Monday, September 28, 2015

Are you properly seasoned?

Sermon notes for Proper 10B (9/27/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

The Institute of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health recommend a daily mean intake of around 1500 milligrams of sodium, with a maximum of 2300 milligrams. That’s about eight-hundredths of an ounce, or roughly a teaspoonful.

Sustained intake of less sodium than we require could result in something called hyponatremia or low blood sodium. Sodium is a mineral essential for human life, including maintaining the balance of fluid in our bodies, regulating blood pressure, and supporting the nervous system. Not having enough sodium could result in tiredness, headaches, seizures, and comas and, over time, could be fatal. Too little salt can be dangerous.

Most of us, however, are more familiar with our doctors telling us to lay off the salt. Indeed, if you consume too much sodium, you can take on extra weight, become at risk for high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. So, too much salt can also be dangerous.

So, while salt (or sodium) is essential to human life, having either too little or too much is a risk to health and life.

Have you ever seen those cooking competitions where the chefs have to present their food creations to judges. The one criticism I hear the most often is that the food is under-seasoned which, of course, means that there was too little salt. I do wonder if those judges have some sort of deal with Morton’s but under-seasoning or too little salt does make for quite an underwhelming dish. I was always told that if you forget to salt the water for pasta you might as well chuck the whole lot away. Too little salt makes for bland, tasteless food.

But have you ever added to much salt. I once misread a recipe and added ¼ cup of salt and ¼ teaspoon of sugar instead of ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of sugar. Those cookies weren’t my best. Too much salt overwhelms and destroys taste.

“She’s the salt of the earth!” You’ve heard that old expression, right? You’ve probably used it about a few people here. (Fran Henry comes to mind.) The saying describes a person who is decent, trustworthy, dependable, and reliable. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus describes his disciples with that same phrase, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

At the same time, salting the earth is a destructive practice. The book of Judges relates the account of Abimelech quelling a revolt in his own capital city of Shechem:
Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt. (Judges 9:45)
Legend also tells of the Roman general Scipio plowing the city of Carthage with salt in 146 BCE during the Third Punic Wars and of Pope Boniface VIII doing the same to Palestrina during the crusades of 1299 CE. In sowing the ground with salt the water table below was ruined and nothing would grow on the land.

Salt, you see, is neutral. In itself, it is simply a mineral, neither good nor bad. But, as with most things, it can be used for good or for evil – for sustaining life or ruing it, for flavoring food or destroying it.

Take something with a grain of salt and you make it more palatable. Rub salt in the wound and you cause more pain.

In the ancient world, it was so valuable that the Romans would often pay soldiers with cakes of salt. So, if a solider was “worth his salt,” he would literally be paid accordingly.

Salt was a powerful symbol in colonial India, such that Mohandas Gandhi would use it as a symbol to topple his British overlords. In 1930, the British levied an excise tax on salt in India, a trade for which they also happened to have had a legislated monopoly. In protest, Gandhi began, with seventy-eight others, a peaceful protest – a 240-mile walk from his base near Ahmedabad to the small coastal village of Dandi. Along the 24-day journey, so many others joined that the procession itself was reported to have been some two-hundred miles long. Upon the reaching the coast, Gandhi broke the salt laws, boiling seawater to make the commodity which no Indian could legally make. Picking up the salt, Gandhi proclaimed, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” The act sparked a large scale act of civil disobedience as millions of Indians across India joined in breaking the salt laws. Gandhi and some 80,000 Indians were arrested as a result of the Salt March. While the British failed to offer any concessions at the time, historians note the event as major turning point in the movement for Indian independence, something finally gained in 1947.

Now, it seems that Jesus does not underestimate the value of symbol, image, allegory, and metaphor. As such, his discourse on salt here is packed with nuance and symbolic value. Undoubtedly, there are many paths that we could trod down as we explore the metaphor of salt.

But today, in light of all that is happening around us I would like to offer a brief comment on the metaphor as it applies to the discussion of religion in contemporary society.

We are all too familiar with a religious fervor that is over-salted. We see daily reports of radical fundamentalist using religion to assault others. In our American context, the news feeds focus on the Islamic fundamentalists but Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, Hindu extremists in India, Jewish extremists in Israel, and Christian extremists in America and the West have all over-salted religious fervor to attack and kill other in the name of religion.

But it’s not just those that are killing others, those that we might label extremists. Kim Davis has over-salted her religious conviction to insist on breaking the law by not doing her job, a job her religion does not require her to have. And some not-to-be-named office-seekers have over-salted by insisting that only their religion should be allowed the presidency.

All of these kinds of extreme ideologues who practice this kind of religion suffer from a surplus of salt. And this is very dangerous because it is almost always focused on destroying, demeaning and degrading others. It is the same kind of over-salted religious fervor that brought about the crusades, that ushered in the killings during the reformation, and that allowed colonial proselytizing to undermine native cultures and traditions.

It is dangerous because such ideologues expect others to live into some fictive standard of behavior. They insist that women must obey their husbands, that men should not sleep with men, and that men must not marry the daughter of a foreign God – all of these are abominations in the sight of God. Yet these same will go off to wear clothing of mixed fibers and eat foods modified by cross fertilization. They will sow discord in the community, tell lies, and condone the shedding innocent blood. They will eat their shellfish, dig into the pork tenderloin, and eat meats that were killed more than three days ago. All of which are also abominations according to Holy Writ.

You see, the danger of this over-salting is that we can fail to taste the goodness of the Lord and to really taste what God’s law is really about:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
“ shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b)
There is a real danger in over-salting, legalizing, and dogmatizing.

Now, fortunately, we Episcopalians are a little more delicate in our seasoning, right? We use a careful language and remain aloof from emotional outbursts. We just try not to get caught up in all that. We rarely suffer from too much salt.

But remember that the other danger, of too little salt is just as much of a risk and it’s the risk that Jesus actually warns his disciples about in the Gospel today. Has our religion fallen into this trap? Have we lost our flavor? Have we become bland?

Recall the book of Revelation, in which John reveals the message to the church at Laodicea:
I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)
The church became so bland it could not even see its own need. Have we lost our salt and become so bland that we have lost sight of who we are and what we are to be? The church at Laodicea became ineffectual, so callous to human suffering and so cowering before the saber-rattling of the empire of the day that they were lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. This is what can happen to churches that do not stand up, speak up, and act up when human beings are not treated with the dignity due to those who bear the image of God.

We see the over-salted zealots and extremists, saying, “Thank God that’s not us!”

But what of the diet of bland spirituality served at so many altars?

It’s a balance that we must find – just the right amount of salt. It includes taking risks, being willing to allow failure, making mistakes, and trying new things. And it also includes turning around, going back to what works, avoiding hazards, and steering clear of danger.

It’s never-ending and constantly changing. Its Church.

But here, among the faithful, we persevere. Here, among the faithful, we find motivation to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

It is here, among the faithful, that we sprinkle just the right amount of salt:
  • where there is no need to check your conscience at the door.
  • where your intellect is required.
  • where our worship transforms and empowering us to be daring.
  • where our tradition gives us strength and courage.
  • where every part of you is welcome and every hurt can be healed.
  • where salt is used liberally—but not to excess.
It is here, among the faithful – among the carefully seasoned assembly of the faithful – that we find hope, strength, wisdom, and inspiration to be the salt that God has made us to transform ourselves and the world around. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment