THE 5TH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY AD 2023
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
'Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?'
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
 "Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
 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 him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
1 Cor. 2:1-12
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him"—
 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
Matthew 5:13--22 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If salt loses its taste? Don’t be ridiculous. What a silly idea. How can salt lose its saltiness? It’s just about impossible. Which is why a well known Jewish Rabbi mocked this treasured saying of Jesus not long after he spoke it. Clearly Jesus was some sort of a lunatic if he could say something so preposterous as that! Salt losing its saltiness? Unsalty, salt? What an absolutely ridiculous idea! It would be like lighting a lamp and then hiding it under a basket. Who in his right mind would do that?
Yes, unsalted salt is a ridiculous idea, which is Jesus’ point, and it is a very profound one, despite what that Jewish Rabbi had to say. One that our Lord wants us to quietly and deeply ponder this morning as He sits down with us on the mountainside here. It is a ridiculous idea, even for modern folks like us, who don’t use salt in all the ways that the Jews did, or even as much as the generation did that lived and worked on the farms around us without electricity and refrigeration.
As one of the nations that has the highest salt contents in its food, we all know that salt makes things taste good - which we find out in a hurry if our doctor puts us on a low salt diet. In our frigid land we also know that a very good use for salt is exactly what Jesus says that unsalty salt is only good for - to be thrown on the ground and trampled under foot to keep you from slipping and falling. I’d have to say that I certainly wished that someone would have thrown a bit more unsalty salt (aka sand) under my tires on Friday when I was skating home from Cambridge on an ice covered 86.
Like us, the Jews and the farming generation that went before us knew that salt seasoned things and made them taste better, but they also understood, perhaps, far better than many of us do, that salt preserves things. Sure those of us who still have jars of home made pickles on our basement shelves and shred cabbage into stoneware crocks every fall still know that salt is an excellent preservative - try making pickles or sauerkraut without salt and things won’t go well. All you’ll end up with is a bunch or bursting jars and a crock full of molding slimy mush.
Yes, some of us know a thing or two about how salt preserves things, but no, there aren’t many of us who know how to use it to preserve everything that our forefathers or the Jews used it to preserve. Some of us even have some idea that salt preserves stuff because it purifies it. It gets rid of, or makes it very difficult for, bacteria and other harmful things to survive and reproduce. This is why infected wounds were often bathed in salt water before we had so many antibiotics to get rid of the bad bacteria.
The Jews understood salt’s purifying power in a very profound way, which is why all their sacrifices were salted before they were offered. The salt of course made the sacrificed meat taste better when they shared in the sacrificial meal that they ate with God after it was cooked on the altar, but the priests also used the salt to symbolically and ritually cleanse what the sinful hands of the Jews were offering. So salt, you see, was not only essential for every day Jewish life it was essential for their life with God.
You are the salt of the earth. Yes, there’s a lot to understand behind those words that Jesus speaks to us on this hillside today. It means a lot more than what it has meant for a lot of people in the past - that we are good hardworking down to earth people. There’s the slightest bit of that going on in what Jesus says, but it barely scratches the surface of all that it means to be the salt of the earth. When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, he does mean that we stand out or at least should stand out as good decent people in the crowd of humanity - that we season, or should season, the human race, so that it tastes better over all to others. Yes, we should make others think that people over all aren’t that bad.
But yes, there’s a whole lot more to it. Not only do we season the earth, we should also, like the 10 righteous persons that God was seeking in Sodom to spare it, preserve humanity by being the righteous ones for whom God spares the rest of the earth. Yes, as the salt of the earth we should be preserving it, as we should, like the salt that was added to the sacrifices, be purifying it. How? By simply being God’s children faithfully carrying out our callings in our little corners of the world - in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and schools and in our Church. Simply doing what God has given us to do while living out Christ’s love for all those that He puts in our path along the way.
You are the salt of the earth. It’s what Jesus says that you are, beloved, because it is what He has made you to be. Not on your own, no, but because He has joined His life to yours in the waters of Holy Baptism, because He has seasoned you, preserved and purified you in the font with the Holy Spirit. You are the salt of the earth, because that is simply what the Lord has made you to be. Salt after all doesn’t become salt, it’s simply salt from the start. Salt isn’t made it’s created. As salt does what it does simply because it is what it is, so too you are to do what you are to do simply because of who or what you are.
To not do what God has given you to do while living out Christ’s love for all those that He puts in your path along the way would be as ridiculous as unsalty salt. Yes, absolutely ridiculous, which sadly for me anyway, is what I am so much of the time, when I in sin fail to do what God has given me to do and fail to live out Christ’s love for those that He puts in my path along the way. Season? Preserve? Purify? Sadly, that’s not the way it is so much of the time, as I make things bitter with my sin, spoil things with my sin and and pollute them with my sin.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the Lord calls out to me and each one of you today, wherever we have let our sin leech his saltiness out of our lives. “If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. I have made you to be the salt of the earth, now stop being ridiculous and be what I have made you to be. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s time to get serious about what you are and what you are supposed to be to the earth - seasoning, preserving, purifying salt.”
And what can you and I do and say to that in the face of all our ridiculous sinful ways, beloved, other than repent and ask for mercy? Forgive us, O Lord, for not allowing you to season, preserve and purify our lives so that we might indeed be the salt of the earth that you have created us to be. Forgive us for hiding your light rather than letting it shine before men. We have been ridiculous but You are seriously gracious and merciful. You were cast out and trodden underfoot on Calvary as your Light was snuffed out in death for all our ridiculous sinful ways so that your blood might, season, preserve and purify the earth with Your forgiveness and the lamp of your love might draw all people unto you.
Come to us in Your flesh and blood today, Lord Jesus, and re-season us with Your life and relight our lamp with your love, so that with you seasoning us and shining out brightly within us we may be ridiculous no longer, but the seasoning salt of the earth and the glowing light of the world that you want us to be. To which the Lord answers from the altar today, “Truly, truly, that is what I am here to do, come to me and I will make you be all that I have created you to be, now and forever.” Amen.