Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When Salt Loses its Flavor...

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew on the similes of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) is a favorite reference point when we want to address the themes of justice and service, of sharing our gifts and talents, of putting our faith into action. We often cite it in youth ministry circles as a rallying cry for the young church – “You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! Your light must shine before others!” These are powerful words, a powerful command directly from Christ. But as I thought about this passage I began to approach it from a different perspective. I keyed in on a phrase that perhaps doesn’t always get the same amount of 'attention.' “If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”

I’m into the beginning of what will become the busiest, craziest time of year for me. Multiple programs with a couple of hundred participants. Each program presenting a different set of challenges and problems. Six weeks of coordinating volunteers, meals, locations, transportation, teenagers, sleeping arrangements. And if that wasn’t enough, there are prayer experiences and liturgies to plan. Prayers and liturgies that I need to make sure are meaningful for the participants.

Now I’m not trying to make myself out to be some sort of superman. I know each of you has times in your life where you have to juggle work and family and activities and church and recreation and major decision-making and all the other crazy things that we try to stuff into this box we call 'Life.' And each of us has periods where all this seems to converge like a runaway train hurtling down the tracks and no matter how hard we try we can’t put the brakes on to stop it. These times in our lives, these times when we feel lost or overwhelmed or spiritually barren are the times when the salt has lost its flavor. When we are so spiritually drained we cannot 'season' life and our relationships with others and our relationship with our God.

The problem for many of us is that this puts our living on the edge. It’s a fine balance, and a balance easily tipped. Maybe an illness, an unexpected financial need, something that comes to us from out of nowhere that begins to tip the balance the wrong way. And we feel it. We feel our grasp slipping away, we feel the foundation beneath us crumbling, we start dog-paddling, desperately trying to keep our heads above water. The salt that we are has lost its flavor.

Sometimes we need to treat life as a marathon. The next eight weeks for me are a marathon. And I know it’s coming. And like a marathon, I need to train. I need to be on top of my planning and not allow things to slip by. But most importantly, I need to see to it that my spiritual needs are being met. Because if they aren’t I’m not going to be able to facilitate the spiritual needs of others. I cannot give something to someone that I don’t have myself. I need to spend time in prayer. I need to make time to have quiet reflection. I need to come to worship with an open heart and mind and actively seek Christ’s embrace. We all do! I can’t wait four, six weeks to do this. I need to do it NOW. I need to build up my spiritual stamina NOW. Some of us have the opportunity to go away on retreat, and we need to take those opportunities. My friend Deacon John Langmead used to call it "retreat to advance." Stepping back, assessing, resting, and praying, and then moving forward.

Now I know that no matter how much I try to plan and prepare, there will be things that will go awry. That’s part of life as well. The trick is not seeing those interruptions to our routine as setbacks. We need to be ready to recognize God in those interruptions. And ask ourselves, “What is God saying to me in this moment? Do I need to slow down? Am I doing too much, trying too hard? Do I need to rely less on myself and more on God’s will? What do I need to do to remind myself that it is God – not me – that is in control?”

In his book “The Cost of Discipleship” Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about how Christ doesn’t say we MUST be salt or that we HAVE salt. Christ says we ARE salt. We are the essence of seasoning on earth, and on earth we have been entrusted with the work of Christ. We are what Bonhoeffer calls “The Visible Community.” Yes, Christ wants us to be salt and light for the world. But we cannot give what we do not possess ourselves. We need to pray, we need to make time to pray. We have to come to God in worship; we have to meet Christ in the Eucharist. And we have to be serious about it. Christ is the salt that seasons our lives, the light in times of darkness. And if we have Christ in us we can be salt and light for others.

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