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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Salted Caramel

Matthew 5:13-20
When I first began hearing about salted caramel a couple of years ago, I was not impressed. I was, in fact, quite skeptical. Putting salt on caramel just sounded plain weird. Why mess up perfectly good caramel by sprinkling it with salt, I wondered? When some well-intentioned person gave me a box of salted caramel chocolate candy, I put it aside. I was not convinced I would find this confection to my liking.
But then the flavor became wildly popular. You see it now in everything from ice cream to flavored coffee. So, I finally tried it, and once I did, found that I like it. I really, really like it. You see, as strange as it may sound, a little bit of salt brings out the sweetness in the caramel. The salt rounds out the edges of the chocolate; it highlights the smooth sweetness of the buttery, creamy caramel.
A little bit of salt can transform what it touches. I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke with his disciples that day. A little salt – can transform the world.
When used appropriately salt brings out the flavor of whatever it is sprinkled on. And Jesus declared that his disciples are the salt of the earth!
Salt alone isn’t worth much. But applied to or mixed with something else, salt brings out the flavor of whatever it is sprinkled on. In ancient times, salt was more than just a flavor enhancer. Salt was in indispensable commodity which served as a preserving and purifying agent, was used to sterilize fields and was used in connection with grain offerings and sacrifices in the temple. Salt was used when a sacred bond was forged between two parties. And in the Gospel text today Jesus declares that his disciples are the salt of the earth! Not will be or should be, but already are salt of the earth.
Most of us know that food without salt seems tasteless. We need a bit of salt to brighten the flavor on our tongues and in our lives. Most of the time, salt does its best work when it compliments, highlights, and brings out other flavors in food without bringing notice to itself. And saltiness as Jesus speaks of it, points to the kingdom of God. How blessed are we to be used as seasoning for God’s realm.
Today’s Gospel text is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount which began last week; in fact, today’s reading follows directly on the heels of what we know as the Beatitudes.
At the beginning of this core teaching, Jesus stirred our moral imagination: the blessed are already among us, he told his disciples and they are not who you might think.
In the realm of God it is not the wealthy, powerful, happy-go-lucky, and strong who are blessed, but the meek, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, those who are pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the Christ-followers whom God raises up.  It is not the haves but the have-nots whom God favors. Further, Jesus said, you are blessed not when you possess qualities the world embraces but when you follow Jesus and live Jesus’ values and are persecuted for doing so.
Today we might see them as the soldier with PTSD, or the new mom with severe post-partum depression, or the bi-polar friend or acquaintance. Or perhaps you might know them as the teen who is bullied in school and on-line, or the family member who struggles with alcoholism or drug addiction, the aged person who mourns over the many losses they experience for just having lived so long; or the homeless person you encounter on the street or at the shelter. You know, the ones who feel farthest from being blessed.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Remember? Jesus includes as blessed the ones who see the least among us as beloved of God and reach out to help them – organizations that seek to assist the man, woman or child – refugees - who have been driven from their home by religious, economic or political oppression and violence; or the church that welcomes the LGBTQ teen and reminds him that he is a Child of God, and that nothing can strip him of that identity, or the ministry group that work with the ex-con to help her find a path to new life upon release from prison, or the faithful Christian who loves God and  struggles to discern what it means to live her faith in the current atmosphere of division, hostility and judgement.
In today’s gospel Jesus follows the Beatitudes by telling his disciples that they are salt and light for the world. Notice, Jesus doesn’t just compare his disciples to salt and light, or tell them that they need to become like salt and light. Rather, Jesus says they are already the salt of the earth; made that way not by their own doing but by the grace of God. And it is God’s grace to which the Sermon on the Mount pushes us.
Jesus makes a promise to his disciples in this text this morning: You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a sheer blessing to those who hunger because of who God created you to be, and God, who is righteous, sends you into the world as valuable as this commodity, blessing you in order that the world might be blessedly transformed.
Together, my friends, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, shining God’s love and light into the world by our very being, surprising the world with our saltiness and our light.
This community is created by God for relationship with God, with each other, and most of all, to the neighbor we are called to serve. Jesus has called us each to come together with other disciples in worship to our Lord, to be fed, strengthened, forgiven for the times we forget whose light we are sent to bear and then to be sent out into the world to be salt the world and increase its flavor – to soften the sharp edges of injustice and to sweeten the diversity in our world through our inclusivity, helping transform the bitterness of suffering through a word of God’s grace.
The salted followers of Christ round out the flavors of the world by pursuing justice for the least among us. We recall that salt does its best work when it compliments, highlights, and brings out other flavors in food without bringing notice to itself. Our saltiness is for the sake of the kingdom of God; we are seasoning for God’s realm.
Retaining the best properties of salt, therefore, is important. We maintain our saltiness through worship, by remaining close to the word of God, through daily prayer and reflection on the scriptures.
As a community in relationship to each other our salt blends and mingles with our many flavors bringing out the best in our community and in our world. It is in grace-shaped, salt-seasoned relationships through which Christ’s disciples best reflect the grace and richness of the kingdom.
Jesus also calls his disciples to be the light of the world, and in the text today he warns his disciples against hiding their light; a light which cannot be seen or doesn’t actually shine is useless in revealing the good which leads to the praise and glory of God. You might recognize words from verse 16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good work and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
These words are said at each baptism, as the baptismal candle is lit and presented to the newly baptized. Again, we are not called to become the light of the world, we already are the light of the world, gifted in baptism to shine brightly for the sake of God’s kingdom.
It is through baptism that God turns us into salt and light. Through the Holy Spirit we are given the stuff that we need to shine our light on God’s love and care for the world. We are called to be disciples and to follow Jesus up the mountainside, to sit at his feet and learn there how to retain our saltiness and our light so that it shines appropriately – not on us, but on God and the good that God is doing in the world.
In worship come together to be empowered to action and service in Jesus’ name. We are blessed to praise and glorify God as the community God draws together to be salt and light. God expects great things from us! God expects godly things from us. God expects us to salt and light the world with his grace and love.
In the first reading this morning Isaiah reminds us what it means to maintain our saltiness with an outward-looking perspective and reach on the world God has placed in our care. Isaiah’s words convey the same values that Jesus raises up: to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke. As salt and light for the world, in Jesus’ name we are called to share our food with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless poor, to cover the naked, provide clean water for the thirsty, to love the lonely, isolated ones, to comfort the grieving and despairing ones, to speak for the voiceless ones, to love the unlovable ones, and to constantly turn to the Word of God for the strength and wisdom to carry these things out.
Today we may worry about the dwindling size of Christian churches around the world – but remember what a little bit of salt can do.
God makes us salt and light to shine thousands of points of light into the darkness, to round out the sharp edges of the world to bring out its sweetness; to highlight God’s grace and mercy, love and everlasting presence through our interactions and works. Whether we do that by swinging a hammer with Habitat for Humanity or making a meal and sitting with residents of the Interfaith Shelter, or making bagged lunches to deliver to the homebound, or giving cans of soup and coins for the hungry, may God bless us and those we serve, making our world and the lives God touches through us sweeter and smoother by our salt. Amen.

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