Wise salt, or foolish? (Epiphany 5A, February 2017)

Matthew 5.13–20


Bread that this house may never know hunger, salt that life may always have flavour. It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946



Now I’m semi-retired, I do quite a bit more of the cooking at home than I used to. I’m not a marvellous cook; my cooking is not cordon bleu. But I do like to experiment a bit.

So I google recipes. I might decide to do chicken, so I’ll google easy chicken recipes. (Oh, the word ‘easy’ is always one of the search terms. Just a hint for fellow L-plate cooks.)

Then I’ll pick a recipe and pop down to Coles to buy what I don’t have at home. I’ve built up quite a list of recipes that way.

Anyway, I’m going to do something today I’ve never done from the pulpit before—that is to share something I’ve recently learnt about cooking. In fact, I’ve never ever publicly shared anything about cooking before. I may crash and burn.

As a very budding cook in very much the second half of my life, it was particularly interesting to me this week that Jesus talks about salt, and salt losing its flavour:

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’—but what about ‘tasteless salt’? So, I started thinking about salt in cooking.

Back when I was a little lad, people used to slather their meals with salt. People made their food white with it! And you couldn’t taste anything but salt. I didn’t like it.

So later, when salt became one of those things that’s bad for you, I was ok with that. I never added it to my food (except on chips; I soon realised they taste terrible without salt!). On the occasions that I cooked, I avoided salt like the plague.

Now I’m given to understand that there is no real scientific evidence that salt is all that bad for you. (Except of course for the articles that tell you that yes, salt is still bad for you. So please, please, check with your doctor first before you tell him your minister said it was ok to eat salt for breakfast, dinner and tea!)

Whatever: now I’m cooking more, I’m finding that I’m starting to use salt more than I have done before, but in a different way. A lot of L-plate recipes say ‘season to taste’ at the end of the cooking method. You cook the meal, then throw in a shake or three of salt and that’s it.

But often what happens then is that you taste the salt more than anything else.

But here’s the thing: one of the beauties of salt is that salt enhances the flavours of other foods. (I mean, who would have thought of salted caramel? But it works so well!)

What I’m beginning to get is that you put a bit of salt in earlier during cooking. And you taste. (That’s the good bit!) And if the flavours of the food are a bit muted, you add just a tiny bit more salt. And after a while, you taste again. If you’ve done it right, the flavours of the food are sharper and zingier.

There’s trial and error involved, and it’s ok to make mistakes. What’s the worst that can happen? If you ruin the meal, you can always get Thai takeaway.

While you’re fantasising about your favourite takeaway, let’s look at the second thing Jesus said about salt:

…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.

Commentators argue about what that means. How does sodium chloride stop tasting like sodium chloride? Does it have a use-by date? Well, it may be because there were impurities in first century salt that got in the way of the flavour. We don’t have that issue these days, but it seems they did back then.

Now, I found something out this week that I never knew before. I was very excited by it. The Greek word translated as ‘lost its taste’ literally means ‘become foolish’. It was just an expression, you know instead of saying This salt is tasteless, they’d say This salt is foolish.

So here’s where I attempt to make this rambling talk into a sermon. Ready?

Jesus says,

You are the salt of the earth…

You are the salt of the earth. Not, you are the salt of the earth if you are good, or do the right thing, or when you’re in church. No; you are the salt of the earth. Right now. Whatever you are doing.

The question is What kind of salt are we going to be? Are we going to be foolish salt (translating that Greek word literally)? Or shall we be wise salt?

‘You are the salt of the earth.’ So be wise salt. When you’re out there in the world, at work or school, at the shops or having coffee with friends, volunteering for Meals on Wheels or St Paul’s Uniting Soccer Club, you are the salt of the earth. Your mission is to be part of bringing out the wonderful flavours of life as people join together in community. You are salt; be wise salt.

So be that salt. But just like a cook tastes the meal she’s cooking to see if the amount of salt is right, so also we need to reflect on how we are being salt. Do we need to add more? Do we need to hold off a bit?

I’m talking of course about quiet Christian witness, the kind we Uniting folk are so good at. Sometimes, our witness is so quiet that we’re not adding enough to the flavour of life.

We need to add more.

Sometimes, we realise that we’ve put someone off by being to full of ‘salt’. We may need to reconsider how to approach similar situations in future.

There’s a certain type of Christian who talks a lot about being ‘persecuted’. Christians are being persecuted in various parts of the world, but in Mansfield? Sometimes, first-world people mistake a bit of pushback for persecution. And sometimes it happens because they’re being a jerk. Someone once said that the first rule of Christian witness is Don’t be a jerk. They may have something there.

But maybe the second rule is Don’t forget: You are the salt of the earth. Be wise salt. Season appropriately.

One last thing. When we look at the scriptures, *context* is super, super important.

How does the context show us how to act as wise salt, and not as jerks?

Jesus tells the disciples they are the salt of the earth—and, of course, the light of the world—right after the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Blessed are the peacemakers…

And blessed are the salt of the earth as they live as people of the Beatitudes.

We’re not the salt of the earth as we assert ourselves, or walk away from making peace, or as we act from mixed motives. Here, Jesus teaches that it’s Be-attitudinal people who are the wise salt of the earth.

So, Broadwater Rd Uniting Church: you are the salt of the earth. But: don’t become foolish salt. Be wise, and take the Beatitudes as your guide.

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Filed under Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

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