II Kings 2.19-22; Isaiah 51.4-5

Matthew 5.13-16

Salt & Light

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

            A handful of stories this morning – and I hope and pray they’ll somehow tie themselves together by the end.

For years I’ve been making my own spaghetti sauce, and if you don’t mind my saying so, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  I had a neighbor in Beverly who came over for lessons one lovely autumn afternoon, and swears it is the best sauce she has ever tasted, and continues to this day to use the recipe.  Except I don’t really have a recipe, except what’s up here and how I happen to cook on that particular day.  However one year, I remember it was a rainy Saturday, I somehow oversalted my sauce.  I still have no idea how that happened because as a rule I’m usually very sparing with the salt, but in the late stages of cooking I tasted it, as I continue to do through the process, and it was horrible.  Now mind you, I had three large stock pots filled with the stuff sitting on the stove, and I thought to myself, What am I going to do with all this sauce?  Those were perfectly good tomatoes from my garden, and it broke my heart to think I’d have to get rid of it all.  First I tried calling my favorite tomato sauce expert, but Mom wasn’t home.  So I did what any self-respecting twenty-fist century chef would do, and I Googled my problem, and that’s how I came to peel a half dozen potatoes, quarter them and place eight quarters in each pot (two potatoes – two potatoes – two potatoes).  Sure enough, by the end of the day, the potatoes had absorbed just enough of the salt and my spaghetti sauce was saved.

            Salt is that powerful a commodity that it can completely alter the character of whatever it touches.  “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”  Or as the verse is sung in the musical Godspell, “If the salt has lost its savor, it ain’t got much in its favor – you are the salt of the earth.”

            First-time travelers to Tuscany and Umbria will notice something different about the local bread.  There are four basic ingredients to bread:  flour, water, yeast and salt.  Except for in those two regions of Italy, which omit salt from their bread.  There are several stories behind this, the most probable being the Perugian Salt War of 1540, where the people of the Tuscan town of Perugia rebelled against a tax on salt levied by Pope Paul III with the upshot being they stopped using salt altogether.  We were in Perugia ten years ago, and I have to admit that the cathedral Pope Paul III built with the monies collected from the salt tax is a breathtaking one, built with beautiful blocks of striated marble, and it dominates the small town piazza.  But the Perugians and their Tuscan neighbors refused to pay the tax and stopped baking salt into their bread.  Now I confess, the first few chunks of Tuscan bread I ate did seem a bit bland, at least compared to the Italian bread I grew up with, but I soon discovered that the flavors of whatever it is you’re putting on the bread or dipping the bread into really leap forward in the absence of salt.  Olive oil, prosciutto, anchovies, cheese, shaved truffle, all step forward on your palate when paired with a slice of Tuscan bread.  Salt is that powerful a commodity, that it can exert its influence even by its complete absence.

            “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”

            A few years ago Debbie and I, along with two other couples, sailed the southern Aegean Sea for a week among a group of islands called The Cyclades.  Most days we would sail to one of the islands, tie off at a local dock for the day, and go exploring the town.  But one evening, instead of pulling in to shore, we decided to anchor off shore, off an unpopulated beach on the island of Naxos.  The evening was clear and moonless, and after the sun had completely set, we lay on the trampoline on the front of our vessel and in the complete absence of any discernable ambient light, the entire Milky Way shone like a beacon.  The stars were innumerable, they lit up the sky like hundreds of thousands of fireflies, and as we watched the sky swirl slowly by, we could even track a couple satellites with the naked eye.  So in a near contradictory way, the absence of light, of human-generated light, that is, helped us to see all the more clearly the bright lights of heaven.

            “You are the light of the world… let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.”

            Salt of the earth – light of the world.  I wonder what that tastes like – I wonder what that looks like.  What if we spiced up the world like those stock pots of salty spaghetti sauce?  What if it were so abundantly evident that we are the people Jesus tells us we are that at the very first taste, the very first encounter, the very first smile, the very first word, our savor were unmistakable?  What if we seasoned the world so piquantly and abundantly and generously that even when something happens that might otherwise suck the spice right out of us - illness, tragedy, suffering, death – at the end of the day we still retained enough of our character to bring salt and light to the world?

            Salt of the earth – light of the world.  I would also wonder what it might look like if we were as innumerable as the stars in the sky, if by our light alone others could find their way through the darkness.  I say, I would also wonder, because I don’t have to; I have seen it with my own eyes, and I saw it – along with many of you – in the Solidarity Shabbat Friday night at Temple Beth Shalom.  What an incredible service of worship.  From the music that lifted us out of our seats, the remarkable contemporary settings of old Hebrew prayer melodies, the generous warmth of welcome we met, the four and a half hundred people from our Valley Shore towns and neighborhoods, the fifteen faith communities present that night, the force of scripture, the grounding of tradition, the power of prayer, the abundant wealth of fellowship and partnership, the clear and unmistakable witness of unity and solidarity, this is the light that pierces the darkness, this is the salt that brightens the earth.  So many familiar faces from so many corners of our community.  I told a few of you this story on Friday night:  earlier in the week I decided to try out a new restaurant in Old Saybrook, The Little Pub, and since I was solo I sat at the bar for dinner and struck up a conversation with a couple to my right who live in Old Saybrook.  One topic led to another, and soon I was telling them about Friday’s upcoming Solidarity Shabbat.  And wouldn’t you know it, as I stood chatting with a few of my colleagues before the service began, in walked the couple from The Little Pub, Gretchen and Steve, who have little if any connection to anyone else who attended the service, but who nonetheless felt compelled to attend.   Maybe I should expand my Coffice Hours beyond Simon’s and the Villager.  But I think it bears witness not simply to the need, nor merely to the desire, but also to the ability and willingness, to stand alongside one another in hours of darkness and grief and provide the kind of light that illumines both the heavens and the earth, the light to which Jesus, in the beatitudes, calls us.

            So on this Second Sunday of our Stewardship season, what does this all have to do with Stewardship?  I don’t think it’s too difficult to connect the dots.  You probably noticed that I took this morning’s scripture from our bulletin insert, which asks near the end, “What would happen if we fully employed the gifts we have for the bringing of light into the world?”  We may be a small congregation, but there is no question that we bring a good deal of savor and a good deal of light to our community.  We do this in a lot of ways, and on Friday night we did it with a powerful presence; you might say all of us who gathered at CBSRZ brought the gift of our time, a valuable commodity indeed.  I know, I know, we will continue to be equally as generous with our talents and treasures as well.

            Amen.

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