You Are the Salt of the Earth
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
A few weeks ago, Deacon Laurel closed her sermon with a Teresa of Avila quote:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless (all people) now.
She spoke to us about God’s call in our lives, how we listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us in helping to build God’s kingdom in this place, in this time.
Last Sunday, Bishop Michael Hanley also invited us to think about call. He wondered when Jesus realized God’s call in his life: all it meant and all he would have to give.
This week, I think Jesus is again asking us to think about call.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
“You are the salt of the earth.” What does this mean? What did it mean for Jesus?
I have to admit, I spent a lot of time researching salt this week. Its uses, its flavor, its history. And the one thing I could boil it down to is this: salt is foundational to our lives. It is essential. But all of its properties are useless if a) it doesn’t come into contact with something else and b) there’s too much of it.
Here’s the thing: salt is essential to our physical survival. It makes it possible for our cells to absorb water, for our intestines to absorb the nutrients in the food we eat. It is an electrolyte that we would literally die without.
But the salt outside our bodies is pretty amazing, as well.
Salt prevents food from spoiling. This was a bit more important before refrigerators existed, when folks needed other ways of preserving meat and fruits and vegetables for a long winter. You’ll also notice that there’s a lot of sodium, or salt, in canned foods. To preserve it.
Salt also serves as a disinfectant. It can’t cure decay or disease, but it absorbs what is dangerous and prevents it from spreading. To throw salt on a wound definitely hurts, but it also isolates infection.
And I think we all know that salt elicits the flavors around it. A tiny bit of it enhances sweetness. A little bit more of it suppresses that sweetness so the savory can shine. Salt is an enhancer. It makes good things last longer, taste better.
But it’s useless on its own. It only works when it comes into relationship with something else.
And another thing many of us know is that too much salt can make good things things bad. Too much salt spoils a good dish. Too much salt causes high blood pressure and heart disease and a slew of other health issues. The Dead Sea is devoid of living things because its salt content is so high that nothing can survive.
Salt is amazing, in just the right amount.
Last Monday, I was getting my car serviced at a place in Portland that specializes in hybrids. When I walk into the lobby, a man with very kind eyes greets me and introduces himself as Cale. Yes, Cale. Like the dark green, leafy vegetable that Portlanders allegedly love so much.
Cale greets me. He double-checks what car is mine and what services I’m scheduled to get, and tells me it’ll be about an hour. So I settle into a comfy chair in the lobby.
While I’m waiting, a man stomps into the shop. He’s yelling before he even gets to the desk. “As soon as we left the parking lot, the car started clanging. You made it even worse.”
Cale looks the man in the eye and listens intently. He lets the man let it all out and then he says, “I hear you and I believe you. Let’s go out and take a listen so we can make this right.” I could almost see the red in the angry man’s face wash away. When they come back inside, the angry man is now laughing and literally patting Cale on the back. They’re geeking out in some car language I don’t understand.
Cale has transformed this man. He sprinkled a bit of his salt on him, and the man turned sweet, he opened up.
When my car is ready, Cale takes his time to explain the issues and concerns. He gives me very precise numbers and timelines about what my car will need in the future. He knows how to turn very technical descriptions into language I can understand without making me feel dumb about it. My experience as a woman has been that people in auto shops talk to me like I’m a toddler. Not Cale.
We start talking about my car’s transmission, and Cale gets excited. Giddy. He wants to give me all the nerdy details about the quirks of my Honda Civic. Cale loves hybrids. Like LOVES hybrids. And he will convert you into loving them, too. Just by his sheer joy.
Cale is the salt of the earth. He has tapped into that part of himself that is so essentially him, that joy and love and skill God gave him, and he found a place in this world where he could inhabit his gifts and share them with others.
He’s not trying to be the VP of the Prius department at Toyota. And he’s also not out in the shop working on the actual cars. He knows exactly how much of his salt this world needs, and that’s exactly what he gives.
In the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, salt was symbolic of God’s covenant with the Israelites, with God’s people. Their priests were required to salt the offering on the altar. And today our Jewish siblings continue to dip their bread into salt at shabbat to remember their covenant with God.
No doubt Jesus, a Jew, would have known about this symbolism, the way salt inextricably connects God’s people with God. In today’s Gospel, he is speaking to the disciples, reminding them that they are God’s hands and feet in this world. He is talking about God’s call in their lives.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said.
And now I’m looking around a sanctuary full of modern disciples. God created you in a particular way, a unique way. God gave you certain gifts, a certain joy that shines that only you can bring. God made you exactly who you are, and who you are is essential to this world.
I don’t know what your gift is. I don’t know all the things that make you come alive the way hybrids make my guy Cale come alive. But I know you have gifts. I know you have joy that is uniquely yours.
But your salt—your essence, your joy—is useless on its own. It was made to share. To enhance other lives, to bring joy to others, to elicit strength in them. Salt only works in relationship.
And it only works in just the right amount. You are not called do everything, to be everything. You are called to be you. No more, no less. So find your place. Find the people who need your joy. And be the salt of the earth.