Epiphany 5A – Sunday 6th February 2011
Matthew 5: 13-20
I never want to see an ounce of salt again. Don’t get me wrong. I love fish and chips … and they would be nothing without a good dose of salt and vinegar. But I’m not talking about that salt.
Snow. Ice. Cold. Hey, it’s only the beginning of February, and we’ve already had more cold snaps than the last 10 years put together. We English folks are not used to this. I’ve cleared paths at home and church, dug the car out of the garage, put salt down to stop it being refrozen, watched it thaw and then cried when it’s snowed again!
Things were much simpler when you were a child. Yeah, I still had to shovel snow for my mum and dad to clear the way to the front gate, and to the garage. But that was all a pretext to building a snowman, or if you felt particularly adventurous creating an igloo – always something beyond my engineering skill! Once you’d cleared the paths you could go have a snowball fight with your mates, or sledging, or creating an ice track.
There comes a point in life when things become complicated. I think it must be a different age for everyone, but complicated – not simple – becomes a way of life for all. I just helped move my mum-in-law into a new flat, and for every form we had to fill in or every job we needed to complete she would utter, “It’s all so complicated!”
Well, she hasn’t seen the tax form that I’ve just discovered I need to fill out! Or have you ever tried to make sense of step-by-step Ikea guide to building their flat pack Birkeland chest of six drawers? Life is complicated.
So when you approach the Sermon on the Mount you know something is wrong. This is too simple.
- You are the salt of the earth.
- You are the light of the world.
- This, then, is how you should pray.
- Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
What’s Jesus not telling us? What’s the catch? O for a child like faith. O for a eureka moment. (I had one of those this week – put salt and vinegar on it. Just kidding.)
In looking for inspiration for this blog and my Sunday service I came across a blog on the word-sunday.com site (…a lectionary resource for Catholics … it says … being the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I read on … I learnt humility from last week’s lectionary readings!). I then learnt something very interesting this week about the context for this section of Matthew 5.
“In (Matthew) 5:13, the salt referred to the levelling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus. Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun. When the fuel paddies were lit in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat. When the fuel was burnt out, the family would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.”
Now, I’m not sure that that’s entirely a compliment for you, that God thinks you’re a piece of dung. No wait, hold on, we’re the salt aren’t we. Oh yes, we’re the ones that help the fuel burn longer. We’re the ones that help the fuel burn brighter. We are, if we’re the salt of the earth.
word-sunday goes on to say: “Jesus saw his followers as levelling agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural ‘dung’. But if their example rang empty, they were worthless; they would be dug into the mud under the heels of critics.”
I think, if there’s one thing that the Sermon on the Mount has to teach, it is that faith and action go hand in hand. You cannot hide your light under a bushel. Likewise, to hide your faith by inaction would be to betray all that our faith means to us, to deny the saving grace of the cross and God’s love for us.
Faith leads to work. And that witness points to the Kingdom.