We are the Salt of the Earth

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Fifth Sunday in Lent April 6, 2014 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A 2014 Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45, Psalm 130
Fourth Sunday in Lent March 30, 2014 The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A Ephesians 5:8-14
Third Sunday in Lent March 23, 2014 Third Sunday in Lent, Year A Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, John 4:5-42
First Sunday in Lent March 9, 2014 First Sunday in Lent, Year A Matthew 4:1-11
Ash Wednesday, Year A March 5, 2014 Ash Wednesday, Year A 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A March 2, 2014 Last Sunday after Epiphany Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Matthew 17:1-9
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A February 23, 2014 Seventh Sunday after Epiphany Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A February 16, 2014 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:21-37
John Hines sermon February 11, 2014 Daily Office I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 9, 2014 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20
The Presentation, Year A February 2, 2014 Presentation in the Temple, Year A Luke 2:22-40
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 26, 2014 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 4:12-23
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 19, 2014 Second Sunday after the Epiphany Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 12, 2014 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17
The Epiphany, Year A January 6, 2014 Epiphany, Year A Matthew 2:1-12


We are the Salt of the Earth

Sermon Date:February 6, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20, Isaiah 58:1-12

Liturgy Calendar: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Here at St Peter’s, we love to eat together.

People who join us on the first Sundays of the month get to experience our hospitality first hand, as we welcome one and all to the Parish House right after this service for what we call coffee hour.  Our coffee hour really turns out to be lunch. 

Sharing food together is a way of offering hospitality to others. 

When I was growing up, if someone came to visit, my mother would fix country ham, a southern delicacy, for breakfast. 

Now those of us who grew up in the South can just think “country ham” and red eye gravy with some biscuits and honey on the side, and our taste buds start jumping up and down and singing “Hallelujah.”

Even  here in church, right this minute, we can almost smell that ham frying, and taste that delicious salty goodness on our tongues.   

Many Southerners also like salt fish, although I’ve heard many people say that salt fish and country ham are acquired tastes.

Salt gives both country ham and salt fish a distinctive taste, because the salt has permeated and actually altered the taste of the meat it has preserved.

Salting is one of the oldest methods that we know about that people have used throughout history to cure and preserve food.

And salting is an art as well as a science.

Take salting fish, for instance. 

Now I have never tried this myself, so I can’t guarantee the method I found on the internet by Daniel Casper, but according to Casper, salting fish goes like this.

First, you get some top quality fresh fish.  All of your equipment, and the water you use in the process must be very clean and pure for the process to work.

Prepare the fish—fishermen know what goes into this process, and I’ll spare the rest of us the gory details. 

And then, the process of salting begins.

First, you put salt in the bottom of a waterproof vat, and then you carefully place the fish on top of the salt.  Laying the fish head to tail, you cover the bottom of the vat with fish, and then you add more salt, covering the fish.  This process of layering the fish and salt in the vat continues until you get within five or six layers from the top.  When you finish, the top layer will be salt. 

The salt extracts moisture from the fish and creates a brine, so you have to use boards and weights to hold the fish down under the salty water (the brine)  as the salt begins to do its work. 

Now here’s something important to remember.  As the water is extracted and the brine forms, you have to keep adding salt to the mixture.    Without enough salt, the fish will spoil, and you have to throw the whole mess out. 

The whole process takes a while—and the fish are not cured  until they have been completely permeated with salt  or “struck through,” as the lingo goes.  The process takes anywhere from 15 to 21 days.

And then, the fish must be rinsed with unpolluted sea water or brine to remove the excess salt, and then air dried, which also takes several more days.   

At last the fish is ready to be eaten and savored by those who have acquired a taste for this salty delicacy. 

Jesus says in our gospel passage today that we, his disciples, are the salt of the earth, and we are the light of the world. 

And both of these metaphors have to do with hospitality.  

Before we get back to salt, let’s take a look at light and consider how Isaiah ties light into the idea of hospitality.   

Now according to Isaiah, God is

the high and lofty one

Who inhabits eternity,

Whose name is holy

A transcendent God, beyond our reach, beyond our imagining.  

I have feelings of awe when I hear this description of God.  In fact, I used that description of God in the opening sentences  of Morning Prayer last week.

But when we hear God described in this way we can get not only a feeling of awe, but also  a feeling of distance from God. 

And yet, Isaiah tells us that this high and lofty God desires a relationship with us.  God wants to be in relationship with us.  God wants to share God’s hospitality with us. 

And we are the wayward people that God has chosen.

We, like the people described in our Old Testament passage,

Oppress others,

By quarreling and fighting, by gossiping about one another, as Isaiah says, by striking with a wicked fist,

When really, what God wants from us is that we loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, that we break every yoke.

God wants us to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our houses, and when we see the naked to cover them. 

