The Rev. Leslie Mazzacano
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
February 9, 2020
Happy are they who believe the Lord and have great delight in his commandments. AMEN
I found this story about a teacher who decided to make chocolate chip cookies with her class of 6-year-olds. They carefully measured the flour, creamed the butter, and mixed in the chocolate chips and nuts. You know school children – they all wanted to eat the batter and lick the spoons. But the teacher made them promise to wait.
Her plan was to have them all eat their first cookie together so they could share in the joy at the same time. Twenty minutes later the first batch came out. Oh, the students were excited! They could smell the cookies. These weren’t small scrawny cookies from a package. No, these were great big golden and beautiful chocolate chip cookies. Two cookies could make a meal. Can you imagine the smell and the size of them right now? MM MM, delicious!
Finally, the cookies were cooled and ready. Each child grabbed his or her own. On the count of three, they all took a huge bite. Yuck! Gross! The cookies tasted so bad that each student spat out their cookie! They tested each batch and the outcome was the same. These were the worst-tasting cookies anyone had ever eaten. Sadly, platefuls were dumped. The poor staff couldn’t figure out what went wrong. They looked very carefully at the tried and true recipe. As they looked down the list, they suddenly realized that they had forgotten the salt. Without salt, the cookies were not sweet. Chocolate doesn’t taste like chocolate. What is designed to be delicious turns into a tasteless mess when no is salt added.
Our lives can easily be like those cookies. It has been over five weeks since Christmas. The heavenly choirs were singing. Most of us focused on the manger and shared our warm memories of Christmas. Even though the days were shorter than they are now, didn’t life seem lighter? There was an air of hope and expectation. The Lord himself was about to enter our lives. Then a short time ago we were focused on the Star in the East that signified “God with us.” Now it’s a month later, and winter is upon us. Our children are back in school. The bills are all coming due and some of us have overspent. Instead of Jesus in the manger, the hogs are being fed in the trough. And it is cold. The days are short and dreary for so many of us. Isn’t it amazing how the whole focus of our lives, and even society, has moved so far in such a short time?
Can anyone here relate to any of that? Any light we may have had in our life is dulled. It almost seems as if our light is being dimmed by a heavy bucket which we are wearing on our heads. Yet all the ingredients of a successful life appear to be within our grasp. We may look good on the outside, but something is missing. The missing ingredient may show itself differently in each of us. Perhaps one of us is unhappy. Maybe someone else is unusually short-tempered. Sometimes there is just a quiet uneasiness. At other times that quiet uneasiness can turn into a loud roar that drowns all other sound and thought from our minds.
We want to be fearless and confident. We want to sing and shout with joy. And we want to feel secure and protected from our enemies. We want our lives to be prize-winning, delicious chocolate chip cookies! Full of fragrance, taste, and sweetness. We want the sweetest families, and homes, and lives. We just caught a glimpse of that desired flavor at Christmas. Even with the rush of holiday shopping, we could feel the buzz in the air. St. Paul echoes the Prophet Isaiah when he says life can be so good that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him”!
It is there in black and white. God has some pretty great stuff waiting for us. So, what happened? Where did the feeling go? Can we get it back? One question before we go on. Who set the boundaries of Christmas? Did God set the Christmas season or did the world? Who said we should get into debt or overeat or be nice to Aunt Nellie or Uncle Bill only in December? Who said that Christmas shopping should start right after back-to-school and before Halloween? Even though the church joyfully celebrates Christmas music for the twelve days of Christmas, many shoppers are tired of carols and want to hear their regular music on December 26. Even the church has been caught up in the craziness. How many of us sing “Joy to the World” in June, or even today? I must confess I love our Christmas in July where we hear all those great hymns and music right in the middle of summer! And yet each time we approach God in worship, it is an occasion of joy!
We have let the spirit of the world dictate our recipes for light and salt. But St. Paul reminds us that our life is not in the spirit of the world. WE HAVE RECEIVED THE SPIRIT OF GOD! It is through the Holy Spirit that we may understand the gifts of God that have been given to us. God loves to take ordinary people like you and me, and through us, does extraordinary things! God is looking for every day people to be equipped with a gift to share. And Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “You ARE the salt of the earth. You ARE the light of the world.” Not, “maybe you will be!” You ARE salt and light in this world. Jesus has gifted us.
