Sunday, February 2, 2014

You are the Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13-20

"You are the salt of the earth..."  (Matthew 5:13)

I spent a good part of this past snowy Saturday morning reading about salt.

One would not think there would be so much to learn about salt, but apparently there is.  In fact, it seems that one can write a whole history of the world just by tracing what has happened with salt.  People have done so.  (If you have the time check out Salt: A World History by Mark Kulansky)

Indeed, wars have been won and lost on the basis of who has control of the stores of salt.

Governments have found salt to be a lucrative means of raising money -- by controlling and taxing it.

At different points in history, salt has been the currency of commerce. The word 'salary' has its Latin roots in the sense that the worker was paid in order to be able to 'buy salt.'

Evidently, until a hundred years ago, salt was scarce.  And in the time of Jesus and long before that and ever since, salt was necessary for the preservation of food. Having it or not having it was the difference between life and death.

Besides flavoring our food, I am told salt has thousands of other purposes.  It softens my water, melts the ice on my sidewalk, and when gargled with can soothe a sore throat, to name just a few.

Nowadays, salt is cheap. Except when you can't get your hands on it.  In the days before Christmas we were hit with ice and cold and salt was not to be found.  We were grateful to have extra folks on hand to walk people to their cars on Christmas Eve --- to keep the faithful from slipping and falling. 

Yesterday I heard that the town I call home will only be salting main thoroughfares and dangerous intersections. It's been an especially tough winter and we are running out of salt.  Oh, there is an abundance of salt --- only what is still out there is stuck on barges which are frozen in the Mississippi River. 

Indeed, the metaphor Jesus offers now means more to me knowing all of this in this place and time where much of the time the availability of salt is never in question.  This would not have been the case when Jesus preached so long ago.  And so it matters that Jesus says to those who were listening then and to those who listen still: "You are the salt of the earth." 

In other words, you are of great value.  And just think of all the varied ways the gift you are and the gifts you offer impact the world.  And so far as I can tell, in spite of Jesus' assertion today, salt never actually loses its taste.  Salt is only 'useless' when it is not used.

"You are the salt of the earth."  These words are meant for you and for me.  And by getting the salt out of the shaker, out of the bag, off the barge, salt simply does what salt does.  It preserves and brings healing and provides safety and offers just enough flavor.

And it all starts with being reminded that this is who and what you are and this is what you are for.

I offer a couple of examples now.  Ones close to my heart.  It seems to me that both are examples of 'being salt' and of 'naming the salt' in others.  And they cost next to nothing --- a couple of first class stamps and a little time.  And a lot of love.

On the anniversary of my dad's death a couple of weeks ago, my sister Martha scanned a couple of letters and sent them on to my mother and sisters and me.  I laughed and cried at the same time to read them and to remember.

The first was a letter that was written to my dad.  I remembered it when I read it again.  In December of 1989 he began correspondence with a police officer in Chicago.  He had read about her heroism in breaking wide open a ring of corruption in the Department... putting her life at risk. (You can find the article here.)  I never saw the letter he sent her, but here are some excerpts from her reply:

"My Dear Mr. Hunt,

You simply can't imagine how much I appreciate receiving your letter.  It came at a time in my life when I truly needed something to uplift my spirits....   You said in your letter that I have courage and strength.  I don't know if I have those attributes, but I do have a concept that police officers are not above the law.  ... My husband and I have suffered a great deal because of my stand on corruption, but when I see how proud he is of me and when I receive letters such as yours, I know that I did what was right and I have no regrets.  God bless you for having the courage and initiative to write to me and let me know that someone cared.  Thank you very much, Cynthia A. White."

I don't know if Officer White ever fully accepted the truth that she was a person of courage and strength, but it had to make a difference that someone else recognized it and named it. 

You are salt.  You are a person of principle and integrity.  You are courageous.  You are strong. Being told it is so may just be the beginning of it being so -- or of it continuing to be so, don't you think?  

"You are the salt of the earth."

And there was this, too.  Another letter he had sent to Martha in his usual rambling, humorous style. The part that broke me up though was the fact that as an afterthought or maybe as a last thought, he had penned on the outside of the envelope flap:  "When I look at you 4 girls, I am amazed at what a couple of "C" students can produce."  It is pictured above.

Now as far as my folks' academic achievements, my mother would say to this day that he should speak for himself.  And yet I laughed and cried to read the words I had heard him utter a thousand times --- words which spoke of his humility and pride all in the same breath.  Words which point to love and words which have, in fact, given me something to live up to.  Words which more than twenty years after he took the time to write them down still stir me up and urge me on.

"You are the salt of the earth."

Jesus says these words to you today.  You are of great value.  Who and what you are and all that you give to the world makes the world a better, richer place.  All you have to do is get out of the shaker, out of the bag, off the barge and be and do what you were made to be and do.

"You are the salt of the earth."  Believe it.
  • Perhaps it is so that to be called 'salt of the earth'  meant more in the time of Jesus than it does today.  Can you think of another metaphor which would speak better today?
  • Why do you think Jesus calls us 'salt?'  How is this a good metaphor for us?  What examples can you think of where we are 'salt?'
  • What difference does it make to you to be called something of such value?

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