February 9, 2020

2020 Feb9

Epiphany 5 - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Today’s Gospel awkwardly squishes two bits together. Yes, they are both part of Chapter 5 and part of the Sermon on the Mount, but they aren’t wholly related.

 

The imagery of salt, light, and lamp turns the focus away from the Jewish life steeped in living the Torah, concerned with Temple sacrifices and worship, or focused on Jerusalem. Israel is no longer the focus, and the salt or light of the world is now the Church, the Body of Christ.

 

The second part about the Law and the Commandments is laying the foundation for what comes next in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is about to share His views on Anger, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, Retaliation, Enemies, Almsgiving, Prayer, Fasting and Treasures. He is preparing His hearers for what will be required of them, which will be much more than the Torah requires, but comes with greater rewards.

 

So, the two parts of today’s Gospel have very different tones.

 

It’s the salt metaphor that I want to focus on today. Despite that it’s only 2 sentences, it holds incredibly deep significance, both theologically and in personal application.
Jesus states that the Disciples and the crowds on the mountaintop are the salt of the earth. Their actions and message will extend well beyond this small region; they will go global and extend from generation to generation.

 

Then Jesus takes a sharp turn, as He often does: “if salt has lost its taste”. Well, that’s impossible. Salt doesn’t go stale; it can’t lose its flavor. However, in Judaism salt can become unclean. You have heard of Kosher salt. If it becomes defiled, it must be thrown out. I actually asked a Rabbi what the deal is with kosher salt. It’s all about making sure it isn’t contaminated. He said that it’s not really a problem these days, because salt is processed in factories that must meet cleanliness standards that far exceed kosher rules. But it’s still a thing, and salt can become unclean.

 

Salt is a spice, and it is a preservative. This made it a symbol of purity and incorruptibility, and therefore was used to confirm contracts and friendships. There are references to this in the Old Testament. The ‘covenant of salt’ is referenced in Numbers 18:19. The requirement for salt to be used for every offering and oblation is written in Leviticus 2:13.

 

Salt was also a part of Greek and Roman sacrifices. There is speculation that an early Christian tradition derived from an older pagan Roman tradition. Romans would place a few grains of salt on the lips of an infant on the 8th day after birth to chase away demons. It may have led to the offering of blessed salt to those preparing for Baptism. And as the Altar Guild knows, salt is used in the preparation of the Holy Water that is in the Baptismal Font.

 

These traditions would have been known to Matthew’s audience, so Jesus’ salt metaphor would have essentially transferred the importance of salt onto the readers and listeners of these 2 sentences.

Moving from ancient traditions to the present day: In modern gastronomy, “salted” everything is all the rage.

 

  • Salted caramels
  • Salted chocolate truffles
  • Salted ice cream
  • And on and on

 

All this despite the health warnings to limit the amount of salt in our diets.

 

The role of salt in gastronomy is just as fascinating as its role in antiquity, furthering the depth and importance of Jesus’ metaphor when telling the Disciples about their mission to spread the news of God’s Kingdom.

 

I am a Chemist – not a very good one – and salt – table salt – is Sodium Chloride, one of the most basic compounds in the world. Also, I love food and cooking. There is an excellent book and four-part Netflix series called “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” featuring chef Samin Nosrat. In the episode on Salt, Samin brilliantly demonstrates that salt isn’t simple or simplistic; it’s complex. She starts out by stating the obvious:


“Salt makes food taste more like itself. In short, salt brings food to life. Learn to use it well, and your food will taste great.”

 

Another obvious point about salt is that it doesn’t all come from the same place. Some comes from water and is the result of evaporation by the sun, and some is mined from large underground salt deposits. So, just in that, there is a diversity of salts.

 

In the episode, Samin travels to Japan, an island, where all salt comes from the sea, and where there are about 3,000 kinds of salt. She featured 3 sources of salt for culinary purposes in the episode. The first was a salt from seawater, like a lot of salts, but which involves collecting and drying seaweed until the salt crystals form. Making Moshio Salt is a very involved process, requiring 15 tons of seawater to produce 1kg of salt. The Hondawaraseaweed gives it a very mineral-y taste. Its very mild flavor means that it is best with foods that don’t need much seasoning so that the Moshio Salt accents the main ingredient. Samin sprinkled a bit of Moshio salt onto Red Snapper Sashimi, and her response was:

 

“It’s like Japanese chefs have figured out how to use every part of the ocean.”

 

Miso is made by first steaming soybeans, then mashing them by hand. Then kiji – a fungus spore – is added to start fermentation, along with copious amounts of salt, of course artisanal salts, rather than industrial salts. This concoction is left to ferment for 2 or 3 years. Only then is it used to make Miso Soup, the salty broth that you get when you order your Bento Box at a Japanese restaurant.

