“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Be Salt

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 5A: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20

I woke up the other morning thinking of the word Iconic, so I decided to “Google” it, just to see what came up. Referring to iconic as something that has “cultural significance” I chuckled when I read on Wikipedia that The Christian Examiner nominated it to its list of overused words, finding over 18,000 "iconic" references in news stories alone. The third item on that Google page was a story published in the Seattle Times, titled, An Iconic Storm. The story described the experience of one woman stranded for eight hours in her car on Lake Shore Drive during the recent snow storm.

I spent 23 hours of that storm in a house without electricity or heat as temperatures plunged to subzero. I was grateful my family made it home and no one I knew was stuck outside in their car. In the snow storm of 1979 I was one of those trying to get home on public transportation – a forty minute trip took me over five hours as the train line shut down and everyone was forced onto crowded buses. Call it what you will, iconic or not, storms like these have cultural significance!

In ancient Israel salt was significant. It was the primary preservative for food as well as being used to enhance flavor. People had a special relationship with salt, more than merely useful, it was potent; salt impacted their lives. Most significantly to the Hebrew people, salt represented, in its iconic nature, something akin to God. Jesus says, “WE ARE salt.” Jesus doesn’t say we “ought to be” or “we should be” salt. Jesus says WE ARE salt. As salt our purpose is to bring out, enhance, the fullness of God - in and through - our lives. But, “salt doesn’t work alone. It preserves, adds flavor, and zests up food and drink. It changes the soil, the water, and the function of the human body. For salt to work, it must be used with something. To be a disciple, Jesus is saying, is to be salt, mixed right into the middle of life, adding some zest, working together, human beings, God, and creation, making a difference in the quality of life.” (Anne Howard, Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation)

Last week in her sermon and address for your annual meeting, Patti wondered what we would say if Jesus, sitting in the front row, asked us what we were going to do to further the mission of God in 2011. What would we say to Jesus?

Our reading from Isaiah points us in the direction Jesus might intend. Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes often in the Gospels, reminds us that we are to “loose the bonds of injustice...and, in so doing, light shall break forth like the dawn.” We have a responsibility to be aware of the injustices in the world around us, to become informed and then to care, to have compassion, and to try and make a difference; to enhance God’s love in the world, to be the hands and heart of Christ, to be salty turning suffering into light.

As people of faith we pray for a peaceful outcome to the turmoil in Egypt. In this Diocese we are building schools and churches in Renk, Sudan, we help support their Bishop, Daniel Deng Bul, and we pray for peace there too. Recent news stories have highlighted the injustice that thrives in our own country – teen bullying, domestic violence, and human trafficking and slave labor particularly that of tricking young Latino and Asian girls into thinking they were being hired for one kind of work, only to become abused and held against their will – are just a few examples of the issues in our own backyard. There are all kinds of storms in life.

We Are the salt. I don’t know about you, but I find it daunting to be told by Jesus that I am salt and light, called to enhance the love of God in this world, to become aware of the world around me, and to bring forth justice through acts of compassion.

I know there are all sorts of things the congregation of St. Lawrence is doing to expand the kingdom of God’s love in this community and the world around you. Your contributions to the food pantry, support of the homeless, the day care center that shares your space, the local soup kitchen, and contributions to Episcopal Relief and Development, Episcopal Charities, and United Thank Offering – you are being “salty” - busy caring for friends and strangers alike! Likewise, I heard that you had an energetic annual meeting, filled with ideas for how you will be salt and light in 2011.

I have spent the last year working with the National Council of Churches and the Episcopal Church Center in New York developing, what we think will be a significant project. It’s called the WordsMatter Expansive Language Project and is a tool designed to help congregations and small groups have important conversations about who they are as a people of God. Centered in personal story sharing, the conversations are intended to increase our self-awareness and our sensitivity to others particularly around the language we use in worship and everyday life. And, by language we mean, the words, images, and symbols we use to talk about God, ourselves, and other human beings. The hope is this guide will help us expand our understanding and compassion within the context of an increasingly diverse world.

Some of the people I have taught to use the WordsMatter conversation guide have told me that it has come just in the nick of time. Just as they were thinking of leaving church, fatigued and worn thin from rhetoric that limits one’s view of God, self, and others, some people have found new hope. This is one way I am working to be salt and light in the world.
Jesus reminds us: “You are the light of the world. ..let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

In this day and age it’s a curious experience to be snowed in, stranded in a house without electricity or heat. 23 hours without power we were unable to watch the news, use our computer, recharge our cell phones, or create enough light to read. In a way we were isolated and disconnected to the world around us. I missed Ground Hog day all together – but I heard that the ground hog has declared that spring is coming early this year? Few words can describe the relief and joy that accompanied the moment the power went back on – just like that – and we had light again.

We do not live as isolated human beings – we live in a vast global network of creation – and all around there is pain and suffering and people struggling. It doesn’t require a major storm to remind us that we need each other. But always, even in the midst of the worst storm life throws our way, comes a light, an act of love, simple compassion, and we remember, God loves us, God is with us. So go, Be Salt!