Sermon for February 6, 2023, 5th Epiphany: Keeping Salt and Light (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)
In a 1969 radio broadcast, Father Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI,)
made the following prediction about the Church:
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has
lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from
the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built
in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of
her social privileges.”
This quote is from an article from Pathos online magazine by Jocelyn Soriano
entitled “Why Must the Church Become Small?” She quotes all the Pew Research
Polls and speculates that Very soon, we may live in a more secularized world. A
world where most people don’t know God. In response to her speculation, she goes
on to say,
“Perhaps the Church needs to become smaller and more humble so that it can reach
those who are intimidated by its strength. People who see the Church now as
judgmental, elitist, or domineering. People who can immediately brush aside any
truth a believer yearns to share.
When the Church has become smaller, maybe it would also gain a different
spiritual strength. The kind of strength that can only come from God Himself.”
Another article I read in The Living Word online magazine, titled. “The Episcopal
Church In 2050” by David Goodhew. He begins his essay with this scathing
indictment of Bishop Spong.
Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book in 1999 entitled Why Christianity Must
Change or Die. The Episcopal Church has largely followed Bishop Spong’s lead. It
has changed and it is dying. If you altered one word of the title, making it Why
Christianity Must Change and Die, Spong’s book was indeed prophetic.
Predictions are circulating that the Episcopal Church will be dead by 2050. This
article examines how likely this is and how its deep decline might be slowed and
Goodhew sights Pew statistics and others that Rev. Deb us told about a few weeks
ago. These two articles reflect the same concern if slightly different approaches to
the Church’s fears because Jesus speaks to the Church through the Apostles in
today’s Gospel, words that she desperately needs to hear. You are the salt of the
earth. He did not say you will become the salt of the earth, but you are indeed the
salt of the earth.
Salt, sodium chloride, has been vitally important for the survival of civilization.
Indeed, societies spring up around sources of salt. Thank Sodom and Gomorrah,
Egypt, and Timbuktu. Sometimes salt was more valuable than gold. So it is little
wonder that the phrase “salt of the earth” Became such a compliment.
Salt improves or brings out food flavor, preserves food, and is necessary for life
and health, but in greater quantity, as in fast food like Mc Donalds, French fries are
To say that we are to be the salt of the earth implies bringing some “flavor” to our
pastoral relationships with each other and the world. Salt has an edge as well as a
satisfying taste. It makes come alive what would otherwise seem tasteless and
bland. Salt will stimulate thirst, or in our case, they thirst for the good news of
Christ, the love of God.
Jesus warns the disciples, “but if salt has lost its flavor (moranthe), what will it be
salted?” The Greek word moraino has more than one meaning. It can mean “lost its
taste,” but it can also mean “become foolish.” Matthew was undoubtedly aware of
this double meaning. He used the word moraino to convey that the disciple who
loses their spiritual zest has become foolish. Foolishness is an essential theme in
this Gospel. Flools—those who fail to heed the scriptures—are bound to suffer the
consequences of their foolishness.
Jesus warns us not to be complacent. If salt loses its taste, it becomes worthless.
Salt cannot change its chemical composition, but it does lose taste and value if
adulterated. In Jesus’ day, much salt was recovered from the Dead Sea and was
adulterated with various substances. At some point, adulteration could become so
pronounced that people would discard the salt as worthless.
.A great danger for the Church today is being tempted to give too much credence
to the values generated by the world and too little to the values found in Holy
Scripture. Someone has said that to learn what the Church will be speaking in five
years, familiarize yourself with what the world is saying today. There is a good
deal of truth, but the interval is often much less than five years. The Church is
always in danger of allowing the world to infiltrate. When that happens, we cease
to be salt and become “good for nothing, but cast out and trodden under the feet of
men.”An even greater danger is to strive to be an Imperial or national church as it
had been in its darkest past.
How does a people of faith, for example, live out the Gospel commitment to the
poor, the hurting, the homeless, the imprisoned? Sadly, too often, the desire to fit
in with those around us can suppress these faithful concerns and questions. There
is within our corporate responses a real temptation to avoid anything that might be
controversial and uncomfortable. When we fall prey to the temptation to steer clear
of controversy, even within our faith communities, our faith remains blissfully
irrelevant to the real world.
Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus’ tenure on earth
was limited. He charges his disciples with providing illumination through the
witness of their good works.
“Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, (speak of
foolishness) but on a stand, and it shines to all who are in the house” But if we are
not to seek glory for ourselves, neither are we to be invisible. A city is set on a hill
where it can be seen. A lamp is set upon a lampstand where it can provide light for
Christ intends each of us to be a light—some smaller and some larger, but all are
shining brightly—a thousand points of light—a million points—a billion! If every
Christian had their light turned on, this would be a different world!
Neither salt nor light is rare; they are the most common elements. So it is with the
faithful. We are valuable not because the world deems us a tradable commodity
nor because we are rare, precious, and costly. Instead, we are ordinary, humble
elements whose existence could well be overlooked. Still, salt and light are
essential to life: salt for taste, light for finding one’s way. They are suitable for the
world, and their value is found in their usefulness. So it is with followers of Jesus.
Our goal is not to be valued according to the world’s standards; our worth is not
measured by whether we have the largest budget or staff, measured like a
corporation. Our goal is not to have the most popular youth program or most
professional choir as if we were a franchise or a touring company. Like ordinary
salt or light, our goal is to be beneficial, valuable, life-giving elements in the
world. To the extent we can stay true to this calling, we will give glory to God.