Monday, February 6, 2017

Stay Salty! Sailboats and Shared Tables

Perhaps you have seen the image, the background is a shimmering aqua blue, across which is written an invitation in paint brush strokes of white. It calls out and says to ‘stay salty.’  Seeing that invitation I am cast back in time to memories of weeks on a sailboat. I remember being literally salty, and my memory can just pick up the creaking of the boat and feel the sea spray against my cheeks. All these years later I can summon the sensation of warmth on my back, and I can hear my unkempt hair blowing around in the wind.  

‘Stay salty’ makes me think of fictional pirates, the pirates of movies and novels who live freely, truthfully, and bravely.  People unbound by convention or responsibility or cold weather.  Stay salty sounds like living the life that Jimmy Buffett songs suggest, out on the sea for adventure, tiki drinks and veggie burgers in paradise. ‘Stay salty’ feels like heaven right now.  

It is a bit strange that salt did not find itself with a prominent place as a sacrament in Christian practice. Salt had a prevalent place in ancient Jewish rituals in both home and temple. These rituals were focused on fidelity and sacrifice, two important themes for the early Jesus movement.  Plus salt does seems rather magical. The way that it changes the suspension strength of water: and we float.  The way when you put a few grains on a hot dish it spreads all the way through. Salt which preserves meat without refrigeration; and also melts ice to make paths safer. Like grain and wine and water and oil, salt is a basic necessity for life. And like light and water, there would not be life on earth without it. It courses through our veins and rests in our tissues. Salt flows out of us in our sweat and in our tears. Salt is everyday and ever present; of priceless value but also dangerous if not well used.

Salt is in our sacramental practices, but it is subtle.  Salt is in the baking of bread, and in some traditions in the waters of baptism. Just enough to taste a hint of the Sea of Reeds, to recall the sensation of deliverance from slavery to liberty, not enough to overwhelm.  Taste memory is crucial: it is survival memory. Taste isn’t just an idea or a pleasure, it is the difference between life and death.  In our primordial days we relied on taste to help us choose between safe and dangerous. We used the memory of taste to relocate the place where we found food in the past.
On shore, but you get the picture.  Action Sail 1989.

The gospel of Matthew evokes the senses of survival memory. The way the text is shaped and shared expects a community of disciples taking it in deeply, like re-membering Jesus is what they need to survive.  We, like Matthews community, are people who break bread, in Jesus’ time the equivalent expression was to ‘share salt’. Food is still our ritual of bonding, the practice in which we are bound to our companions in deep and lifegiving ways.  Most of us experience holiness not in outrageous drama but in experiences as common as passing the salt. The laughter of a child, in the smack of kisses and the sounds of sobs.  Moments of fear, flickers of serenity. Or when we forgive someone who has broken our heart.  

Most people don’t seem to experience God only in moments that are labeled as spiritual or religious. Sometimes we, we who are the chefs and cooks of the religious, sometimes we do manage to invite the holy to happen.  Most of the time however, we are just hopeful hosts and prayerful waiters.  In my experience, most of the holy moments in a religious place like this are actually very earthy, very human. They are salty moments.  

I am tired of the snow and the cold and am leaning into my salty memories and ocean daydreams.  I am also anxious and feeling lost in what seems to be the utter failure of compassion and commitment to the common good. In this sea of disorientation Jesus steers me and whispers, stay salty.   I am here with you Jesus says, I am here in the everyday strangeness  of being bound to neighbors that you cannot fix or leave behind or ignore. Following Jesus as Lord is choosing a vulnerable God, choosing one who chooses our substance, as dissolvable and crushable as it is. The call to embrace Christ crucified isn’t about inflicting pain but a call to surrender ever more of our lives to the mystery of God. The mystery of our union in Christ  is no less of a mystery because it is revealed in things no more complicated than grain and wine, water, oil and salt.  I cannot explain how and why these moments taste and feel of divine grace, I only know that they do.

Maybe salt is a metaphor for the divine in that salt is everywhere whether we notice it or not.  And that this world and its creatures are ceaselessly held by God from the salty depths of the earth through the salty streams of our tears.  Nothing in Jesus’ teaching is not also what he lives.  Sacrifice, loyalty, correction, compassion.  He says take the lower seat, and he does.  He tells us to welcome the orphan, the outcast and the stranger, and he does. So what can we know from Jesus life, death and resurrection about what it means to be salt, to stay salty?  What can we know about what this community should taste like by saying that we should be salt?

Salt once dissolved is uncontainable. That delightful pineapple that made my eyes light up, I went back, got more and gave it to friends.  That addictively good cold brew coffee, I arranged our San Francisco mission trip schedule around it, and we stood in a long line and bonded while we waited to receive it. That sandwich that could only have been made with the deepest magics, the shop burned down a decade ago, but I am still talking about that sandwich.  Salt does not need to talk about itself, but disciples like us could be better at sharing out loud the flavors of faith that rescue us. Learning to be salty may be learning to share those everyday memories where we knew we were held by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Learning to be salty may be living out loud the holy transformation we taste.

Matthew’s Gospel expects that we are informed and imaginative and devoted and active lovers of God.  It expects us to be gourmets of the Good News. Collectors and sharers and practitioners of the Jesus movement. None of us are refined salt, yet each of us are raw salts, mixed with the minerals of our lives and the sea things of our hearts: and this is what gives us our unique flavor. God’s reign isn’t known by its purity but by its ever-present-ness. God’s reign is known by its unconventionality, by our boundness to each other and how it tastes uncommonly free.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in his paraphrase of this gospel:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.  If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  

Jesus never teaches us to be a way that the doesn’t live out himself.  Jesus was salt for the well-being of the world.  Jesus calls to us saying STAY SALTY.  My salty might be a bit more sassy than your salty, but I need your salty at the table too.  Will you wonder with me by taking a small rock of salt with you at the end of the service.  Perhaps tasting it and wondering.  And will you wonder with me now, how we can be who he says we are saying:
We are here to be salt-seasoning,
we are here to bring out
the God-flavors of this earth.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

February 5, 2017
RCL A  5 Epiphany

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