Sermon: Epiphany 5 RCL A – “Salt”

A little old Jewish lady sells pretzels on a street corner for 25 cents each. Every day a young man leaves his office building at lunch time, and as he passes the pretzel stand, he leaves her a quarter, but never takes a pretzel. He doesn’t like them, but wants to support the lady and her business. Even though he is faithful in giving, the young man and the woman never exchange a word. This goes on for more than three years, each day, dropping in a quarter, but never taking a pretzel or speaking.  One day, as the young man passes the lady’s stand and leaves his quarter as usual, the pretzel lady finally speaks to him.  “Sir, I appreciate your business. You are a good customer, but I have to tell you that the pretzel price has gone up to 35 cents.”

There is a Yiddish word that we are all familiar with: chutzpah. Its original meaning was quite negative – brazen nerve combined with effrontery and arrogance. According to the humorist Leo Rosten, it is “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.” Or something like Winston Churchill when, on the eve of his 75th birthday he declared, “I am prepared to meet my Maker.  Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Today, chutzpah is a positive quality that is appreciated, especially when attempting to get things done. It is courage, drive, confidence in action.

How does chutzpah apply today? At the beginning of our gospel reading today Jesus says, “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.”

According to the doctors, you and I like our salt way too much, but in the time of Jesus it was very important.  A Roman saying states, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.”  For the people it carried three special qualities.  First, given its color – white – it was a symbol of purity; second, it was the most important preservative of the day, and third, it lends flavor to food.

Therefore, to say that a person is the salt of the earth is to say that they should be a symbol of purity, that they should guard against those things that bring about decay and corruption in ones life and – contrary to popular belief – the Christian is also one who should bring flavor, joy to life.  It was Oliver Wendaell Holmes who said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”  Or Robert Lewis Stevenson who wrote in his diary as though he was recording something extraordinary, “I have been to Church today, and am not depressed.”  It is not supposed to be that way.  The Christian is to add flavor – joy, hope, love – to the world around them.  Jesus says, if we are not these things – symbols of purity, wholesomeness, and givers of life – then we have lost our saltiness and although salt cannot lose its saltiness, Jesus is saying that if we are not these things, then we are useless.

Now, I would contend that you all are a salty lot, so I have no complaint against you that way, but I think for all of us there is a problem we experience.  Let me explain: I have not experienced it here, but when I was in seminary in Wisconsin we always had breakfast and lunch together in the refectory, the main dining hall.  There were about fifty or so of us each meal.  Now the refectory was a dome shaped design and the sound traveled incredibly well, so with those fifty people it was always quite loud with the voices and the clattering of dishes.  As folks came in you could hear their conversations quite well and when they sat down, almost to the person, you would hear {tap – tap}.  No, it’s not a funny way of saying your prayers in seminary; instead, it was the salt shakers.  You see, the humidity in Wisconsin is so high that the salt in the shakers sticks together and to the shaker itself, so a little {tap – tap} of the shaker against the edge of the table loosened it up.

You are a salty lot – no problem there – but occasionally I think we can all get stuck in the shaker, so we need someone to come along and {tap-tap} us.  We need a little chutzpah when it comes to sharing our faith and inviting others to church. And everybody rolls their eyes, looks to heaven, and says, “Dear Lord, do we have to hear this one again?” Yes, we do. Why? Because it obviously didn’t take the last time I preached it. Remember the story about the priest who preached the same sermon for several weeks in a row and finally the Sr. Warden came to him and cries out, “We’ve heard this sermon several times and we wondering when you were going to preach something different.” What was the priest’s response? “Sir, when you all start acting like you’ve heard it, I’ll preach something else.”

When we talk about sharing our faith, we should have an understanding of why we believe, but you don’t need a theology degree in order to be successful. Many times your life and the simple fact that you care and are willing to listen is more than enough. You don’t have to win that person for Christ on the spot, but you can show them and speak to them about another way – The Way – and help them to have an encounter with Jesus.

The young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “Son, take my advice: your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” When sharing our faith or inviting someone to church, we are trying to do just that. Create a thirst within them. We are here to worship God, but out there is the mission field. It is where we do the work of the Church.

Remember the hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” to which Brennan Manning adds, “Or not.” They’ll know us, they’ll know Jesus, by our love.. or not. And we show them the greatest love by introducing them, by making them thirsty for Christ.

The theologian Paul Tillich writes, “Lodged in the heart of every Christian is the power to walk into somebody’s life and give him or her ‘the courage to be.’” Don’t be afraid to have a bit of chutzpah about your faith and give them that courage to be what God created them to be.  St. Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  Always be prepared and when the opportunity arises, speak up.

When it comes to your Christian faith, to being the salt of the earth, be bold, be brave, get out of the salt shaker and show a bit of chutzpah.  The prophet Isaiah writes: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

You have the Good News of Jesus. Make it known.  You have the love of God. Proclaim his name.  You have the power to give someone the courage to be.  To be that which Christ Jesus has called them to.  Be salty. Season the world around you “for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Let us pray: O God, as salt poured from its shaker flavors our food, by your Spirit, set us free from our attachments to the safe containers, at times confinements, of our existence.  Send us out to season your world with your love.  In our loving, let us be as light that dispels the darkness.  May all whose lives we touch know that you create us holy and call us to be Your sons and daughters.  Amen.

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