February 9th, 2020, 5th Sunday After Epiphany, YR A

Isaiah 58:1-9a; Ps. 112:1-10; I Cor. 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

            “Pass the salt!”  It’s almost always on the table.  Whether it’s a salt shaker, or a mill for sea salt, or a Victorian salt seller with one of those elegant little spoons, we always put salt on the table.  Everyone knows that most of us consume far too much of it, especially if your blood pressure runs on the high side.  But you have to admit that food just doesn’t taste the same without it.  Salt adds savor and zest to almost everything we eat.  That’s why Jesus tells his follows, “You are the salt of the earth.”  You and I are called to add savor and zest to life. “Pass the salt!”

            But salt by itself is worthless.  You can’t do anything with just salt.  In a time of famine, you can’t eat it.  In a time of drought, you can’t drink it.  That would only make things worse.  Salt by itself is no good.  It makes the fields infertile.  It kills life.  It preserves death.  By itself, salt is useless.  No one asks you to “pass the salt” because they want the salt by itself.  Salt only becomes useful when it is used, when it is mixed up with other things.  Note that Jesus did not say that we are “salt.”  He said, “You are the salt of the earth.”  You and I are called to be mixed up with the earth, with the reality of the everyday world around us.

            Our baptismal identity in Christ—who we are as the people of God—is not static but dynamic:  we are always sent into the world.  When we hear Jesus say to us, “You are the salt of the earth,” we need to be prepared to be thrown into the cooking pot of human affairs.  We cannot just stand in front of the pot:  we have to be put into the pot; we have to get mixed with the contents of that pot.  Only then can we share in Christ’s fundamental ministry of reconciling the world to God.  Christians have to be willing to be blended and boiled with the world, sometimes almost disappearing in the process, but nevertheless, rendering the world a more tasty, palatable and savory place.  So, “Pass the salt!”

            The ancient practice of baptism included two rituals inspired by today’s gospel reading.  Both of these additional liturgical acts were intended to help those baptized understand their new identity in Christ.  A burning candle was held next to the newly baptized or given with the words, “Receive the light of Christ.”  This was to symbolize that all who were baptized are sent into the world as lights that point to the greater light of Jesus.  But a pinch of salt was also placed on the lips of those just baptized so that they would remember Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth.”  From the baptismal font we are scattered in the world as salt is shaken—called to be the spice of new life in Christ.  (I can even imagine some old medieval priest in the midst of a baptism looking around for an acolyte and saying, “Pass the salt!”)

            Salt is a humble thing.  In our baptism we are reminded that God has chosen us, with all our weaknesses, with all our limitations, in all our frailty, to be God’s children.  God has chosen us to continue Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation.  Just as God was manifest in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, through baptism God calls women and men to continue to make God’s love and power visible in the world.  Just like Saint Paul, we also are called to allow God’s Spirit to work through our own weakness and inadequacy in order to bring the Good News of God in Christ to others.

            In a moment we will celebrate the Eucharist, that other sacrament that sheds light on our identity as Christians.  In this holy meal that Jesus has given us, the simple gifts of bread and wine will be the means by which his presence is made real and tangible in our lives.  We will hear, once again, how Jesus took the bread, offered it to God in blessing, broke it and then gave it to his disciples.  How easy it is to hear and experience this as some sort of history lesson:  one more manifestation or epiphany that we pile up with all the rest that are sprinkled throughout the Gospels.

            But let me remind you, as the gifts are brought forward to the table, you are to see yourselves in the bread and wine.  It is you and I that Jesus means to take in his hands.  It is you and I who are blessed by him, you and I whose lives are offered on the altar to God.  It is you and I who are broken and transformed by the power of God, and you and I whose lives are poured out and shared with others.  And it is you and I who are to be given to those in need in this world:  the poor, the hungry, and the persecuted; the lonely, the sick and the suffering.

            In this Eucharist, we offer to God ourselves—“our souls and bodies,” as the old prayer has it—asking God to strengthen us in our weakness, to overcome our limitations, to allow the Holy Spirit to work through our human frailty.  Let us offer ourselves to God, so that God’s power may be manifest in us, so that we might serve others in Christ’s name.  Jesus calls us out of a private faith into a public faith.  Let this Eucharist lead us to consider how we might reach out to others:  how we might truly be “the salt of the world.”

            God sets before us each and every day many opportunities to manifest God’s love, many occasions when we can be ministers of reconciliation, many moments when we can witness to Christ’s redeeming grace by word and deed.  We are to transform human activity in such a way that it reveals God in this world.  So what does that look like?  What does that mean for us?  Maybe it will be calling on a bereaved friend; maybe a visit to someone in the hospital.  Maybe it will be helping someone who is homeless.  Or perhaps, it will be spending some time talking with a friend, a parent, a child, or even a stranger.  

            It may be about becoming more generous with your compassion, time and money.  It may be about rebuilding a relationship when what you feel is indifference, pain or anger.  It may be about a deeper commitment to others shown by a willingness to listen, to be available and simply taking time.  It may be about choosing a life of self-giving rather than taking or acquiring, vulnerability rather than defensiveness, and intimacy rather than isolation.  Or it just might be standing up for what is right and good and pure and holy in the face of lies or bigotry, oppression or evil.  These are some of the ways that God chooses to be manifest in us today.  

Pray that we will remember our baptismal identity and that God will enable us to see Christ in the faces of those in need, and that God will allow them to see Christ in us as we share in his ministry of reconciliation.  Pray that as we come to this table, the light of Christ will be reflected in us and the salt of the earth preserved in our deeds.  Jesus is not telling us that we are supposed to become light and salt.  Rather, through our baptism, we are already light and salt – called to be in the world.  So, “let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  And dare I say it just one more time?  —  Don’t forget to “Pass the salt!”