February 5, 2017
Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12
“Pass the Salt”
There is an old story of a Norwegian who was visiting the United States and was amazed by what he found in grocery stores. He wrote his family at home saying, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk. All you do is add water and you get milk. On my second trip I saw a package of powdered orange juice. All you do is add water and you get orange juice. On my third trip I saw this can of baby powder. Is this an amazing country, or what?”
Laron Hall says, “We live in a world of scientific and technological wonders. Miraculous things happen with the turn of a switch…but we can’t wash away bigotry. There is no miraculous drug to cure the ills of society. Those kinds of miracles demand the efforts of people who are willing to take a risk.” (“Called to Make a Difference” February 7, 1993)
Both of our texts are commentaries on our lives as God’s people in the world. Isaiah is telling the people that if they worship but never seek justice outside of the temple, they are not impressing God. God is not interested in our worship alone, but in how worship shapes the rest of our lives. I won’t take a survey today to find out why you came to church, but now that you are here, I wonder what impact the service will have on your week. Worship is real when it is lived in the days that follow. So sing, pray, and receive communion not as a spectator, but as a disciple equipping yourselves to be risk takers and miracle workers in the coming days. It really is what we are here to do…to deepen our relationship with God and other human beings (the ones in this room and the ones we have yet to encounter outside the church walls).
You may know that the scriptures each week come from the lectionary – a three-year cycle designed to cover most of the Bible in three years. This isn’t the first time I have preached on this reading from Matthew, but every time, I am amazed to learn that Jesus isn’t telling his followers, “I hope you will become salt. Maybe you could think about being light.” He is saying, “You ARE salt and light.” He’s calling us to be what we already are. We encountered this same message a few weeks ago when we heard the words, “You are God’s beloved. Act like it.”
We hear the text from Isaiah criticizing the people for going to church, but not reflecting their faith in God in the rest of their lives. We may start asking, “What are we supposed to do? Will we ever do enough? Will we always fall short?” Let’s be clear that there is no divine scorekeeper giving us points for what we do and subtracting them when we mess up. There IS a God who created us and filled us with more than enough salt and light to share. That same God is saying, “Use it up. It is yours to be shared. Your life is intricately woven with the rest of the world.” I am not a divine filling station for your sake alone; I have made you salt for the WHOLE EARTH!
Dorotheus of Gaza was a sixth century monk who described the relationship between God and human beings like a wheel with God at the center and human beings as spokes. If we begin at the outer edge of the wheel and move closer to God at the center, we will also find ourselves moving closer to other people. If we move away from other people, we will find we are moving away from God.
The texts call us to be God’s people in the world. To do that, we must cultivate our relationship with God. As we deepen our relationship with the one who breathed life into us, we will find ourselves moving toward other people…not just the ones we like or the ones we agree with, but we may find ourselves seeing God even in those we least want to encounter. I am guessing we will be astonished at our ability to do miracles when we start spreading salt and light in the most ordinary moments of our days.
Fred Craddock tells about going to the University of Winnipeg in Canada to give lectures in October one year. “As we left the lecture hall after the first lecture, it was beginning to spit a little snow. I was surprised, and my host was surprised because he had written, “It’s too early for the cold weather, but you might bring a light jacket.”
The next morning when I got up, two or three feet of snow pressed against the door. The phone rang, and my host said, “We’re all surprised by this. In fact, I can’t come and get you to take you to the breakfast, the lecture this morning has been cancelled, and the airport is closed. If you can make your way down the block and around the corner, there is a little bus depot, and it has a café. I’m sorry.”
I went outside, shivering. The wind was cold; the snow was deep. I slid and bumped and finally made it around the corner into the bus station. Every stranded traveler in western Canada was in there, strangers to each other and to me, pressing and pushing and loud. I finally found a place to sit, and after a lengthy time a man in a greasy apron came over and said, “What’ll you have?” I said, “May I see a menu?” He said, “What do you want a menu for? We have soup.” I said, “What kind of soup do you have?” And he said, “Soup. You want some soup?” I said, “That was what I was going to order – soup.”
He brought the soup, and I put the spoon to it – Yuck! It was the awfulest. It was kind of gray looking; it was so bad I couldn’t eat it, but I sat there and put my hands around it because it was warm.
The door opened again. The wind was icy, and somebody yelled, “Close the door!” In came this woman clutching her little coat. She found a place, not far from me. The greasy apron came and asked, “What do you want?” She said, “A glass of water.” He brought her a glass of water, took out his tablet and said, “Now what’ll you have?” She said, “Just the water.” He said, “You have to order, lady.” “Well, I just want a glass of water.” “Look. I have customers that pay – what do you think this is, a church or something? Now what do you want?” She said, “Just a glass of water and some time to get warm.”
“Look, there are people that are paying here. If you’re not going to order, you’ve got to leave!” And he got real loud about it, so that everyone there could hear him.
So she got up to leave. And almost as if rehearsed, everyone in that café got up and headed to the door. If she was going to have to leave, they were as well. And the man in the greasy apron saw this happening and blurted out, “All right, all right, she can stay.” Everyone sat down, and he brought her a bowl of soup.
The place grew quiet, but I heard the sipping of that awful soup. I said, “I’m going to try that soup again.” I put my spoon to the soup – you know, it was not bad soup. Everybody was eating this soup. I started eating the soup, and it was pretty good soup. I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I don’t know what was in it, but I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine. Just a little bit like bread and wine.” (from the book Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock, Chalice Press, 2001 pp. 83-84)
The soup tasted better when the people in the room realized they are salt as they stood up for the woman. Their actions made a difference. We are needed to be salt and light for the whole earth. It may seem daunting, but we begin where we are. Our own legislature is looking at public lands, education, mental health, affordable housing, and several other initiatives. We are across the street from a middle school that educates many homeless youth. Next-door are women who breaking the criminal justice cycle. We feed people who are hungry. Our signs say, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” and “God’s doors are open to all”. We don’t have to feed the whole world all at once, but we can feed the one in front of us. We are invited to a table to be fed this morning so that we can feed others. Come taste the bread and juice and then go to be salt and light all over the place.
Be salt and goodness will spring up around you. Be light and healing will happen. Walk out these doors to be God’s people and watch the miracles unfold.