Salt and Light

Homily for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Colonial Beach Virginia

Lectionary Texts:

You are the salt of the earth.

I was raised in a rural area of upstate New York. Growing up, I regularly heard my parents and other adults referring to dependable, hard-working friends and neighbors as “salt of the earth” people.  I really had no idea what that meant but it sounded boring. Salt was something I kind of took for granted.  It poured out of a big, blue paper covered canister that never seemed to get empty to matter how much we used it.  We’d bring it out for baking, and I’d pull out the little spout and fill a quarter, half or even whole teaspoon.  Then, it would return to its cupboard perch.  We used the most salt in the summer, when we were canning vegetables from the garden.  The crystals changed the water and allowed higher heat to be used without getting the vegetables soggy. The jars of green beans, beets and tomatoes preserved a taste of summer into the cold days of winter.  When I had a sore throat, inevitably that paper salt cylinder would come down from the cupboard and my Mom would mix up some briney solution that I needed to gargle with. I was not a fan, but often, it worked some wonder that seemed like magic.  That’s a lot of uses for some tiny little crystals: flavoring, strengthening, preserving, healing.

You are the salt of the earth

Over the years, I’ve learned to deeply appreciate the salt of the earth people who cared for me: spicing up my blandness; preserving and strengthening qualities in me that could make a contribution; adding to my wholeness and healing. My salt appreciation has expanded, too. My cupboard now has some flaky, Japanese sea salt; some smoked salt crystals, and herby Virginia blend called, ‘Peg Salt” that I got a taste of once at a farmer’s market have continued to order and use ever since in a wide variety of dishes.  I love to cook and, for those of you who do as well, I recommend Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” which has both a cookbook and a Netflix series. I watched the “Salt” episode again this week…we’ll call the “exegesis”…and I was fascinated to learn that in Japan alone there are over 4,000 varieties of salt available for consumption. I was also reminded that all salt ultimately comes from water, whether hard pressed under the earth from ancient seabeds, or extracted from seaweed drying in the sun until crystals emerge. Salt brings flavor; salt preserves; salt makes us yearn for more water and in doing so, helps keep our bodies in metabolic balance.

So, I take back my childish presumptions: being the “salt of the earth” is anything but boring!

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking to some salt-of-the-earth folks who are gathered around him.  These are people who are doing all the right things: the actions of piety, of kindness, of prayer and fasting.  They are good, solid salt-of-the-earth people.  Kind of like those canisters up on a cupboard.  But salt on its own is just…salt.  

Jesus reminds the salt of the earth followers about why their saltiness matters: its action is to bring out the essence of whatever it touches; to preserve vitality; to stimulate others in their thirst for righteousness. These salt of the earth people, when aware of their essence, are also the lights of the world. Illuminated with a source that is beyond themselves, their light magnifies the Light of Christ when raised up and shared, rather than hidden beneath a bushel where light is self-serving and easily extinguished.  

We often hear these messages applied to our individual lives, and that’s true and important. But, to stop there would be like staring at each individual salt crystal.  It’s really about how the nature and essence of salt works collectively. These messages of salt and light are also church messages, Body of Christ messages, which apply to all of us.  To the people of St. Mary’s that connect with the Diocese and the Diocesan staff that visit in your midst; to the Deacons who translate the needs of the world to the people of the church; to the Diocese of Virginia that connects to The Episcopal Church, to The Episcopal Church that is part of the global Anglican communion and joins with other expressions of Christian worship across denominations and ecumenical ministries: all of us are working together to be the salt of the earth, to boldly illuminate  the Light of Christ that dwells in us to a world that so desperately needs it.  We, the Church…the Body of Christ…are to be salt and light, people called to live with their full essence into righteousness, 

Just like we shouldn’t reduce salt to an individual crystal or cover the light of the world with a bushel basket, we are reminded not to reduce our righteousness to piety. Jesus reminds us that exceeding the righteousness of the law means going beyond merely following the rules and rubrics and invites us to be transformed, participating in God’s vision for the world through actions of justice and mercy which deepen our understanding of all of God’s creation, and our relationship with God.

God’s covenant with God’s people has always been a covenant of love. Like salt losing its saltiness, if we lose sight of the divine mercy, justice and love that are the core of our righteousness, we miss the point entirely.  In our reading from Isaiah, the prophet speaks to this, calling out those whose actions of fasting come from practice alone, and not from relational love God lavishes on God’s people: particularly those in need.

The righteousness to which we are called as followers of Christ, as bearers of the Light of Christ into the world is to make Christ’s light and love known through tangible actions that emanate from the core of who we are, and further magnify the light of Christ which burns in us.

We are salt and light when we gather here, at this table.  We join together, nourish our essence and recharge our Christ-light at this Holy Eucharist which we make together.  We share with each other in the holy communion among God’s people, and we are then sent out renewed, to do the work we are called to do.  That’s why the Deacon, the bearer of the light of Christ and proclaimer of the Good News sends us forth each week, fed and renewed, nurtured through relationship with God into righteousness, to be salt and light for the world.  May others see the Light of Christ in us, and may our saltiness make them yearn for the Living Water.

St. Augustine is said to have offered the gifts of the Holy Eucharist to the people with the words, “Behold what you are, become what you receive.” Our Eastern Orthodox siblings sometimes present the gifts to the people with a similar phrase, one I’ve incorporated into use as well: “Holy things for holy people” to remind us not only of the act of receiving, but the source of transformation of all of us as the elements of God’s work in the world. It’s important for us to not only be nourished as individuals and remember the salt and light that we are, but to be nourished and strengthened as community, to do the work together that we are called to do in this world.

I am grateful to be with you today to share this Holy Eucharist, to be fed together with you, to be sent out with you, to go forth into our lives remembering who we are, and reflecting the light of Christ, whose we are.  We all get to be stronger now, because we are strengthened by this connection we’ve made with each other.

Be salty salt; be radiant light.  And may the righteousness of Jesus Christ who makes us one nourish, sustain and transform you this day and all the days to come.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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