There’s an article that’s been floating around on Slate.com written by an Episcopal priest, about how hard it’s been to preach since the election.
I can attest that this is true.
The problem is not that there’s nothing to preach about–the problem is that there’s so much to preach about, and it all cries out to be addressed, all at once. The refugee ban, the Islamophobia, the selling of the government for profit, the blatant disregard for any move towards unity…on and on and on. The ancient prophets would have a field day if they were alive (and, let’s not kid ourselves, would also be promptly chucked into a cistern or jail.)
Adding to that is that most of us have politically diverse congregations who are really struggling as all this news hits. While I am incredibly lucky at St. Paul’s to have a congregation who is used to the rector and I addressing current events from the pulpit, the fact remains that people are reacting differently to what’s happening right now. Some are mobilizing into activists for the first time in their lives. Some are doubling down on activist efforts. A few are in a deep denial about the severity of what’s happening. And many are having to come to terms with the idea that the assumptions they’ve held for their entire lives about America, government, and the essential nature of this world are now not holding true. Trying to reach all these groups at once in a sermon is hard, especially when you recall that preachers are human, read the news, and also feel tempted to spend much of their time hiding under their desk as of late.
Here was my attempt this week.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 4, 2017
My family has a tradition of eating Smithfield ham at Christmas time. This is not an easily found product–this is a locally produced variety of pork that dates back from colonial times before refrigeration. The ham was salt cured, seasoned with brown sugar and cloves, then hung in a barn to dry out. Then, you stuck in in a burlap sack to keep. To prepare it, I recall my mother soaking it in a sink full of water for 2-3 days to leach some of the salt out of it, and then, scrubbing the naturally occurring mold off. (Yeah. It wasn’t all glamorous back then.)
The end result, however, was delicious. Salty ham that is great fried up with eggs, or served cold on a biscuit. And now I’m hungry.
But the takeaway is this: salt is really important. To the people of Jesus’ time, salt did everything for you. It was used as currency. It kept your food edible, it flavored it, it worked as a medicine, it seemed practically magic, because it stopped things from going bad.
And yet no one ever had a lot of it. Salt was expensive. You had to hoard it. And trust me–you did not want to overdo it on salted pork. A little bit of salt is good. Too much salt is not good.
Salt, in other words, is a really good minority. It does best when it is outnumbered. You only want a pinch of salt in your cooking to add flavor, otherwise you end up with a mouthful of awful. (Light, actually, does the same thing. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a laser beam to the face. Lots of concentrated light is bad–a little, artfully applied is good.)
And so Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt and the light of the world.
That implies some pretty great and empowering stuff–namely that–hooray! We get to change the world! We get to save the world! We can go out and PRESERVE STUFF LIKE SALT DOES. I’mma be some salt!!! All tangy and whatnot.
But there’s another side of this too. Jesus’s comment also implies that we are going to be vastly outnumbered. We will be salt, but not in a salt shaker– in an ocean of water. Light in a pretty big night. This is coming right on the heels of the beatitudes, in the sermon on the mount, and like Jesus said then–this being salt business doesn’t make you popular. It doesn’t give you the majority. You are doing something that most others aren’t.
We talked about this last week–
But being salt in the world, living by the beatitudes, following Christ in the world constrains you to live in a different way. And not in a way that makes us powerful, or important, especially not right now. When Christ asks us to be salt in the world, Christ is asking us to be powerless, to be outnumbered and to embrace that. Majorities and minorities live in very different ways in the world– We have to live differently, because we are outnumbered, and our job is a big one–to flavor all this food in which we live.
So what does that task look like for salty people? How then do we live as faithful, outnumbered grains of salt? Because that can be exhausting!
I had lunch with a friend this week and we were comparing notes on the state of the world, and we figured out our mutual struggle right now was with feeling powerless. I told her that . I am a middle class straight white woman–I am used to being empowered! I am used to DOING THINGS and Leaning In, or at least feeling really guilty if I am not doing things. I have just not been socialized to feel so powerless. And yet that is precisely where the gospel places us. In a place of (relative) powerlessness.
I would say first that Jesus wasn’t joking when he says that salt that has lost its flavor is in deep trouble. We need to be careful to retain our saltiness. We need to be careful not to spread ourselves too thin. We can’t do everything. We can’t put out every fire. (Salt can even extinguish grease fires!) There will be times when you get tired, and you need to take a break and that is ok. While we are flavoring this bland world, take time to reconnect. Connect to the Christ that calls you, to the God that made you, to the beauty that inspires you. No one of us has to do everything, conquer every mountain, achieve every goal.
Connect to the other lone grains of salt doing the same work you are. Here are all these other little grains doing this hard work too. They are here to remind you that you are not alone in this struggle. It’s not just you out there–there’s me and you and you and you and her and him and that other guy over there. They are here to help you, and you are here to help them. (That’s why we have church, you know. This is a salt cellar.)
Then head back out there. Because though we are small, and though we are outnumbered, we can do so much–through the God who called us to this in the first place. And through God’s power, we will yet transform this big, bland world.