that I believe, in time, God would form, shape and allow you and I to evolve into the creatures we are today. Salt is an absolute essential, especially for humanity and all living organisms in the circle of life, it allows our cells to function properly and sustains us. Salt continues to keep us living and evolving and, God willing, will do so for millions of years to come if learn to truly cherish our Mother Earth and the life it gives to us. Our ancestry reminds us of our dependency, truly our very existence, based upon the salty waters of the ocean which first brought us forth and continue to sustain us with all of God’s amazing creation. 

Today in our Gospel reading Jesus declares we are the salt of the earth. Most of us have heard this passage a hundred times over the course of our life. Typically we believe it is a divinely mandated call to greater evangelism, to making people uncomfortable with the Gospel, much as salt stings in an open wound, or becoming the most annoying Christian we can possibly be. Many of us have also felt the fear of loosing our salvation, our place in God’s eye, when we hear the phrase, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored…it is no longer good for anything but is thrown out.” I am here today to ask you to take all these ideas, these fears and deposit them in the trash can because the message Jesus shares with us is something wholly and completely different. 

First, we must understand the stage Jesus is using. This passage is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount and follows the Beatitudes. For a quick reminder the Beatitudes are a summary of promises made to those who walk in righteousness, doing good acts for the world around them and enduring their suffering with a spirit of love rather than allowing themselves to turn toward a  spirit of hatred.  So it is to these people, the poor, the grieving, the humble, those hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and reviled, whom Jesus now states, “You are the salt of the earth.” To those of us here who are wounded, grieving, humble or hungering for peace Jesus also states, “You are the salt of the earth.” 

Notice Jesus does not ask us to somehow become the salt of the earth through conversion or ritual but tells us we already are. How can this be? How is it that his audience, and those of us with kindred hearts today, are being equated with a compound that is essential to the continuation of life? The answer is simple. Because they were people living honestly and authentically and hopefully we are too. They were people who knew what it was like to have financial wows, to watch a loved one die or endure sickness, to witness war and feel the heartbreak it brings. It takes a messy human being doing their best to live in a messy world to be the salt of the earth. 

Salt brings forth life and the greatest way that we bring life to one another is though honesty and interaction with the world around us. The Beatitudes are all about interactions with difficult situations and tragic ordeals and the blessed outcome that occurs if we continue to live gracefully no matter the cost, no matter the sense of impossibility, knowing that ultimately peace and comfort will arrive and laughter will once again become ours. It is to the messy people that God promises the kingdom of heaven, laughter, peace and eternal life.

Salt was once an extremely expensive item and a huge driving force in commerce. Salt was the creator of empires and often the death of slaves who were forced to mine it in unhealthy conditions. Containers of salt even held prestigious positions on dining room tables and you could tell a person’s perceived value by their location to the salt bowl. During Jesus’s time salt was not available for a dollar in the local grocery store, it was a symbol of status and the poor would often give most of what they had in order to obtain just a small amount. It is these people who Jesus calls ‘salt,’ equating them with one of the finest possessions of the day. Today it would be like Jesus calling us pure gold or flawless diamonds. Jesus was reaffirming to his audience that their suffering, their tears, their pain was not in vain but truly made them the most valuable human beings on earth. 

We are also warned that the cost of giving up our ability to truly live life results in our saltiness being lost and our ability to be a profitable member of society ceases. No, Jesus was never asking us to be an annoyance to the world in an attempt to force others to agree with our faith outlooks, he was simply asking us to never stop living, to never stop interacting, to never stop loving. The greatest gift we can give to others is to be honest to ourselves and to be honest in the situations we face. Yes, you are the salt of the earth, you are the sustainer of life for another with each and everyday that you choose to wake up and go into the world being beacon of authenticity. 

Jesus goes on in our Gospel reading to also say, “You are the light of the world.” As we continue to travel through the season of Epiphany until the Sunday before Lent begins, we continue to hear this idea of light and God. We have been told that Jesus is the light of the world but today Jesus turns to us and says YOU are the light of the world! Once again keep in mind, he is speaking to the same people who have endured all sorts of hardships in life and yet declares them to be light in the darkness. He goes even further to encourage them to never hide their light, their authenticity, under a basket but to display it for all the world. 

To Jesus it isn’t the people who have an easy-breezy, mess free life that are salt and light but the ones who have endured and are enduing some of the toughest of times. Isn’t this a wonderfully counter cultural message to what is often heard in faith communities today? We are told by so many preachers to always smile, to show how much Jesus has done for you, to essentially put on a “faith show” in attempt to lure people into the good news. You have to wonder what good news can be found in a call to be fake, to deny your feelings and to parade around as something you aren’t? I believe absolutely nothing and from what Jesus has told us today, I think, he would agree with me. Jesus never once calls us to be fake, instead he praises our ability to be real. 

Jesus is attempting to get us to accept the reality that the light is already within each of us who live on this earth striving day after day to simply be. Nancy Rockwell, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, made this powerful statement concerning today’s Gospel: 
“The divinity we need in our powerlessness, Jesus says, we already have and already are.” 
Imagine that! In the midst of all life’s battles that seem to be epically hopeless at times, Jesus reminds us that the power we need is already within us, it is us! Yes, God allowed you and I to crawl out of the ocean and be fashioned in God’s own image with all the power and blessing that contains. When we accept that we are salt, we are light, then we will begin to fully experience the blessings the Beatitudes promise us. It is then, that we will become a hope to the world around us. Not through putting on a charade of happiness or through denial of of the messes we encounter, but through our loving interactions and the ability to continue to exist and evolve. 

So the question I leave with you, is this: Are you worth your weight in salt? 

Be honest, be you, be the salt of the earth and you have the possibility of illuminating the darkest of places because of your steadfastness to live life for real. 

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