Lips & Lives, Truth & Lies Salt & Light Etc: Mtt. 5, Is. 58

The Prayer of General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer is recited at the end of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. You will recall I wrote about the offices in the E-News this past week. Towards the end in the General Thanksgiving come the lines:

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.

Living the Christian life is not a matter of confessing lips as much as it’s a matter of active lives. Living in God’s service is always more than the words we say. It’s the actions we take; the bread we break.

We are living through a time when the discrepancy between words and actions has never been greater. We are devastated by the fracturing of words from actions. Words trump action never taken. Action trumps lies concealing evil action.

But the person on the street says it’s no big deal because who cares about truth these days?

Truth has become a completely subjective concept. If I say black is white, then it is. If I assert my lie as truth and reject another’s truth as a lie – a hoax, then who’s to seriously contradict me? The objective evidence of the physical world around us is now dismissed as mere hoax.

Well the short answer to who cares is that God cares. But if that’s too remote a concern for you, then the answer is that I care, you care, we care. Is that good enough?

Jesus said be salty but beware of losing your saltiness.

Did you know that the interesting thing about salt is that it can’t lose its salinity unless the chemical bond between sodium and chlorine is broken. As one of the most stable of compounds, only an electric charge is able to loosen the NaCl molecule. Thus, when salt is dissolved in water it enjoys a greater volume as it is released from crystal form, but it remains essentially salt in all its savory-ness.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ tell his disciples: you are the salt of the earth. This has found its way into our common language. When we describe someone as the salt of the earth, we are recognizing their value as a person who expresses a no nonsense wholesomeness; someone whose life of fruitful action, of effective service, is enviable.

Jesus said: but if salt loses its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything and is thrown out and trampled underfoot. Salt losing its salinity? Jesus clearly had been asleep in his elementary chemistry classes?

Jesus would have observed how salt was collected from saltpans. When dried out the substance in which the salt was embedded was raked into mounds still containing a lot of impurities. While salt as sodium chloride can’t be dissolved it can be leached out. Heavy rain would leach the sodium chloride out of surface layers of the salt mounds – leaving the residue of impurities that were essentially tasteless. Like fine sand, it was good only as material to loosely gravel a pathway where it would be trampled underfoot.

Jesus had a habit of taking ordinary things to reveal spiritual truth. So, he takes salt – something crucially important in everyday life as a savory and a preservative for food. As well as a fixing for dying cloth, salt was also a staple commodity in commercial transaction – Roman soldiers were often paid in salt in lieu of coin.

The leaching of salt from the surface of the salt mound becomes an evocative metaphor for a loss of spiritual effectiveness.

When our lips are out of sync with our lives; our words are severed from our actions – we resemble the residue at the top of the salt mound -its saltiness leached out; fine sand useful only as material to pave the path.

Where one metaphor was good, for Jesus, two were better. Like the salt mounds after heavy rain, when our saltiness is leached out of us – the powerful search light of truth becomes hidden in us and we easily become complicit in narratives of lies and misinformation.

You are the light of the world, Jesus reminds us. A city on a hill cannot be hid. So let your light shine forth that others may find their way to God through you.

The shining city on a hill that cannot be hid has been an abiding metaphor in the American imagination. However, there’s another metaphor in the American imagination, that of Gotham City, a city shrouded in darkness. A city where the expediencies of power extinguish the light of truth.  

What is the way out of our current state of civic and moral corruption? Let’s turn to the lighthouse of Holy Scripture.

The prophet Isaiah confronts the people of Israel’s collective image of themselves as a faithful worshiping community – an ancient city (literally) built on Zion’s hill. Believing themselves faithful they nevertheless bitterly complained that God did not reward their scrupulous observances.

God responds:

Look, you can bow your head like a bulrush and lie in sackcloth and ashes all you want but you serve your own interest on the fast day and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 

God’s response to Israel’s complaint is to point out that words severed from moral action is ritual observance without the saltiness of social action.  That Zion, no longer a shining city on a hill had become a city shrouded in Gotham-like darkness. Israel’s worship expressed neither the saltiness of a social conscience nor the commitment to the searchlight of truth. The result was connivance with the deceptions of lies and the actions of oppression.  

In worship, God addresses us as a community so that community becomes the vehicle for saltiness in action and the search light of truth. Communal action is always social in nature.

We need to note that it is to a whole people Isaiah speaks. Likewise, it is to the community of the disciples Jesus speaks. The you addressed by both Isaiah and Jesus is the collective you. Worship is always communal. Worship bears fruit in communal action. In worship, God addresses us as a community so that the community becomes a vehicle for saltiness in action and the search light of truth.

Jesus proclaims that he will not take one jot away from the Law of the Lord given to Israel until the fulfilment of God’s unfinished business is completed.

The Law of the Lord, whether expressed as Jewish Torah faithfulness or Christian Gospel fruitfulness – it is the same thing.

Observance of living Torah and commitment to Gospel action both express God’s expectation for the way we should govern our life together; an expectation to: Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk humbly with God. 

So let us with urgency commit ourselves as we pray

…. that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.

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