There is a song that comes on the station that I listen to when I am in my car. It is called “Nobody” by Casting Crowns. I found the song to be so relatable and I would like to share some of the lyrics with you…
Why you ever chose me, has always been a mystery.
All my life, I’ve been told I belong at the end of a line.
With all the other Not-quites, with all the never-get -it rights
But it turns out they are the ones You were looking for.
Cause I am a nobody trying to tell everybody
All about somebody who saved my soul…
I am living for the world to see nobody but Jesus
Moses had stage fright, and David brought a rock to a sword fight
You picked twelve outsiders nobody would’ve chosen, and you changed the world.
Well, the moral of the story is everybody’s got a purpose.
It is only through Jesus that we can receive the Spirit of God. We cannot make that saltiness on our own. The light of Christ carries it to us. We must go to Jesus as our source every day.
If we have nice families, good furniture, comfortable homes, a good education, and good food, but do not have the Spirit of the Lord visible in our lives, then we are like those chocolate chip cookies that tasted like so much sawdust! We haven’t added that pinch of salt that is ours alone to give. It is so necessary to bring out the flavors all around us. We have watered the salt down. If we let our neighbors and our possessions dictate where God is, then we will find ourselves wearing only a barrel. We will have covered over the light that is in us. There will be no light shining from our lives. Each one of us is called to let God’s light shine through us. That’s why we’re here. To be solitary candles? No.
Someone said that you never diminish the flame of your own candle by lighting the flame of another’s. In fact, that’s how it’s supposed to work. This reminds me of our Easter Vigil, when we light the Christ Candle from the “new” fire and then light our candles from the Christ Candle.
In the first century, they did not put out their lights at night. They had to keep the fire burning. If they put out all their lights, then the next morning people would scramble around looking for a cooking fire. Sometimes people would put a barrel over a lamp to darken the room but still keep it burning. When we let the world dictate our lives, we are like that lamp.
There may be a light flickering inside. No one can see it. It won’t light a path in a dark room. That hidden fire cannot even be shared until the barrel comes off. It is time to remove the barrel that has been put on our lives.
Salt is very inexpensive in our culture. In addition to small amounts of salt for the table, we buy it in 40-pound bags for use in water softeners or on slick winter sidewalks and by the dump-truck load to melt ice on roads and bridges.
Of course, the way in which modern people view salt, abundant everywhere, is decidedly different from those of centuries ago. Because in Biblical times salt was rare, hard to obtain, and considered a very precious commodity. We can better understand why Jesus used the image in today’s gospel story: “You are the salt of the earth.”
Jesus used an analogy they could easily understand to let them know he expected something extraordinary from them for the sake of God. Jesus placed a high value on them and on what was required of them just as the first-century culture placed a very high value on salt. Jesus taught his followers to act for God in ways as important and varied as salt was in their world.
God can release us to do the work Jesus commands us to make a difference in the world: giving hope where there is no hope; forgiving where there is sin; embracing where there is loneliness and despair; tolerating where there is prejudice; reconciling where there is conflict; bringing justice where there is wrong; providing food where there is hunger; giving comfort where there is distress or disease.
It was so inspiring to see our children making the Birthday Bags at our Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of service. The children understood that these birthday bags would make a difference for a child, and their family to celebrate a birthday. Their service was the gift of life that God gave us. The children were shining their light and being the salt of the earth with each bag they made.
Jesus empowers us to purify, to heal, to nurture, to thaw the frozen, to preserve, and to season the people of the earth. The power of God supports and sustains us and stands with us if we risk whatever it takes to become salt to the world. And when we fail in this effort, God will raise us up and renew us and give us strength to persevere, again and again.
In my Discipleship for Episcopalians we are looking at what our next study will be…one of the categories is “Helping Others Grow: Making more and better followers of Jesus by living the Great Commission.” We all squirmed a little or a lot at that study because we feel uncomfortable in thinking about going out and getting or making followers of Jesus. It reminds us of Evangelizing, and we tend to shy away from that. But Jesus has given us the tools and the gifts to do this.
It is time to let the Spirit of the Living Lord shine out of our lives. Our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our country, and even the world are desperately waiting for us to share that light. And while we are at it, let’s add our own touch of salt to those tasty cookies that God has made for us to share. AMEN
Resource: Sermons that Work, Discipleship for Episcopalians, Robert E. Logan with Charles R. Ridley, Nobody by Casting Crowns