Tired of Tastelessness, Darkness, and Hatred? Be Salt. Be Light. Be Love.
A Sermon for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, St. Paul
by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Sunday, February 9, 2020
In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer of Life. Amen.
As a schoolboy I was terrible at Chemistry. I was absolutely rubbish at Chemistry! My struggle with Chemistry was so real, that even today, anything related to Chemistry usually makes me shy away. The Chemistry behind salt, however, is marvelous! In one of my favorite books, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, the author Bill Bryson describes salt in an utterly beguiling way. He writes,
Sodium Chloride is strange stuff because it is made up of two extremely aggressive elements: sodium and chlorine. Sodium and chlorine are the Hell’s Angels of the mineral kingdom. Drop a lump of pure sodium into a bucket of water and it will explode with enough force to kill. Chlorine is even more deadly. It was the active ingredient in the poison gases of the First World War and, as swimmers know, even in very dilute form it makes the eyes sting. Yet put these two volatile elements together and what you get is innocuous sodium chloride – common table salt. (1)
Bryson’s writing on salt is fascinating. I learned that a small amount of salt is vital to sustaining our daily life and without it we would die; and that salt was the cause of global expeditions, wars, and even slavery because its preservative powers made it an absolute necessity of life. Salt is mystical. When sweat or tears run down our cheeks and settle upon our lips, we know that salt is the flavor of our struggles, the flavor of our joys, and the flavor of grief. Salt is the flavor of life and love and loss. The taste of our tears, our uniquely human symbols of compassion, (2) is salty.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; 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.” (3) Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching is even more brazen: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (4) Jesus’ words invite us to ask ourselves: “Are we worth our salt?”
Today’s Gospel tells us that our identity has something to do with small grains of salt. And as Jered preached at Candlemas, as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves in the smallness and in the vulnerability of a tiny flame of fire which has the power to illumine the largest and darkest of caves with resplendent light. Why did Jesus choose these specific images as the metaphors of our identity: tiny grains of salt and lamp light? We all know that a pinch of salt brings out delicious flavors in our food. Too much salt not only spoils the taste of our food, it can also be detrimental to our health. Yet that tiny pinch of salt in oatmeal porridge brings out those lovely flavors of maple syrup, dried fruit, walnuts, cinnamon, and that dash of heavy cream some of us enjoy too much. Without that little pinch of salt, the flavors of our morning porridge are not nearly as scrumptious.
While studying different translations of today’s Gospel text I discovered that we are called “to be the salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth” (The Message). This translation reminded me of one my favorite lines in literature. In his magical novel Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes:
Things – even people – have a way of leaking into each other… like flavors when you cook. (5)
We sometimes forget how our presence; our words, written and spoken; and our actions flavor our lives and the lives of those around us. Every day we are bombarded by aggressive and mean-spirited words: like that lump of pure sodium dropped into a bucket of water that explodes with enough force to kill. When we encounter those aggressive words, we must remember that we are the salt of the earth. When the toxicity of ugly words spews out of anger-addicted mouths, newsfeeds, and emails like the deadly chlorine gas of the First World War, we must remember that we are the salt of the earth. With a pinch of our salt, we can bring out the God-flavors in ourselves, in each other, and in the world. Instead of reacting like a volatile lump of sodium or poisonous chlorine, Jesus calls us to be that small pinch of salt – a sacred sprinkling of sodium chloride – that can bring God-flavors out of tasteless people and revolting conversations.
Those few grains of salt and that tiny, vulnerable flame of fire light in you and in me, can transform the world. When we have the courage to add our tiny pinch of salt or to let our “little light shine,” we suddenly live into the vision proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah this morning. (6) Suddenly we begin to taste and see the God-flavors and the God-colors of Isaiah’s prophetic vision. Our salt and our light can loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke; our small pinch of salt and our tiny flame of fire light reminds those we encounter that we are called to share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our houses; and when we see the naked, we cover them, and we do not hide ourselves from our own kin.
Isaiah’s words confirm that the time has come for our salt and our light to break forth like the dawn, so that God’s healing shall spring up quickly. Black and brown voices continue to cry out for mercy; immigrant voices, women’s voices, and LGBTQ voices continue to cry out for mercy; the poor, the elderly, the lonely, and the forgotten continue to cry out for mercy; and if we are worth our salt, we know that when these children of God cry out for mercy, we, the Body of Christ will answer; and when the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant cry for help, we, the Body of Christ, will say, Here I am!
The Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (7) God invites you and me to season our words with grace, salt, and light. Do not react like volatile sodium or poisonous chlorine; instead be who you are: be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In those seemingly insignificant moments – those moments when you witness a micro-aggression that hurts a fellow creature of God, be salty. Invite that tasteless person into experiencing new and delectable flavors of God’s unconditional love of all people. When a passing comment smacks of racism, agism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia, let your vulnerable, little light shine. Illumine the ignorant darkness of that person’s small-minded, parochial worldview so that a more graceful and marvelous perspective might be revealed to them. When a brown person, a woman, an LGBTQ+ person, an immigrant, a differently abled person, a poor person, an elderly person, a child, a non-Christian person is being dehumanized, be salty; be the light of Christ in that dark place.
We don’t do volatile sodium. We don’t do poisonous chlorine. We do salt and light. Borrowing from the philosopher Hegel’s wisdom, when a volatile thesis and a poisonous antithesis collide, Jesus Christ calls you and me to be a salty synthesis. (8)
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” so that the flavor of Christ’s love can continue to transform the unutterable tastelessness all around us. This is how we continue doing the work of Christ. This is how we, as living members of the Body of Christ, continue to fulfill God’s Law and the Prophets. We remain salty. We bring light. We love God in all people with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds and we love every person as we love ourselves. Be Salt. Be Light. Be Love.
- Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (London: Doubleday, 2010), 184.
- Ad Vingerhoets, Why Only Humans Weep: Unravelling the Mysteries of Tears (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
- Matthew 5:13.
- Luke 14:34-35.
- Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children: A Novel, 25th ed. (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 37.
- Isaiah 58:6-9.
- Colossians 4:6.