The Very Reverend Tom Callard – February 9, 2020
There are places in the scriptures where Jesus just wants the people to be good- where he’s telling them to love their neighbors, give their coats, share their food. And then there are places in the scripture where Jesus just wants the people to be salt. Like today. Not that salt isn’t good. But salt just is, it’s this basic thing, it’s common, it’s everywhere. But salt has this special quality, which is that you notice it when it’s gone.
I remember a cartoon from the New Yorker which I read when I was a little kid of a couple sitting at a picnic with all this food spread before them, and the woman was looking in the picnic basket and she says: whoops I forgot the salt. And when I was young I may not have really understood it, but it’s kind of stayed with me as this message that it’s good to have the salt to put on your chicken or potato salad or whatever you bring to the picnic. But it’s not absolutely necessary. You can forget the salt and still have your picnic.
There are times when salt is essential, like when you’re curing meat as friends of mine in Michigan did when we were growing up, they would cure their deer meet. But for most of us, I’m guessing, we could probably live without so much salt and get by pretty well and even be more healthy. But it’s boring, food is tasteless. And you kind of wonder – what does this piece of meat really taste like unless it has salt on it At least I do.
So salt is an extra which adds something nice. Being good, and doing good, and loving your neighbor, giving your coat, sharing your food – these are not extras. But salt is something extra, and it can come and go. And it does! Saltiness comes and goes, as Jesus suggests.
I think that we are all familiar with this experience when something has lost its salt. If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone, and then one day you find that you are not really into it, perhaps you could say that the relationship has lost its salt.
I’ve been in those personal relationships with people and suddenly you are not feeling the same as you used to. You’ve been together for a while and unfortunately this does happen in romantic relationships where over the course of time- you’re not happy and joyful like you were, it’s like you’re eating that bland piece of chicken at the picnic.
I think that happens a lot. You’ve really loved something, like a particular tv show or something like Grey’s Anatomy, which I’ve never seen but I know has been on for a long time, and then one day you’re watching it and you realize it’s lost its salt. Or your job you used to love you no longer feel excited about. Or anything that’s been part of your routine.
I think things lose their salt for us all the time. I know institutions do. I think sometimes our government has lost its salt. Our sacred institutions of government have become places of disillusionment. And we’re wondering how you can get the saltiness back.
Or consider the church. I know sometimes people feel their relationship with church has lost its saltiness., and you don’t feel the same way about it as you used to. I have definitely seen that happen.
The Senior Warden at one of my previous churches was instrumental in bringing me there. He interviewed me, he welcome me and my family. And he saw the church through this transition from one priest to the next. And about five months after I started, one day he just left. And I of course contacted him to say- hey, I haven’t seen you for a while, is everything all okay. And he said he was fine. Others contacted him and he said the same thing. He wasn’t upset with me. He wasn’t upset with anyone. He wasn’t in conflict. He hadn’t been driven away by something that happened. Nothing happened. The salt of the church just lost its saltiness.
That happens with church. And of course it happens with our relationship with God. I think we all have times when God or Jesus Christ, as we reach out to pray to them, when they do not feel as present as they used to, or as close as they were. And so what once was a joyous picnic is now just bland chicken. I think this happens in Christians’ lives more than we admit.
I also find that February is also a time every year when you’re just kind of moving along and waiting. The rush of Christmas is over, and of course my birthday has passed. It’s not yet Spring. And it’s usually snowy or rainy or cold.
And I think this February, in particular, there is a lot of malaise. There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety around us and within us. It seems like a lot of people feel that our government has lost its salt. There is a sense of fear about the Corona Virus and what it might bring. There is of course a lot of sickness that people already have. I know my son has been sick and coughing for six weeks. A lot of people are sick. And I don’t get the feeling that this malaise and this fear and this anxiety are going away any time soon.
So there is a sense that maybe the saltiness has disappeared. So we need to hear what Jesus has to say. We come today looking to God. And so I want to bring us back to this space and the presence of Jesus Christ, who is always here. And today I want us to realize his presence and picture him standing before us and saying these words: you are the salt of the earth.
