I invite you to think about a favorite dish; perhaps it is something your grandmother made, or something traditional from your family’s ethnic roots, or simply a food you associate with love. What does it smell like as you open the door and realize that special dish is on offer? Or perhaps you are the cook, reaching into the spice cabinet, measuring out the proper amounts to re-create the taste you remember, the flavors and aromas that evoke memories and love when you smell them and taste them.
For many of us, those special foods are associated with Christmas, traditional cookies, perhaps a once a year treat. Talking with a friend yesterday she shared that her holiday flavor is anise. Every year she makes her family’s Christmas treat, carefully measuring out the 1 tsp of anise called for in the recipe. This past year she realized that the cookies really didn’t taste like much. Where was the beloved aroma and licorcey flavor? While they looked just lovely, little white balls covered in powdered sugar, the taste had gone away. It turns out that 10 years of using 1 tsp from the original bottle of anise; meant that although the recipe was followed precisely, with love and care; the flavor was gone.
We all know this. How many times have we packed up spices and moved them to a new house or apartment? I did it this June when I moved into the cottage; my little bottles and jars of McCormick spices lined up in the beautiful new cabinet! But you know what will happen if I count on that 3 year old dried oregano to sing in my spaghetti sauce! Nothing! No flavor. We know it, but somehow the idea of throwing away old spices and buying new ones goes against the messages we all have internalized about waste and using things up. The recipe is fine, but spices lose their flavor when they are not fresh, applied liberally and joyfully! Perhaps this summer I will grow my own oregano!
So move with me now from thoughts of the kitchen to the church. We too have beloved recipes—liturgy, prayers, music, traditions; Biblical teachings from the prophets of old, Wisdom writers, Jesus, and the Gospel writers—recipes created by God, shared with us so we know how to enjoy the abundant life God has made for us; his beloved children. On Sunday we heard Jesus teaching the disciples, us, about who we are. “You are the salt of the earth,” he says. We are part of God’s creation; we like all of creation come from the earth that God has made, we are creatures, beloved and created, and we are the spice, the salt, our lives are to be fresh with the flavor of love, our lips tasting the living God in prayer and singing, the bread and the wine.
In that story from Matthew’s Gospel, it is important to recall that Matthew was writing when Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire. Military might and political power were loud and omnipresent. To the faithful Jews, for they were Matthew’s audience, it may have seemed that God’s recipe for truth and justice, love and hope were irrelevant to their struggles, or perhaps far away; a hope for sometime in the future when God would reappear. Perhaps we have similar feelings in our world, where division and disease; discrimination and disaffection grab all the headlines. We wonder about God’s kingdom, God’s presence, whether our prayers, our witness and worship matters at all. But Jesus says “no” to this way of thinking. He tells us that God’s kingdom is breaking in here and now. We are part of it. He says that he comes not to abolish God’s original recipe, the law of love and justice, truth and hope, but to fulfill it. Jesus tells the disciples to follow this recipe carefully and pass the salt! Jesus wants us to make sure the flavor of our work , of our hope, of our love is fresh and vibrant. That our life together as a community, is filled with the flavor of all the gifts we have been given. That we spice things up together. That our outreach to those in need is generous and joyful. Pass the salt! Be the salt!
We come into our new year with much to be thankful for, and much “cooking” to be done together in faith. May our ministries be spiced with the gifts of each one in our community of faith. Pass the salt with joy and prayer!