Sermon   for   5th   Sunday   after   Epiphany,   Year   A

"Salty Disciples" A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Matt. 5:13. ______________________________________________________________________

Jesus was--and still is--the world's Greatest Teacher. His brilliance as a teacher lies in his ability to use such simple, ordinary, everyday things--like salt--to teach people something very deep and profound. Salt, sodium chloride, is an element used and known by all human beings. It has a long and varied history.

Here are a few historical footnotes about salt--from a writer, whose name, unfortunately I'm unable to identify--which you may find interesting:"in ancient times, covenants were sealed with salt--hence, a "covenant of salt"--use of salt was a bond of fidelity(i.e., the Arab expression "there is salt between us"). Salt that had lost its savor was earthly residuum with little taste because the sodium chloride had been rinsed out, hence the Persian phrase "untrue to salt" or disloyal, ungrateful."

"Many ancient roads were built to accommodate the desire for salt: the Via Salaria in Italy between the salt pans of Ostia and the Sabine. Herodotus speaks of the caravan route uniting the salt oases of Libya, the trade route between the Aegean and the coasts of Southern Russia. Cakes of salt were used as money in Abyssinia and Tibet and Rome. Salt has been an important source of tax revenue, it is essential to human health(necessary to protein dissolution in the body.) Salt was used in the offerings of ancient Israelite worship. The Jewish rabbis referred to salt as a symbol of wisdom."

When Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth," he was communicating something very special about his followers. If you had to rate your self-worth, your self-esteem on a scale of one to ten, what would you rate yourself? Well, when Jesus tells each one of us: "YOU ARE the salt of the earth," he is saying that each one of us is a ten--each one of us in his eyes, in God's eyes, is very special, very wonderful, very precious. You see, salt in Jesus's time was highly valued, of great worth. People at that time were highly dependent upon salt. In Christ's eyes, in God's eyes, we, like salt are treasured and the world depends upon us as Christians.

Essentially, there are two characteristics of salt which we Christians share. In the hot climate of the Middle East, salt was the most common preservative. Centuries before the invention of refrigerators, salt was used to prevent meat and vegetables from going bad and rotting. When Jesus says, "You are the salt of the earth," he is telling us that we as Christians are like a preservative in this world. As Christians, we are spread out, sprinkled all over the world to preserve the world from decay, corruption and destruction.

According to John Riach: "In the year 1650 the inhabitants of Norwich petitioned Parliament for permission to demolish that altogether useless building the Cathedral, and to use its stones for the repairing of the pier and the building of a workhouse. Is that not how many in our day regard the Church? What, they ask, has it done to preserve the world from decay, corruption and destruction? What has it done to prevent wars, human torture and suffering, poverty, hunger and injustice? What has the Church done to prevent the environmental crisis? In the view of the Church's critics, the Christian Church is an ornamental institution which accomplishes nothing of real importance in this tortured world."

"But, is this really the case? The Church is not eliminating injustice, barbarity, hatreds of all sorts and the hundred ills which make our social life to fester; but it is holding these things in check. The Church is preventing them from completely engulfing the world, and thus allowing some decency to prevail. Who can deny that this is a tremendous thing?"

"Inquire of any who have escaped from a solitary confinement prison cell, or a torture chamber or a Communist country into a country whose political institutions are 'free' because of Christian influences which have shaped them, and they will tell you that the difference is one between life and death."

Jesus is saying that the lives of Christians, your life and mine, can and does make a difference in this world. Just as salt preserves food from rotting and going bad--we as Christians are able to be a good, positive influence in this world. Our lives strengthen and preserve the moral-ethical fiber of the world. Our lives can serve as models to prevent others from going bad completely. Our lives can have preserving, nurturing, life-giving, healing effects on this world. This world is, to some degree, a better place to live because of all the Christians who have been salt of the earth.

The second characteristic that we share with salt is that of adding taste, flavour, spice of zing. Salt adds taste to food and we add taste to life.

In her student days, my wife, Julianna, was making pudding during a home economics class. Her teacher asked her to taste the pudding. When she did, she made a funny face and said, "Yuk!" The teacher was rather put-off with her comment. Then the teacher decided to taste the pudding for herself. She, too, was surprised and did not find the taste very good. Someone had made the mistake of mixing up the salt and sugar containers. The pudding was very salty but had no sugar.

As Tom Harpur puts it: "Anyone on a low-sodium diet knows full well that salt is valued because it brings out the taste of food. It adds a zing or spice to even so bland a dish as oatmeal porridge."

Jesus tells us that if salt loses its saltiness, it is thrown out and trampled under foot. He is telling us that as Christians we are to add a special flavour, to spice up life. Salt was not meant to be locked up or stored or hidden away. Neither is the Christian. Salt, by itself is of no real value. The Christian or the Church that remains hidden away or removed from the world is of no value to the world. Jesus wants us to spread out and be sprinkled all over the world--in this way we are able to be effective.

Only a pinch of salt is needed to bring out the best flavour in food. As Christians, we bring out the best in the world when we are sprinkled or spread out to different locations. Each one of us has a special mission to special people and places in the world.

Another important quality of salt is that once it is sprinkled onto the food, it dissolves into the food so that you cannot see it. We, too, are like salt in that Jesus wants us to accomplish his will and purpose without drawing undue attention to ourselves; without boasting about ourselves. When we are the salt of the earth, our flavour, our joy and enthusiasm for life shall not point others to ourselves, but to Jesus himself--who is the giver and source of our lives.

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Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

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