Salt (Sermon for January 27, 2019)

A long time ago—before I was your pastor, before I was a fundraiser, before I even went to seminary—I was a cook. I worked in a little upscale restaurant in a midsize college burg. And while we were never going to win a Michelin star, we were pretty good. And while I’m never going to win a James Beard award, I’mpretty good.

And I know a couple of things about salt.

First, I know that salt goes in everything. A dish without salt is a dish without flavor.

Grilling meat? Salt. Pepper. Sear.

Roasting asparagus? A drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper (and, if you want, garlic and parmesan). Four hundred and twenty-five degrees for about fifteen minutes.

Making pasta? Boiling water. Pasta. Salt. More. More than that. You’re not quite trying to cook pasta in the Mediterranean, but an eight quart stock pot can take about a quarter cup of salt.

Salt goes in everything.

Second. I know that salt goes in early.

If you add the salt as you finish a dish, you end up with a strong salty flavor wherever the salt crystals happen to be. But if you add it at the beginning, it has time to mellow out and spread throughout the dish. You get a flavor that is subtle but noticeable… and delicious.

Salt goes in everything. And salt goes in early.

In today’s reading, we are at the beginning of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Now, I have to be honest, this isn’t really a sermon. It is quite possible that Jesus never said these exact things in this exact order.

But Jesus was a teacher and a preacher. And even though it’s likely that no one remembered a whole sermon, people remembered bits and pieces. People remembered the themes and ideas that he talked about again and again. And when Matthew was writing his gospel, he put Jesus on a mountain, like Moses on Sinai, and had him say these bits and pieces in this order.

Luke does something similar. He puts Jesus on a plain, and has him say some different bits and pieces in a different order.

And I’m not pointing out just to show off how much I know about the Bible. I’m pointing that out because some of what we’re reading here is Jesus. And some of it is Matthew. And we don’t really know which is which.

But one of the things that Jesus says… is about salt.

“You are the salt of the earth;” he says, “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.”

Now, I know that Jesus wasn’t talking about grilling meat or roasting asparagus or boiling pasta or cooking anything else.

You see, in the ancient world, salt was so much more than a ubiquitous seasoning that sat on the table. It was used in food, both as a seasoning and a preservative. Newborns were rubbed with salt (something, by the way, that you should notdo). Salt was used in sacrifices.

Our word ‘salary’ even comes from the word for salt. Either because people were sometimes paid in salt, or because people were paid so that they could buy salt.

I even remember a story—and I’m sorry that I can’t remember the source—about a thief who broke into a house. He had filled his bag with precious things and began rooting through the kitchen. He stuck his hand in a jar and discovered that he was touching salt. That simple act connected him to the homeowner… and he put everything that he had taken back, and left in peace.

Salt was important. It was vital. And, “You,” he says, “are the salt of the earth.”

And salt goes in everything. And salt goes in early.

Last week, I talked about some of the things that Christianity asks us to believe: That there is a God who came to live as one of us among a dispossessed people under the rule of a great empire, who was executed by the powers of that empire and who got back up again, and who is working within us and among us to heal this broken world.

That no matter who we are, or where we are on life’s journey, or what struggles we are having, God has been there, too.

But Christianity isn’t just a list of beliefs. It’s a way of life. And there are a lot of different ideas about what that way of life should be. And Matthew gives us one vision of that way of life:

Be the salt of the earth. Be poor in spirit. Mourn for the world and its sorrows. Be meek. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Be merciful. Be pure in heart. Make peace. Stand up for righteousness and for Christ, even when the whole world is against you. Do those things—be those things—and your reward will be great in the world to come.

And, later this morning, we’re going to vote on another vision of that way of life:

Be a Christian community. Worship the God who we encounter in Jesus Christ. Welcome and celebrate all people, and call each other towards greater wholeness in God. Serve one another and the wider community. Grow together in faith and towards God’s kingdom.

Now, these aren’t mutually exclusive ways of life. We can do all of these things… and so many more. But the key thing about a way of life is that it isn’t just for an hour on Sunday morning. And it isn’t just for the few hours a week we’re in this building. It’s all the time.

We are called to be the salt of the earth when we are spending time with our family and friends. We are called to be poor in spirit when we’re arguing with our kids. We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness when we are adding something to our Amazon wish list. We are called to make peace when we are standing in the voting booth.

And, if we vote in favor of the proposed statement of identity and purpose later this morning, we are going to be called to worship God through our time at work or at school; to welcome celebrate all people when we’re sitting in traffic; to serve one another and the wider community when we’re walking downtown; and to grow together in faith in all of our interactions with each other and the world.

And that goes for all of us. There are not some of us who are called to be merciful, and others who are called to be pure in heart, and others who are called to stand up for righteousness and for Christ. We are all called to that work.

And there is not one committee that is called to take care of worship, and another that is called to welcome people, and another that is called to serve people, and another that is called to help us grow. We are all called to that work.

We are all called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world… all the time.

I’ll be honest: there are times when that’s going to be hard. There are going to be times when we fail. There are going to be times when we mess up.

There is another sermon about when we fail. It’s a brilliant sermon. It’s a classic of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach it sometime. It’s not this sermon. But I can tell you that it ends with some good news: no matter how often we fail, no matter how many times we mess up, no matter how often we feel like our salt has washed away or our light has flickered out… Jesus is there to help us get our flavor back and our candle relit.

But this sermon ends this way: you are the salt of the world. And salt goes in everything. And salt goes in early. Salt melts into the dish and brings out of the best. Salt preserves the good. Salt blesses the new. Salt seasons a sacrifice to God. Salt binds us together in peace and harmony.

And you are the salt of the world. You bring out the best. You preserve the good. You bless the new. You season a sacrifice to God. You bring people together in peace and harmony.

You can do amazing things. You can change the world. You can make the kingdom of God just a little bit bigger. You can heal this broken world.

And not just you… we.

We can do amazing things.Wecan change the world. Wecan make the kingdom of God just a little bit bigger.

By the grace of God, we can heal this broken world. Hallelujah. Thanks be to God!

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