Salt and light. I think salt and light are appropriate topics for today, given the amount of salt and spectacle I will be consuming later on today. That Lipton onion dip is one of my favorite things in the world, but it has enough salt to lure deer into the rectory, so I have it once a year now, on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl is the brightest spectacle in sports, perhaps even in all the media we consume, and hopefully will give many of us, at least, the respite we need from the real world.
I love salt – I prefer it to sugar – and I’ve talk about salt and its worth before, especially its worth to our ancient ancestors. Most commentators and preachers speak about how salt preserves and enlivens food, which easily translates to metaphors pertaining to the Christian life.
But everyone in the audience who heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount used salt in other ways as well. Just as we use the bulk of our salt, the low-quality bulk supply, on things like roads and water softeners, the ancient Israelites used their bulk salt for things like providing grip on roads and for cooking, but not in the way you might expect.
“Modern visitors to Israel who travel the road north from Jerusalem toward Shechem notice clay-ovens next to some houses along the roadside. Many prefer to cook in these outdoor ovens rather than on their electric or propane gas stoves.
“Ovens like these have been around since ancient times. In the biblical period each village had a common oven. Since villagers were often members of a very large, extended family, these common ovens were family ovens.
“The common fuel for the oven was something that was more plentiful than wood: camel or donkey dung. One of the duties each young girl had to learn was to collect the dung, mix salt in it, and mould it into patties to be left in the sun to dry. In the Middle East and many Third World countries, such dung patties are still used as fuel today.
“A slab of salt was placed at the base of the oven and upon it the salted dung patty. Salt has catalytic properties which cause the dung to burn. Eventually the salt slab loses its catalytic ability and becomes useless. Or as Jesus says, “It is good for nothing but to be thrown outside where it can still provide a sure footing in a muddy road.””1
Mmmm, salted dung patties. Now I know why preachers stick to the preserving and enlivening side of salt. But I like the thought of salt as a catalyst, the thing that causes a reaction; in today’s case, salt causes the dung to heat up and burn away. Salt and light. Making it happen.
You all make stuff happen all the time. We’ve all heard the jokes about Episcopalians being the “frozen chosen” and how we’re not good at evangelism, but I find all that to be remarkably and demonstrably stupid, and thankfully not at all true. I meet an awful lot of people in many different contexts, and somehow they all seem to know one of you, and they know that you are a part of the Christ Church family. That means you’ve said something, you’ve told all these people either about Jesus or about where you find Jesus. You haven’t hidden your light under a bushel, and you’ve made your church a place of light that cannot be hidden.
At this point you should be glad that I’ve compared everyone to salt and not to camel dung. You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world in our generation. At last week’s annual meeting, we elected several from amongst us to help guide us, to keep our salt salty and our lamps lit. Pray for them. We also laid out what we have been doing to show Jesus to our community and asked for new ways to advance His Kingdom. Let them know, let me know, your ideas, what has been laid on your heart, for us to do in our city and for our God, that all might see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
1John J. Pilch: http://liturgy.slu.edu/5OrdA020517/theword_cultural.html