“We Are The Salt Of The Earth” – 02-09-14 – Epiphany 5 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

We are valuable. You know that salt to melt ice became scarce this winter because we needed to use it so often. When things are scarce, they become precious. So when Jesus declares that we are the salt of the earth, we become valuable and precious. But we have work to do, just as salt has work to melt ice.

What is our work as salt? Surely, we are not thrown on ice to melt it, or are we? Maybe one job for the “salt of the earth” is to dissolve various situations such as anger or stubbornness or shyness or a controlling personality and similar realities. Maybe these characteristics actually belong to us and we need to be salt to ourselves so that the world can be a better place.

We could say that one person’s rottenness does not need to spoil the whole world as we talk about one rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel or basket. But one person’s attitude and behavior has a ripple effect. You may have heard about a wife’s grumbling to her husband which gets passed to the son; the son passes the attitude to the daughter who passes this negativity to the dog who bites the cat. If the wife had spoken with a different tone or phrased her message in a more positive way, that would have saved the cat from being bitten.

Yes, Yes. One voice can make a big difference. Just imagine a world where our responsibility as salt is to think before we speak. Could we vent our anger in the attic where no one hears except God? This is funny. When I wrote attic with a salt theme, I am picturing my grandfather’s attic where hams from a freshly butchered pig had been “cured” in salt water called “brine” and then hung in the attic, with old pieces of linoleum underneath to catch whatever drippings will fall, to “cure” even more. So for months this salted meat flavors the attic. Years later when this practice was a practice no longer, the fragrance lingered. Memories come rushing over us, as our mouths water for that delicious ham under that crusty self-preserving skin coating.

The salt of the earth. Does crusty exterior apply to us? I don’t know. I need to think. Maybe yes. Matthew 5:13 tells us that “… if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Maybe we need crustiness to keep the salt alive within. Or maybe we need our saltiness to push through the crust to make a difference in the world? This salt theme could work like the love theme in which love must be shared or it dies within us. Therefore, we need to persist in pushing our saltiness through the crust so it can be shared. Our exuberance about Jesus as Savior, Jesus as Lord, needs to be let loose or it will suffocate itself.

Would it be better if we did not have the crust so that the salt could be spread more easily? Maybe, maybe not. If it were easy, would we become lazy. Pushing through the crust could be like exercising our bodies. This is exercising our souls, making a noticeable difference as people react to our salt.

Matthew 5 goes on to say we are also the light of the world. With the light, we are not to be aware of a crust. We are to be aware of a bushel basket of all things. Perhaps you are not familiar with the term “bushel basket.” These are large baskets which could be filled with apples or peaches or potatoes. Perhaps, fishermen use bushel baskets for the fish which they catch in nets. I have always pictured the baskets of leftover fish and bread from the feeding of the five thousand to be bushel baskets. Well, turned upside down, a bushel basket over our light would make the light less visible. It is like we are hiding in our own safe homes instead of venturing into the community to help people and – yes – even to talk about Jesus.

Do you know where we shall place our light? Yes, on a lampstand, so it can give light to everyone in the house. Now comes the instruction that seems to contradict the Beatitudes about which we thought last week. Humility seemed to be the theme with the Beatitudes. Meekness. Trying to do the right things; working toward the goal of righteousness but not thinking that we are righteous.

Here we have these words in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way [as the lamp on a lampstand], let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” And then, in verse 20, Jesus is saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Oh my; oh my; what are we to do? Be humble or make whatever righteousness we have be out there for everyone to see? Boasting of our good works! What about our failings! Are they supposed to be displayed also? Do you know what I think? God gave each of us different personalities. Psychologists try to classify our various personalities and label us with certain letters or certain vocabulary which is a bit challenging to learn. I am thinking that the extroverts shall be up front with their works and righteousness as we just heard in Matthew 5:16 and 20 while the introverts shall fit into the meek and humble directives of God. What do you think?

Are you natured to do your thinking aloud or do you do your thinking inside your head and heart and then announce what you have decided? Do you tend to think that telling your good works will lead other people to do good works? That makes sense to me. I sometimes think that way. Or do you think that announcing your good works or making them visible is wrong and so you quietly go about your good works trying to cover your tracks?

I must have a dual personality because from time to time I think and act both ways. Where are you? While you are mulling that in your brain and heart, I want to offer the words of a song which seems to spring from both our Isaiah 58 passage today and the Matthew 5 passage. Let us keep our ears alert for the opposites expressed in this song, written as if Jesus were saying this to us. The words and music were written by Cesareo Gabarain.

You are the seed that will grow a new sprout; you’re a star that will shine in the night;
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt, a beacon to glow in the dark.
You are the dawn that will bring a new day; you’re the wheat that will bear golden grain;
you are a sting and a soft, gentle touch, to witness where ever you go.

You are the flame that will lighten the dark, so resplendent with hope, faith and love;
you are the shepherds to lead the whole world to waters and pastures of peace.
“You are the friends that I chose for myself, you’re the word that I want to proclaim.
You are the new reign of God built on rock, where justice and truth are at home.”

You are the life that will nurture the plant; you’re the waves in a turbulent sea;
yesterday’s yeast is beginning to rise, a new loaf of bread it will yield.
There is no place for a city to hide, there’s no mountain can cover its might;
let your light shine so that your loving works give honor and glory to God.

Go, my friends, go to the world, proclaim the great love of God;
messengers to tell the way of life, peace and pardon for all.
Be, my friends, a loyal witness, from the dead Christ arose;
“Lo, I’ll be with you forevermore, till the end of the world.”

Did you hear the phrase, “let your light shine so that your loving works give honor and glory to God?” That means we are not glorifying ourselves by displaying our good works – oops – it says “loving works” not “good works.” Our loving works give honor and glory to God, not to ourselves. That is good, isn’t it?

Did you hear “a new loaf of bread from yesterday’s yeast?” What could that mean? Yesterday’s yeast … something like yesterday’s seeds that we planted; both done one day to yield good results in the future; new things; a new loaf of bread, a new plant. But these words also say that the plant must be tended. Apparently, we can not plant seeds and crawl into our holes, sorry – our houses. Once we say a word here and a word there, we need to stay around to watch for the results.

In fact, if we are talking seeds and words, we need to nurture the seeds and the words even before they sprout. Then comes the sprouting. We see a person’s attitude start to change. We see that first bit of green peeping through the soil. Stay with it. Do not walk away! Jesus does not give permission to turn our backs and crawl home. We need to “follow through.” Walking away can do harm. Leaving our light under a bushel basket could produce a damaging fire.

On the other hand, this could symbolize the break-through. A bushel basket starting to burn could symbolize a person coming to life just as Christ rose from the grave. God, working through us to light that fire, will guide and support us as we stand with, and be a friend with, this person who has become on fire by the Holy Spirit accompanying our seeds or light or yeast or salt.

Our reading from Isaiah 58:1-12 offers some supporting thoughts which really came first in prophecy of the life and work of Jesus in the gospels of the New Testament. From Isaiah: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Imagine that as good works! The restorer of streets to live in! Amen