Isaiah says that if we remove the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our light will rise in the darkness.

Isaiah is very clear about this.  In order to be the light of the world, God expects us to practice hospitality, especially to those who are in need.

Because human beings are slow learners, and all of the prophets in the Old Testament just couldn’t get people to understand God’s expectations of us,

God takes the initiative and offers the greatest act of hospitality imaginable.

God comes to be with us!

As John so poetically puts it in his first chapter,

and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that Greek verb means to   “to pitch his tent among us,” to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us. 

And we know, also from the gospel according to John, in that same chapter, that Jesus is “the light of the world.”  John tells us that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”   

So when we think of being the light of the world, as the disciples of Jesus, we have to remember God’s act of hospitality—

Jesus, coming to be in our midst, to be the true light of the world, the light that enlightens everyone  not just you and me, but everyone.

And as disciples, we are that kind of light.

I love this image Jesus gives us of giving light as a city on a hill gives light.   

Once when I was on a mission trip in South Dakota, we were traveling at night.  Now if you have ever driven out West, you know

how dark the nights are, and how you can travel for hours and hours and never see a light. 

On this particular night, as we drove through the darkness, the gas gauge in our  van sank lower and lower.  What a nerve wracking experience—and so we drove on and on through the darkness, until at last, in the distance, we saw a light.

What a welcome sight.

That light for us was a sign of hospitality, hopefully a place where someone would have what we needed to continue our journey.

When we arrived at the source of light, a small gas station/grocery store combination, we were horrified to find that the store had closed thirty minutes earlier. 

The owner, however, in an act of hospitality, opened the store to us, and we were able to buy gas and food, and to continue on our way through the darkness, thankful for this man’s gracious hospitality to us.

Now what about salt? 

Becoming  a disciple of Jesus is a process, like curing salt fish.  Becoming a disciple takes time—it’s a life-long process which never ends.  That’s why we’re in community, like those fish laid out in that vat full of salt.  We’re together in  this process, because all of us need transformation. 

And as a community, we need the presence of Jesus to take who we are and to turn us into who he wants us to be, who he longs for us to be. 

And now we get back to that whole process of salting fish that I described at the beginning of this sermon—because that process is an apt metaphor for how Jesus works in our lives.

As Christians, we come together and like the fish being salted, we immerse ourselves in who Jesus is—

Because not only is Jesus the light of the world, but Jesus is also the salt of the earth. 

Jesus is the salt that soaks into us, permeates us, alters who we are.

Jesus is the salt that preserves us.   

And we want to be completely permeated, altered, struck through by Jesus, so that we become like he is, salt for whole earth.

And what does being salt for the whole earth mean?

In the context of hospitality, when we say that we are salt, we say that we are in a covenant relationship with one another, as God is in a covenant relationship with us. 

Let’s go back to the Old Testament for just a moment so you can see what I mean.

In the ancient world, salt was the main preservative, so salt was a perfect symbol for the preservation of a covenant.  The offering of salt indicated that the people understood that they were in a covenant with God. 

We see an example of this In Leviticus, chapter 2, verse 13. Salt is to be included with the grain offerings to God, “the salt of the covenant with your God.” 

The book of Numbers, Chapter 18, verse 19, has this to say about salt—“All of the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the Lord are  a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and your descendants as well.” 

God has entered into a covenant relationship with us.

And through Jesus, he has created a covenant of salt, a covenant with us that is everlasting and eternal—a covenant of love and hospitality that penetrates us, alters us, strikes us through with God’s eternal love for each and every one of us

A covenant of salt that God will never, ever break—not even when we break the covenant and hang Jesus, the light of the world,  on a cross to die, and darkness  once again covers the whole earth. 

We celebrate the Eucharist together every week because sharing food together goes back to ancient times, all the way back to Genesis, as part of covenant ceremonies.

In this covenant ceremony of the Eucharist, over two thousand years old now,

We, like the very first disciples, share the body and blood of Jesus, the salt of the earth and the light of the world,

so that Jesus can strike us through, over and over, permeate us, alter us, shine into our lives.

Jesus keeps adding salt to our lives, so that we won’t spoil

So that we, his disciples, can become like he is, the salt for the whole earth and the light for the whole world.

As disciples, we offer our covenant of salt before the Lord God, the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity,

The lofty one who loved us enough to pitch his tent among us, the same God who loves us and preserves us forever. 

Our covenant of salt and offering to God is our hospitality to one another,

Our love and care for one another,

And our care for the people who walk in darkness,

The ones Isaiah describes—

The ones who are oppressed,

The ones who are hungry,

The ones who are homeless,

We are the salt of the earth.

We are the light of the world–

And our offering of salt to God is to love and serve the Lord and one another with God’s everlasting hospitality. 



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