Monday, February 6, 2023

Saltiness restored. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A), preached on Sunday, February 5, 2023.

My mother loved to cook and loved to have people eat.  It was her signature way of showing welcome and love.  When she entered a nursing home before her death, my brother and I went through her spice cabinet in search of something only to find spices that probably came over on the Mayflower.  A quick taste proved that most of them had lost their savor.  They did not taste of anything or at least anything you might want to put in food you wanted to eat.  Most of it ended up in the waste basket with not a little regret.  What you can do with spices whose savor has long ago faded away?

But of course, that is Jesus’ question in the Gospel for today.  If salt has lost its saltiness, how shall its saltiness be restored?  Do you have any idea what Jesus is talking about?  I don’t.  You don’t restore the savor to seasoning and you cannot restore the saltiness to salt.  There is only one thing to be done.  You toss them out.  You throw them away.  That is what the trash can was made for, right?

Wrong.  This text is not judgment but redemption.  For after Jesus says that those whom He has appointed to be the salt of the earth have lost their saltiness, He goes on to talk more and more about what this salt and light and righteousness is all about.  In other words, Jesus is not discarding those who have lost their saltiness.  Jesus is doing the radical thing that none of us can do.  He is restoring the saltiness and making what was worthless useful.  Jesus does not toss us out as refuge but redeems and restores us.  Of course Jesus is warning us but He is rescuing us also.

The message of God’s Word is not about what you or I must do to impress God or win over His heart or earn His affection.  The beating heart of that Word is Christ and the work of Christ is to do for us what we could not or would not ever do.  All through the New Testament there is the constant drum beat of what God has done that we could not.  Now it is the restoration of the saltiness to those who lost it.  This is the first of the many stories Jesus tells to illustrate the Kingdom.

Look at the parables of Jesus.  Jesus is always doing what none of us would do.  Putting new cloth on an old coat, new wine in old wineskins, forgiving unworthy debtors, sowing seed where it probably won’t grow, opening the door at midnight, burying treasures in a field, casting the net back when the catch has already come up empty, going after the lost sheep, forgiving the unforgivable, returning to the vineyard when the workers had killed emissaries and the heir, inviting the unworthy strangers to the wedding banquet, rejoicing over the lost coin, restoring the prodigal son, commending the dishonest manager, and on and on and on.

This is the miracle of grace.  But it is grace that we struggle to understand and cannot comprehend.  Our landfills are filled with things no longer useful to us.  We have a yard sale every year for those things that still might have a little life in them but we do not want anymore.  We advertise on Marketplace what we want to get rid of.  We are all about throwing away and cutting our losses and giving up.  But not God.

The Lord restores saltiness to salt that has lost its savor.  It is happening right here and right now.  You come into God’s House not to parade your successes, accomplishments, and triumphs but with wounds to be salved, bruised egos, a mountain of failures to be forgiven, and the solemn admission that you are at best a sinner who deserves nothing.  How does the Lord respond?  I forgive you all your sin.  That is the miracle of grace that runs the kingdom of God and Jesus has to teach us this over and over again.

Christ eats with sinners but does not sin with them.  Instead He forgives them.  He receives those dirty with sin and death and washes them in baptismal water.  He covers our brokenness with His perfect righteousness.  He feeds the hungry with the good things of His flesh and blood for the life of the world.  He sends those whose saltiness has failed back out in His name.  Pastors to serve God’s people in Christ’s name with His Word and Sacraments.  Husbands and wives to rescue their broken marriages with forgiveness.  Parents to raise children who will never return to them all they expend in love to bring them up.  Children to esteem their parents not because they are perfect but because God has given them these moms and dads.  Neighbors to reach out to the neighbor in need with love instead of indifference, sharing the resources they believe God has given them.  Witnesses to go forth into the world with the promise that your life does not have to end on the garbage heap and your worth is defined not by what you have done but what God has done to redeem you.

You are all the common earthen vessels without glory or value except to the God who fills you with steadfast love and forgiveness, who comes to you in your great need and delights in giving you what you cannot give yourself.  That is grace.  When the Scriptures say the Lord is no respecter of persons, that is not a judgment against us but the most marvelous gift of grace and it is planted in home in us by the Holy Spirit so that we can say “Amen” to the work of God for us.

I cannot restore saltiness to the salt that has lost its savor but God can.  More than this, God does it.  He rescues and redeems and restores.  He makes something of all of us nothings.  And then His grace goes so far as to say you are the salt of the world, the light of the world – the means by which He makes know His saving love to those still headed for the landfill of death and the grave.  What we cannot do, God delights in doing through His Son.  And it happens right here every week.

Your saltiness is restored by the Word of God, by the baptismal miracle remembered as you sign yourself with the cross, by the absolution at the very beginning so that no sin may stand between you and the Lord, and by the food of heaven that He moves you up in place to eat and drink – Christ’s flesh and blood for the life of the world.   With this comes a mission.  What you have received, you are to be – not as an accomplishment of your own work but as God seasoning the world with His salt and you are that salt.  

You start at home salting your family with the Word of God, with the grace of forgiveness, and with the promise of hope.  You extend it out through the rest of your family, among your friends, and with your coworkers.  You manifest it to the acquaintances you barely know and the stranger you do not know at all.  And the salt that has lost its savor, restored by Christ, now seasons the world with the witness of grace, with the power of forgiveness, with the force of steadfast love, and with the promise of life death cannot overcome.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Thank you, Pastor Peters. I waited a day to comment on this posting, because I was sure that all of your readers were stunned by the mind-blowing joy in your sermon and wanted to post a response. Alas, will I be the only one?
For most of my life, the Gospel has been my joy that surpasses all others. Therefore, I have been eager to find it wherever it is. However, the parables have mostly been “Law” to me. When I read, “this text is not judgment but redemption”, I sensed that what followed had to be Gospel and I read on with ever greater joy.
I am 86 years old, and close to being immersed in the perfect joy of Paradise. Yet in all of my years, I have never heard of the parables as a kind of joy, and therefore, Gospel. Every sermon I ever heard told me that the parables give an example of how we must behave, and “woe” if we don’t.
Thank you, Pastor Peters, for bringing me this unexpected exceeding great joy, and the release from another bond Satan uses to keep us in the bondage of fear. Praise God!
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart