Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112:1-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20
13. 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.
It’s a strange image, isn’t it? If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Have you ever taken salt out of the cupboard or shaken some in your hand, and tasted it…and it wasn’t salty? I haven’t! No matter how old it is, in my experience, salt keeps its flavor. So–what do you think Jesus is talking about here?
How can salt lose its flavor? Well, what if I take a teaspoon of salt and mix it in with a small glass of water. I drink that—yikes, pretty salty! But what if I take exactly the same amount of salt and mix it in a gallon of water. Can I taste salt? Only just barely—if at all. What if I mix it into a bathtub full of water? Or, mix it into Lake Washington! The salt has lost its flavor. It’s lost its flavor by becoming diluted.
A lot of people, including Christians, think Christian faith is about morality. But in our scriptures Jesus teaches less about morality, far more about lessons in community; today’s reading is about Christian community. We are like concentrated salt when we come together in community.
That’s why it’s so important for us to gather regularly. Not to please God, but to be salt of the earth, hearing the Word of God and grappling with it together. Coming to this meal and this font together. Sharing in fellowship as we pass the peace or participate in coffee hour after worship together. Making a safe place for the “outsider,” working in common mission in our neighborhood and world…together. In our life together, our saltiness is restored.
If you were here a few weeks ago you heard words of hope and encouragement from our bishop. If you were here last week you were blessed as Roger Rystrom and Ellen-Marie Fahey announced their engagement. If you weren’t here you could hear about it and read about it and even see a picture online but it’s not the same as being here! Being here binds us together as we share our joys and sorrows with one another—in person. Coming together concentrates the power of God. Our saltiness that may have been diluted during the week becomes restored.
The more isolated we become– like salt grains separated from one another in a large quantity of water–the less likely we are to experience God’s life-giving power. But in our life together, concentrated especially in our worship, fellowship and in our common mission to the world, we become “salt of the earth,” ready to season our neighborhoods and communities.
How does that happen? In many ways! The prophet Isaiah names a few important specifics in today’s first reading:
6. Is not this the fast that I choose.
7. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 10if 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.
One of the important ways we become salt for the earth is when we practice mercy and compassion for those who have been rejected, forgotten or ignored by society. Once again and for the fifth year in a row, we will host the men of ARISE every evening during the month of March—which is to practice what the prophet Isaiah describes: we “bring the homeless poor into [our] house.” It’s pretty simple, really: We provide shelter; then we and our sister churches provide meals.
But notice what else Isaiah says: not to hide yourself from your own kin. Think about that. Is Isaiah merely saying, “Take care of your own”? No! “Not to hide yourself” means “Don’t separate yourself from your community.” Don’t become like grains of salt separated from one another in a large body of water. We risk losing our saltiness by staying away when the faith community gathers. Here again Roger and Ellen-Marie give us an example to follow. They admit that they were sorely tempted toward the easy path of just signing the marriage documents to make it legal and call it good. I totally get that! I remember when my wife and I were preparing to get married it just felt like too much. Why couldn’t we just keep it simple? When I complained to my mom she looked at me and said, “Scott, it’s not about you.” She was right! It was about the community.
Restoring our saltiness doesn’t just mean work and worship and welcome. It means woo-HOO!: celebration together!
Week after week this is our rhythm. Our saltiness is restored as we gather for worship, work, welcome and “woo-HOO!”. We then go into our homes, classrooms, offices and factories living lives that encourage hope and healing, returning to the community again the next week to have our saltiness restored.
This image of salt is powerful for me personally. I’ve been here at Lakeridge almost eight years now, the longest I’ve been in any church since high school. To be part of the Body of Christ in one place, experiencing all its ups and downs over many years is a wonderful thing–I want others to share in this!
The risk, of course, is that the community can become a club—an exclusive place for like-minded people to gather, where we expect new people to be like us. This is why Jesus says in today’s reading that our “righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees.” It has been a joy for me over the years to see you take risks, to step out in faith—to move from “clubbiness” toward community. True community welcomes all people.
As you hear the good news of Jesus Christ, as you come to this table to be fed, as you are encouraged by little children and inspired by seniors, know that your saltiness is being restored, that you might go from here and be salt…for the world!