Salting the Wounds

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
February 9, 2020 ● Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

Mother Hymes’ sermon this morning, “Salting the Wounds.” (Matthew 5:13-20)

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 9, 2020

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.

In 1994, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church issued the pastoral letter entitled, “The Sin of Racism.” In that letter the bishops identified the essence of racism as prejudice coupled with power, rooted in the sin of pride which assumes that, “…I and my kind are superior to others and therefore deserve special treatment.”[1]

In 2006, the House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter which acknowledged the church’s participation in the sin of racism and its lasting effects within the church and in our wider society. Along with that acknowledgment was a statement of repentance asking for God’s grace and forgiveness.[2]

Since then, the governing body of the Episcopal Church, the General Convention, has passed several resolutions designed to hold the church accountable to seek racial healing and reconciliation from the congregational, diocesan and national levels of the Episcopal Church.

The Sin of Racism continues to be a festering wound, a bloody stain on the fabric of this country.

As the bishop’s pastoral letters painfully acknowledged, the church has long been complicit in the wounding of the oppressed, and has not historically been the agent for dismantling unjust structures and lifting the seemingly impenetrable stain that racism leaves on the soul of humanity.

Speaking of lifting stains, picture a white carpet and the unholy meeting of a glass of spilled red wine on that white carpet. I can think of few things that would launch someone into midair to intercept the inevitable spill. Once the wine spills it is absorbed into the tufts of the carpet all the way down to the backing which holds the fibers. The white carpet, once undefiled, is now visibly “wounded,” if you will, with the red stain of the wine.

You may be relieved to know that the healing balm for a white carpet wounded by the assault of red wine is salt. On a fresh spill, tending the site by flushing it with water and pouring salt generously onto the site enables the salt to draw out the moisture in the carpet and the stain of the wine along with it. The carpet is restored and the salt takes on the color of the stain.

Like many images, this image of the white carpet and the red wine, is not perfect. But it does provide a framework within which we might engage our gospel passage today.  The passage follows Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes with his disciples.

Understanding this, we enter the part of the teaching when Jesus moves from a focus on the people whom he determined are the blessed, to his chosen disciples charged with being powerful agents of God’s kingdom in the world.

“You are the salt of the earth,” said Jesus. Considering the many uses of salt, then and now, for purification rituals, preservation of food from decay, and its medicinal properties for healing, Jesus’ image of the disciples as “salt” is an indicative statement about the nature of a disciple and it is a directive statement expressing Jesus’ expectation for the myriad ways that his disciples were to function in the world. They are to be at once the instrument of healing and the vehicle which brings the healing to the wounded wherever the sin of injustice festers. In this teaching the disciples are learning about identity and purpose.

In the same verse, Jesus warned about salt losing its taste. So in addition to all of the aforementioned properties of salt, we are reminded of salt’s appeal to the human sense of taste.  Salt has power, but it can easily be neutralized by the loss of its unique appeal to human taste—its saltiness. Salt that neither does what salt is expected to do nor tastes how salt is expected to taste—ceases to be salt and cannot be restored to its full integrity, and is thrown out as useless.

If one seasons food with salt and finds that it has no flavor, what’s the purpose in using salt at all? It follows that a society that hungers for the healing and hope-filled message of the gospel might be hard pressed to reach for the seasoning, that only the church can provide, when the church is perceived by society as neither doing what it is expected to do, nor being the church in the world as salty disciples inviting all to come, taste and see.

The mission of God is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Distracted disciples, on the verge of losing their saltiness, risk compromising God’s mission in the world. Disciples who water down the gospel message or attempt to hide the light of Christ under the bushel basket, in a world that is bleeding out, and crying out, to be salted with its healing balm, eventually lose their saltiness.

When the church’s sacred teachings and tradition are dismissed for the sake of temporary mass appeal and entertainment, the integrity of the church is compromised. In a losing effort to be all things to all people, the church ceases to be meaningful and relevant in the lives of the churched, de-churched and unchurched people who expect her to be a moral compass and guide. The damaging effects of disciples posing as salt substitutes impact the body of the church and challenge her relevancy in our society and in the world.

Salty disciples, however, who bring the Good News of God in Christ, are like salt poured onto humanity’s open wounds, drawing out the stains of sin from the fabric of our shared human experience so that those sins may be witnessed and lamented in the light of Christ.

Incapable of taking away myriad sins of the world ourselves, we leave them at the foot of the cross where, according to our Collect, we are set free from the bondage of our sin, and are given liberty of that abundant life that God has made known to us through our Savior.

As a child I would watch my grandmother cook masterpieces. She never used recipes or measuring cups. She would season according to her taste, until the dish was pleasing to the cook in every way. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” but the salt that has lost its taste is useless and discarded.

In this lifelong journey of being nurtured to the full stature of Christ, may we be faithful in doing the work of the church and, with integrity, be the Church. And, may God generously salt each of us to God’s taste, healing our wounds, and making us pleasing to God in every way.  AMEN.

 

[1] https://episcopalchurch.org/library/article/sin-racism-call-covenant. Retrieved February 8, 2020.

[2] https://episcopalchurch.org/library/article/sin-racism-call-covenant. Retrieved February 8, 2020.