Be Salty

February 5, 2023

Series: February 2023

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


"Be Salty"


First Reading
Isaiah 58:1-12

58Shout out, do not hold back!
   Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
   to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
   and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
   and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
   they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
   Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
   and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
   will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 Is not this the fast that 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?
7 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?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in.

Second Reading
Matthew 5:13-20

            13“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.

            14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.

            17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Be Salty

            She could never quite get her 13-year-old to show interest in church.  She’d been bringing him with her his whole life, he’d even attended a Christian school, but it never took.  When he came out as gay, mom and son left an unsupportive church and joined another that was supportive, though its wider denomination was not officially.  It was 2019, and time for their new denomination to hold a vote on the ordination of gay pastors and same sex marriages. Everyone gathered at the church to hear the results together.  They anticipated a defeat and thus expected a tone of mourning as they gathered.[1]  They were right and they were wrong.

            I was talking to an old friend a couple months ago who was sharing how divisive that issue had become in his church.  You hear fatigue sometimes from people about their churches engaging in public matters, societal issues.  They feel the strains of dwindling participation, an irrefutable trend being felt broadly across traditions, and so the temptation is to pull in and do anything to avoid offending someone lest they be driven away. What in a healthy sense could be an appreciation and respect for a diversity of thought can become an anxious practice of lowest common denominator Christianity.  Let’s just say “God loves you” and leave it at that.   

            I don’t mean to be dismissive of those who want church to feel good and comforting.  Lord knows so many other spaces have been infiltrated by toxicity, vitriol, overreaction often personal in nature, and division.  Who wouldn’t want one place to exhale and not have to get into anything that could create conflict?           There is a place of refuge in the church, I hope.  Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).

            This is not, however, all he said.  Jesus also said, “Be salty.”  Okay, he didn’t say it that way.  He said, “You are the salt of the earth;” (5:13).  You bring flavor to the world.  You are not called to a kind of blandness (or a kind blandness) meant to offend no taste bud.  Jesus, remember, was a part of the prophetic tradition.  As we heard this morning, Isaiah, who Jesus would have known by heart, says, “Shout out, do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!  Announce to my people their rebellion,” (Is. 58:1).  That kind of critique isn’t exactly comfort food.  It is still loving, and in that sense it is nourishment. Isaiah, as Jesus would later do, calls out hollow religious observance that ignores the lived conditions of people. “Look, you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers,” asking rhetorically, “Is not this the fast that 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?” (58:6).  That’s real worship.  That’s practicing one’s faith.  Sometimes you have to speak up and you have to act, if not act up, shout out if not shout at.  This is not the church refusing to “stay in its lane.”  This is us following Jesus.  Staying quiet and doing nothing bears little resemblance to the Jesus we claim to follow.

            Be salty, Jesus says, “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” (5:13).  While some churches have taken to spewing hate, many others have so feared someone not liking their flavor that they’ve become tasteless altogether.  Salt isn’t just about shocking the palate. It’s about providing something that serves and something that preserves.  Real salt helps what is good last and gives sustenance that can endure.  There is a difference between throwing gasoline on a fire and sharing seasoning with the world. 

            Switching metaphors, Jesus says to let your light shine. Don’t hide it under a basket where only a stray beam escapes here and there.  God has given a light.  Why would we hide it?  We have made important strides, I believe, in learning to check our own sense of superiority at the door, learning to critique our mistakes as a people historically, and generally being cautious about foisting our way on others.  We’ve reckoned with how the image of the city on a hill can be perverted into a misguided Christian nationalism or American exceptionalism, neither of which has anything to do with the gospel. That’s good and good to remember, but apology can’t be all we have to offer.  If we don’t stand for something—nonviolence, justice for the poor and oppressed—if we can’t think of anything we have anything to offer, or Christ has anything to offer the world through us, then we should stop wasting our time. 

            Offering salt and light doesn’t mean we lose humility or self-awareness.  It’s not about us.  We remain tethered to a tradition, to a stream of wisdom, to a way of being. Jesus modeled this for us.  He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17). The church can help us live into the best of our ideals.

            What if we cannot agree in what to say, or what is right?  Christians have argued since the beginning about all kinds of issues and how the church should respond.  Well, then we have a good tradition on which to build.  Can we not be mature and talk openly, deliberate honestly, study, pray, and discern together what is best?  Are our relationships so fragile that they cannot stand any tension?  If we are truly siblings in the faith, then our bond in Christ can hold us together as we wrestle with what it means to be faithful in any given moment. 

            What if some don’t like it?  That’s the real question anxious churches hold.  Well, we never seek to push anyone away, but our calling is not to appeal to the most people possible.  Perhaps my favorite line in the Presbyterian Book of Order, half of our constitution, reads, “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its own life.”[2]That line was written acknowledging the truth of the decline of religious affiliation to say to churches, and it was written by the elected people of the churches—that’s our polity—“Don’t tighten up and shut down.  Don’t cower in fear that you may lose people.  You might lose.  The church might even lose its own life, but there are worse things, like losing your integrity, like losing your calling, like losing sight of what Jesus and the prophets called for from us.  Be salty. Be light.  Don’t be fear.”  Sitting on the sidelines can drive people away too.

            Their anticipation that mother and son had that their new denomination would fail to affirm gays and lesbians for full inclusion in the sacramental life of the church was correct.  The vote for inclusion was defeated.  Their expectation that the night would succumb to mourning, however, was not.  With energy, the pastor addressed this open and affirming congregation.  They assured that this wasn’t the end of the process but the beginning, that they would keep working for inclusion.  They would stand up and speak out.  It was at that moment that, at the center of a divisive issue, that the previously somewhat uninterested 13 year-old turned to his mother and said, “I want to be a part of this!” That should tell us something.



[1]Heard on NPR 3/3/19.

[2]From the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order, F-1.0301