Homily: You Salty Old Sea Dog

    I never want to see an ounce of salt again. Don’t get me wrong. I love French fries and they would be nothing without a good dose of salt and catsup. But I’m not talking about that salt.

   I’m talking about rock salt. The salt that’s used to clear our roads of snow and ice. The salt that destroys the asphalt and leaves pot holes the size of wounded deer in the road.

   Snow. Ice. Cold. Hey, it’s only the beginning of February, and we’ve already had more cold snaps than the last 10 years put together. We are used to this. We’ve cleared paths at home and church, dug the car out of the garage, put salt down to stop it being refrozen, watched it thaw and then cried when it’s snowed again!

   Things were much simpler when you were a child. Oh, I still had to shovel snow for my mother and dad to clear the way to the front gate and to the garage. But that was all just a pretext to building a snowman, or if you felt particularly adventurous creating an igloo. Once you’d cleared the paths you could go have a snowball fight with your friends, or sled riding, or creating an elaborate sled riding track.

   But there comes a point in life when things become complicated. I think it must be a different age for everyone, but complicated – not simple – becomes a way of life for all. I remember a few years ago helping my sister move into a senior high-rise. And for every form we had to fill in or every job we needed to complete she would utter, “It’s all so complicated!” Well, since her passing she didn’t see the tax forms I had to fill out for her! Or have you ever tried to make sense of step-by-step Ikea guide to building their flat pack chest of drawers? Life is complicated.

   So when you approach the Sermon on the Mount, you know something must be wrong. This is too simple. ‘You are the salt of the earth.   You are the light of the world. This, then, is how you should pray.  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’  What’s Jesus not telling us? What’s the catch? Oh for a child-like faith. Oh for a eureka moment!

    In looking for inspiration for this week’s homily, I learned something very interesting about the context for this section of Matthew and ourselves and the ‘salt of the earth’. One reflection on this passage said, ‘Jesus saw his followers as leveling agents of change in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural impurity. But if their example rang empty, they were worthless; they would be dug into the mud under the heels of critics.’

    I like that phrase ‘…leveling agents in an impure world’. It brings a touch of the James Bond or Ethan Hunt to the image. Great stuff.

   I think, if there’s one thing that the Sermon on the Mount has to teach, it is that faith and action go hand in hand. You cannot hide your light under a bushel. Likewise, to hide your faith by inaction would be to betray all that our faith means to us, to deny the saving grace of the cross and God’s love for us. Faith leads to work. And that witness points to the Kingdom.  (©Neil Chappell)

    Be the light

   Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

   One of my favorite sayings attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius is:  “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”  There is much to complain or worry about in this world:  much evil, confusion, suffering.  Darkness.  This proverb suggests that we do something about it, rather than just talk.  No matter how small the candle we light, no matter how insignificant our positive action, it can have an effect.

   But Jesus’ saying goes farther.  He says we are the light.  Do we even begin realize what a dramatic statement that is?  Yes, we light candles.  We do things.  We make a difference.  But we also are the candle.  We are the children of God.  We are the difference.

   If we are the light, not just through our acts (though that will certainly be the case), but through our very character, we encourage people to see.  With God’s aid, we help others notice both the beauty and the need around them, we encourage the world to observe the spectacular and the grimy, we remind them all that they, too, are light, with the gift of themselves that should be shared and not hidden.   Be the light.   (© Melissa Bane Sevier)

       Salt and Light

   “She’s the salt of the earth!” It was a common blessing in my grandmother’s mouth, she would say it of a neighbor who was dependable in shouldering tasks, in helping people out.  My grandfather used that blessing for men he could rely on, the sort who help you out in a pinch, the neighbor who comes over to help you finish the shoveling, the kind who stand up at meetings and volunteer to do things for the town.  They said it with a special tone I remember still, and the people they described that way are the folks I like best in all the world.

   Salt, essential to life, part of every cell in our bodies and part of the cells of all living things, was mined in ancient times, a precious commodity left in the earth by seas long dead and gone.

   And we humans, who evolved from creatures in the sea, remember that connection in our need for salt.  Now inexpensive, salt was prized and pricey until modern times, the mining of it made empires rich while working slaves to death in Jesus’ day. Orthodox churches include salt in the baptismal liturgy, pouring some on the wet infant with the words, “May you be preserved for eternal life.”

   And in the Sermon on the Mount,  Jesus is continuing to speak to those he has named in the Beatitudes – to the poor, the grieving, the humble, to those hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and reviled.

   Because we are all, at times, in most of these painful situations, and because we do sometimes choose to make peace and be merciful,  we are all the salt of the earth.  But not for our doing of good deeds.  We are the salt of the earth for our pain, our poverty, and our peacefulness.

   Those to whom Jesus offers the name ‘Salt’ are those who have been stripped bare, who know that only grace can save them now. Salvation cannot be earned, but is grace given, it is not good living, it is mercy. The wisdom of sacraments, which rely on mystery and humility, seems to hold this well, as Julian of Norwich wrote ‘A small thing, in the palm of my hand, that is all the world; and I asked, how can it survive? And the answer came. It survives because God loves it.’

   Still, all of us, in all Christian traditions, look to Jesus as the light of the world and want him to salt us, save us, grace us.  Jesus says clearly we are the salt, we are the light of the world.  The divinity we need in our powerlessness, he says, we already have and already are, Jesus says. And it is the mournful and the meek, the poor and the peacemakers, the merciful and the much maligned, who fulfill are Salt, who are Light..

   This week a man who exemplified all of this, Pete Seeger, died.  And our mourning is great, for the troubadour of conscience, the man with the banjo who spent his whole life on the side of the meek and the persecuted, beginning with union workers in the Great Depression, moving through Civil Rights and Vietnam, turning his great heart at last to the waters of the land, and the damage done to the earth.  He was persecuted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and blacklisted for more than a decade for his refusal to name others to HUAC.  That he came through this with unfettered belief in the goodness of people is a great hope and blessing for us all.

  Pete Seeger, long a singer in country churches but never a creedal Christian, did follow these precepts of Jesus every day of his life.  Pete was the salt of the earth.  He was the light of the world.  He was an American blessing.

   Child by child, life by life, sorrow by sorrow, we pass this tradition on.  Salt and Light: you are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world – blessed are you. Be the Salt. Be the Light.   (©Nancy Rockwell)

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