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Taste & See

Sermon for Third Sunday before Lent Isaiah 58.1-9a, 1 Corinthians 2.1-12, Matthew 5.13-20

Over the past few weeks, in our readings for the season of Epiphany, we have heard two accounts, from Matthew and John, of the calling of the first disciples. We have seen them leave their nets and follow Jesus, irresistibly drawn into relationship with him, but with no idea of what lies ahead. Today's readings take us a stage further, exploring what it means to become a disciple.

Our Gospel passage follows on from the Beatitudes, those extraordinary statements in which Jesus tells those who have no social status – the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted – that they are blessed in the sight of God. One commentator has called the Beatitudes 'God's Ferris Wheel' because in them Jesus promises that those at the bottom of the wheel will rise while those at the top will fall. It is this bold vision of a radically different kind of Kingdom that those first disciples were called to embody, and we as their successors are called to do the same.

'You are the salt of the earth', says Jesus. 'You are the light of the world'. Salt in the ancient world was an important commodity, so valuable that it was used as a currency: Roman soldiers were paid an allowance of salt, and this is the origin of our word 'salary'. 'If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored' continues Jesus in our passage, but a more literal translation would read 'If salt becomes dumb, how can it speak again?' It is such a peculiar but striking image – something which is valuable has become worthless, something which speaks has fallen silent. This is surely what has happened in our reading from Isaiah, where the rituals of the Jewish law have become empty and corrupt and drained of meaning. 'Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high', says God through the prophet. Here is salt which has become dumb.

In the same way, a light which is smothered under a basket will stutter and die. Jesus is telling his disciples that they must preach and live out the topsy-turvy values of God's kingdom, in which the last are first and the first last. This is the true fulfilment of the law, he says, something which would have been of vital importance to the community of persecuted Jewish Christians who were the first readers of Matthew's Gospel. Again, there is the link to our reading from Isaiah: 'Is not this the fast that I choose', says the Lord, 'to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into your house…? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.'

To be salt and light for the world is necessarily to be outward looking. Both salt and light find their purpose in relation to things other than themselves – salt in making food tasty and light in enabling eyes to see and plants to grow. The calling of the first disciples was to help others to taste and to see the goodness of God, to be salt and light for them.

That is our calling too, as followers of Christ. But we cannot fulfil it unless we have first tasted and seen God's goodness for ourselves. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, 'We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.' We cannot be salt and light for others if our spiritual senses are tired or blunted.

So how do we keep our salt fresh, and our lamps trimmed? I think coming together in worship is at the heart of it. Here we are reminded of God's greatness as we sing: we are challenged by the Scriptures, fed at Christ's table, encouraged by being together as the body of Christ in this place. So I pray that this service today will strengthen us for the week ahead, so that we can truly be salt and light for others and help them to taste and see for themselves the goodness of our great and loving God.



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