Mix It Up with the World

Feb 09, 2020

Sermon 2-9-2020
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Texts: Matthew 5:13-20; Isaiah 58:1-12
Pastor Jean M. Hansen


If you have eaten a meal with me, you may have noticed that, after praying, the first thing I do once there’s food on my plate is put salt on it. I know, I know – I should at least taste it first. But, not doing so is a time-saver. Since the food always needs salt, why taste it and then wait to use the saltshaker? After all, since Jesus calls his followers salt of the earth, it must be a good thing, right?

Salt is the only mineral we human beings take directly from the earth and eat, or so I’ve been told. We need sodium chloride to live. I’ve already noted that it flavors our food; it also has been used as a preservative, particularly of meat. Commentator Scott Hoezee notes that in history, some cultures exchanged salt as money. The earliest roads were built to transport salt and the earliest taxes were levied on it. In fact, whole military campaigns were launched to secure salt. (1)

I imagine the list of interesting salt facts could be even longer than that, but why does Jesus tell his disciples, “You are salt of the earth”? (Please note that it’s not “you will be,” but “you are.”) The most basic answer is that, just as salt makes food taste better, we are to improve, that is have a good effect, on the world. If that is to happen with salt, it must be mixed into food, right? It’s not good enough to have the saltshaker close by, but never actually add salt. If that’s the case, what good is it?

The implication for us, then, is that to quote Pastor Hoezee, “we must mix it up with the world,” flavoring it with Jesus’ love. Otherwise, our presence is worth about as much as a sealed container of salt sitting unused in the cupboard.

There’s a similar theme in Isaiah 58, today’s Old Testament reading, but it’s harsher. The first to hear these words were residents of Jerusalem who have returned from exile in Babylon early in the 4th century B.C.E. This text is a conversation between God and God’s people.

First, God speaks to the Prophet Isaiah about the people’s lack of righteousness. Then, beginning in verse 3, the people complain to God, and God answers. Their complaint is that they are being religious, they are fasting, but God does not seem to notice or care.

God’s response is firm; since their fasting (their religious activity) has not led to better behavior (remember the unused salt?), and they still do not treat their neighbors and workers well, it’s a waste of time! A waste of time?!?

God then redefines fasting (being religious). Let’s read it again, beginning at verse 6 God proclaims: “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Religious activity is being in right relationship with one another and with God, which involves how we think, feel, and live. One commentator noted that if we translated what Isaiah said in today’s reading to a contemporary “Call to Worship” it might be something like this: “Don’t just go through the motions in worship, singing songs but never engaging your hearts, hearing the scripture but not listening for God, or giving an offering but not giving yourselves, because if so, you are not doing God any favors. You do not get points for attendance. If you really worship God today, then you will share with the poor, listen to the lonely, and stop avoiding those in need.” (2) WOW… I guess that’s why Isaiah is a prophet, and most of us are not.

But, there’s also good news; listen to verse 9: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like noonday.”      

Doing these things is how to get God’s attention. This is how to be light and salt. Jesus puts it a bit more gently than Isaiah: “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.” (In other words, what good is salt that is not being used to make something better?)  “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (You are light, so be light, brighten this dark world!)

The emphasis in both passages is on outreach to those in need – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for one’s own. That’s not all, though; it also is addressing the attitudes and structures responsible for the injustice. Fasting, being salt, means not only that we meet needs, but also that we consider why the need exists in the first place, and address that too.

That’s why, in recent years, the Interfaith Justice Series that we are a part of in Lent has focused on racism, inherent biases, hate, and this year, trauma. These are at the root of violence, lack of opportunity, and poverty, which then leads to homelessness, substance abuse, and neglect. (And that certainly is not an all-inclusive list.)

And, we not only acknowledge that which leads to suffering, all those “isms” (racism, classism, sexism) and call them what they are – SIN – we also act. There are many ways to be salt and light, but in your bulletin today, you’ll find an insert with three suggestions for February alone, on one side, and one on the other side, which takes place primarily in the summer.

You can be a meal maker, dinner server, overnight host, or van driver for Family Promise, a ministry to homeless families. You can volunteer for DLM and help provide and serve a hot meal, assist people in gathering groceries and clothing, and care for children. And, you can help package more than 10,000 meals to feed the world’s most vulnerable people – that takes place here at the church and will take a lot of hands.

Or, flip the page over, and you’ll read about our Community Garden, which provides fresh produce for the OPEN M Food Pantry, and the many opportunities that are available to be a part of that ministry.

We are salt; we are light, which means we mix it up with the world and brighten the dark corners. And when we do, God is glorified. AMEN


(1) “Epiphany 5A: Matthew 5:13-20” by Scott Hoezee, February 3, 2020, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu
(2) Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartless and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year A, Volume 1, 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 319