 

Soy sauce is the most important source of saltiness and flavor to Japanese cuisine. In the soy sauce portion of the episode, Samin proclaims:

 

“Soy Sauce packs so much flavor that it’s the only seasoning we need to turn something as simple as chicken and rice into the perfect lunch.”

 

This took place at a 150yo, 5th generation family-run soy sauce company. The mash, called moromi, was comprised of soybeans, wheat, salt and water, which was put into 100yo wooden barrels. After 2 or more years, it is pressed, and that is what makes soy sauce, the saltiness that we add to all of our Asian dishes.

 

After the tour of the soy fermentation process, Samin sat down with a few people around a tabletop grill on which there was only unseasoned chicken and rice balls. Then, they added the aged salty soy sauce. The flavor of the soy sauce changed the character of the entire meal! Grilled chicken and rice balls became haute cuisine!

 

All this with just li’l ol’ Sodium Chloride, table salt. You can see that Jesus’ metaphor wasn’t simple or simplistic.


The unique properties, uses and
qualities of the salt become a
metaphor for the unique
properties, uses and qualities of
each one of us!

 

And Jesus wants you to bring all of that – all of yourself – into and for the mission of the Church, the Body of Christ. The metaphor was about sharing the Gifts of Spirit that you have. For us today, that is what supports our life in the Church in two ways:


our Stewardship of Time &
Talent, and showing the Love of
Jesus to those around us to draw
them into that Love – Ministry
and Mission.

 

You have received your Time & Talent Pledge Card. Share the unique “salt” that you are by filling it out and returning it by the end of the month.

 

Your unique “salt” comes from your life’s experiences of God. Share your “saltiness” within your circles, showing the Love of God as you do.

 

When we are doing the work of the Church, God’s work, our efforts may be short or long; so it is with salt. Samin described how to use salt in water for boiling different foods. In general, the shorter the time the food will spend in the water, the more salt the water needs so the food will be seasoned from within. She boiled a stock pot of water with a handful of salt in it, because she was blanching beans. They have a short contact time with the salted water, and most water and salt will go down the drain. Using more salt allows the beans to get just what they need.

 

By contrast, rice will absorb most of the water and salt that you put it into. Therefore, just a little bit of salt is needed. If you used the same amount of salt that was used with the beans, the rice would be too salty and inedible. Again, Jesus’ metaphor works here, too. Some of our endeavors in the work of the Church will require a little bit of effort or a few people or a short amount of time; other endeavors will require more effort, more people or lots of time.

 

Another similarity between salt and offering our Time & Talent and sharing Jesus’ love is the saltiness of salt. Salt that comes as small flakes dissolves quickly and you can taste it right away. The large flakes dissolve more slowly. You use strong salts for stronger flavors like meat, and mild salts for mild flavors like vegetables. Some mission and ministry will be received quickly; others more slowly. Some mission and ministry need strong characters; others will respond to more moderate personalities.

 

The breadth and depth of Jesus’ salt metaphor just keeps going, showing how we are invaluable assets to His will for us. And we do it together, each bringing our uniqueness as the salt of the earth, as the different members of the Body of Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes how important each of you are in your service to the Church and to God.

 

You are not just another
non-distinct blind follower; you
give a distinctive flavor to God’s
message of love.

 

And you are to go out and do all that stuff that Isaiah lays out:

  • free the oppressed
  • feed the hungry
  • care for the homeless and poor
  • clothe the naked,
  • satisfy the needs of the afflicted

 

Jesus using salt as a metaphor for sharing your Time & Talent with the Church and for spreading the Good News of God’s Love – a metaphor for both Ministry and Mission – goes much deeper than enhancing the flavor of your offering or message. Like salts, each of you is a distinctive creation; you were created in the image of God, which is unimaginably diverse, and you are to share this with the St Stephen’s Family and beyond.

 

GO to Netflix and watch Samin’s 4-part series. As you watch the episode entitled “Salt”, reflect on this brief charge of Jesus to be the salt of the earth, and to not be thrown out. Samin brilliantly demonstrates that salt isn’t simple or simplistic; it’s complex. YOU aren’t simple or simplistic. She said:

 

“Salt makes food taste more like itself. In short, salt brings food to life. Learn to use it well, and your food will taste great.”

 

Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth. Use your “saltiness” to make the world be more like God wants it to be. Help bring the Church and the world to life.

 

Learn to use your “saltiness”
well, and your Ministry and
Mission will be great

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