At Christmas time our favorite thing to eat after the Christmas Eve worship is Swedish Gravlax. It’s fresh, salt-cured salmon that my husband, Dan makes 48 hours before chow time. He takes 2 slabs of sushi-grade salmon and pours a full ¼ cup of sea salt on it, along with fresh dill and sugar and pepper. Then he presses the slabs together and puts a weight on it and every day he has turn it over, so the salt cures each half of salmon.
After church on Christmas Eve, he fills a plate with thin slices of the salmon. You take a piece rye bread, called Rubeschlager, spread on some mustard dill sauce, add some chopped white onion, put on your slice of gravlax and yum! You can’t believe how good it is. Then you swallow it down with Swedish Absolut Citroen, which is lemon vodka.
My dad raises his glass and says, “skal fer dagen” –“cheers to the day” and wow!—it’s a celebration that Jesus is born, and we are together, and life is very good.
And it’s all possible because of salt.
“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus. Does he just mean that his followers are simply the “Mrs. Dash” of creation—adding flavor to the good stuff God has made, but are not really essential to it? Today we think of salt mostly as flavoring—something for our popcorn and our French fries, but as our Gravlax tradition reminds us every year—salt meant so much more to the Swedes who first buried salted salmon in the sand, and also to Jesus’ first hearers.
Salt cures meat. And although we keep our Gravlax in the frig, in the ancient world, salt was the only food preservative they had—without salt, food would rot quickly and could not be saved or stored for leaner times. No one could travel very far without salt, because food would not last.
Historical records show salt was one of the first commodities traded. Salt represented power because explorers couldn’t set off for new lands without provisions of food, and armies could not advance without preserved food supplies. The expression that you must be “worth your salt”—that is, that you need to be deserving of the salary you are paid, comes from ancient Rome where soldiers were paid in salt. In fact, the word for “salary” comes from the Latin word, “salarium” which referred to a soldier’s allowance to purchase salt. The human body cannot function without salt—our muscles will not work, including our heart, without salt; our nerves cannot transmit electricity without salt.
The same is true for light—"you are the light of the light of the world,” says Jesus. Light is also essential for life—for photosynthesis and growth, for providing food and for warming up the planet so it is not an icy rock. Light is essential for living and working, for seeing clearly, for being productive, for us to see the path ahead. Without the sun, without light, life is not possible.
So when Jesus looks at his followers—not just the disciples, but the meek, the merciful, those who mourn, the persecuted, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake—all those Jesus just called “blessed” in the beatitudes—when he calls all of his followers the “salt of the earth” he is saying—you are essential to life, you preserve life, you enhance life, you enable life to grow—you are necessary for the life God desires for all of us.
Do you ever feel that way in your daily life? To your family? To your friends? To the people you encounter on a daily basis—be they work colleagues or neighbors or acquaintances, or the checkout person at the grocery store—do you feel that who you are and how you are and that you are there is necessary and essential to the life God wants for them?
Do you know deep down that for God, you are necessary for life?—Not because you are providing the paycheck or fixing the meals or any of the other dozens of things we do to keep a house and family going—but because of who you are? You are necessary for life because of your identity in Christ, your presence, your love, your forgiveness, your willingness to be forgiven, your help and your willingness to be helped, your existence as a child of God, because you are a dwelling place of God, and a vessel of the light of Christ?
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It’s a statement of fact—it’s not up for debate, it’s not dependent on our feelings, our level of success, whether we deserve it, feel worthy, or say and do everything wrong or everything right today. You are the salt of the earth—it doesn’t matter if you feel more like a parsley flake. You are the light of the world—it doesn’t matter if feel more like a little black raincloud. God has made you to be salt and light. That is who you are. You cannot change that.
Salt itself (sodium chloride) is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavor—we can dilute it and mix it with other stuff or even try to dissolve it—but it does not change how God made us and who God calls us to be. We can hide our light under a bushel basket, but it does not change that we are still the bearers of Jesus’ love and light in the world.
The problem with denying who we are and minimizing our role as kingdom builders, is that we give a pass for negative forces and evil to take over. Jesus hearers knew that no one puts a basket over a lamp with a flame unless they want to burn the house down. No one dilutes the salt with other substances, or the food rots and people starve.
Jesus is saying, “I need you, or ‘a’ll, y’all’ as we say in Texas, to be the salt and the light so that the kingdom values have more power and more presence in the world than evil does. You are the light-bringers, you are the life-preservers, you are the earthly vessels I have made and called to bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness alive today—I am doing this through you!”
So, be who you are. God is using you in your daily life, so ask God in the morning to remind you of who you are and to help you be an available vehicle to preserve, enhance and enlighten someone else’s life for the kingdom. Accept who God made you to be and who Jesus sees you to be. When we accept that God calls us to be bearers of Christ’s love, bringing life and hope in every situation, every day, we also open ourselves to experiencing how God uses others to be salt and light for us. Kate gave a beautiful description of what she has learned from refugees—how they are salt and light for her teaching kindness, humility, gratitude and generosity.
During the Civil Rights movement, before a new march would start, the people—men and women, young and old—would gather in the churches. They would gather there not to gain strength but to be reminded of who they were. The fire house could not dilute their salt, the vicious dogs could not diminish their light. And even though they were scared, they poured out of those churches and singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...”