And what he’s saying is this: You are of the most important thing of life, this spice which can bring life and joy and energy and produce the difference between boring chicken and a wonderful picnic. You are joy and purpose and meaning for the world. God has made you, Jesus is saying, to be this joy, and to be this purpose. And that’s why Jesus calls us salt, I believe. For the world loses saltiness all the time. And he has called us and has set us forth to help the world regain its taste. We are here to address the malaise.
And if you’ve chosen to come this morning and walk this path, remember, Jesus is saying, remember this: have faith. I have promised you that all will be accomplished. That’s what Jesus says today. All will be accomplished.
I wonder if we can hear those words, nestled there among this passage. It’s an interesting passage from Matthew today, this series of phrases that Jesus throws out, talking about salt, and about light, and about the law and prophets, about the scribes and the commandments. But there in the middle he says that not one letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished. All will be accomplished by Jesus. So have faith.
We will not accomplish it. The institutions of the government will not accomplish it. All the doctors of the world will not accomplish it. Only God. If at times we lose our faith in institutions, then look beyond what the institutions are, and have faith instead in the divinity of God. If at times we lose our faith in the security of our health system which we hope will keep us safe from viruses out there, then look beyond these things to remember the security of God.
If at times we look to the church for answers and become disillusioned because it has no answers or it is ineffective, or, God help us, irrelevant, then remember that the church is just a concept. That we are all the church. And we have the presence of God.
There is a lot we cannot control. So let it go, Jesus says, and know that I will accomplish it. But, at the same time, he reminds us, you are still the salt. I will accomplish it, in part, because of you. You are all the church. You have what it takes. You are made of what the world needs. That’s the message for today. You can do a lot. Doctors can do a lot. Government can do a lot. Church members can do a lot.
But we have to practice. What would it mean to practice being salt? What would it mean to practice being light? What would it mean to bring ourselves and what we have to bear out to those things which for us and for the world have grown stale and lifeless and boring and dull?
Well in terms of the government, it means if we feel that way we have to be active and vote and be engaged. And it means we’re not falling into the trap of polarization, of simply saying ‘us and them’ all the time. It means we’re working to see there are dignities in each person which we must respect, and that in every person we may disagree with politically, there is something that we do agree with.
If our political institutions have lost their salt, at the very least we can get back to why we believe in them. Why we believe in what they do. And we can learn to express that and to work for it. What is good about what our system does? How do I work for the good? How do I not fall into the trap of fear and demonizing? How can I really be salt, and not just be part of the problem?
In our personal relationships, it’s worth asking: am I part of the problem? Is part of what needs to change in this dull relationship me? In my relationship with church, have I maybe allowed the church to become boring week after week, and I don’t get involved and I only come occasionally and I put minimal effort into my spiritual life.
It’s like when I was taking guitar lessons I would find I was not getting better and I said to the guy: I am here week after week and not improving, and he asks me: are you practicing?
Am I allowing myself to practice my faith through what the church offers me? A I allowing myself to be changed by God? I think one of the reasons people just drop away from church is that they don’t want to practice. Or maybe they don’t want to be challenged or changed, which is what it takes to grow. I know I often don’t. So we are the salt that loses its saltiness.
What new thing, what growth thing, what envelope pushing thing are you willing to do this week or this year, so you find yourself alive with God.
Here are some things I suggest: Sit with people at the drop in center on Tuesdays. Sign up to bring ashes out to the streets on Ash Wednesday. Go to Bible study or to centering prayer.. Spend 10 more minutes in prayer in your home. Join the altar guild. Become an acolyte. Be present. Talk to me. Talk to a priest or a deacon. Talk to a friend. Be the church.
Part of what I love about salt is it’s not special or complicated- how simple it is. You put salt on your chicken and it automatically tastes better. With what God has given us, if we go out there as salt, the world and everything we touch gets better. Because of God and who God made us to be. And the reminder that Jesus gives us today is that we are not helpless in the face of malaise or fear but we are empowered. We are made of what the world needs.