“You are the salt of the earth.”
“You are the light of the world.”
When we moved house in the summer, there was the usual cupboard clearing – and discarding of foods with use by dates somewhere in the last century…
But not the salt. I am ridiculously irritated by use by dates on salt. Salt from Cheshire has been there about 220 million years…we dig it up and suddenly it seems it will lose its saltiness if we don’t use it up within the year.
But that perhaps, is Jesus’ point. It is ridiculous to think salt can lose its saltiness, it would be ridiculous to light a lamp and hide it.
So we can’t avoid it – we’ve accepted God’s offer of grace and love in Jesus, so we have also accepted the cost of being his disciples. We are the salt of the earth – what might that look like in 2017?
Well, salt is a preservative – it stops things going bad. Salt enhances flavour – we add it to bring out the true flavour of food.
It seems to me that one area where society is ‘going bad’, or losing its true flavour is in the language we use – especially in politics.
On the one hand we have ‘the establishment’, ‘the liberal elite’ – Parliaments, Senate, The EU – seeming to have forgotten that they are there for the people, not for their own sake; being so convinced of their own abilities that when huge numbers of people disagree they dismiss them as bigoted or ignorant, rather than asking why.
On the other hand we have populism – saying ‘let the people decide’, ‘drain the swamp’, just get rid of the establishment. And Nationalism – saying Britain first, America first, refugees and migrants will destroy our way of life, they are leeches on our society – or terrorists.
There are rights on both sides so being good Anglicans we perhaps think it is best left to people’s conscience.
But if we are the salt of the earth – maybe now is not the time for silence.
However much I might respect other people’s politics – it cannot be right to suggest torture is acceptable. However genuinely fearful we are of radical Islam – it cannot be right to demonize whole nations, whole religions or to close our hearts to refugees. Surely Holocaust Memorial day is enough to remind us of what can happen when we start labeling people ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Many, of course, have protested, marched, signed petitions against what is coming out of America – may be you have. But I think our role as salt goes deeper than that.
We live, apparently, in a ‘post truth’ era. Political campaigns use lies and misrepresentation almost as the norm. Promises are made – with no intention they will be kept. Rich and powerful individuals fuel nationalism and populism by claiming to stand for ‘the ordinary people’. They offer to sweep away ‘the establishment’ – without any real vision of what might replace it.
Bishop Nick wrote recently of how complacent we are about Western democracy and human rights because we have grown up with them. About how they are not inevitable, and need to be fought for in every generation. About how fragile order is – and how exciting and tempting chaos can look.
We are the salt of the earth. We need to challenge lies, and yes – evil. But we also need to be careful in our use of language. We need to give thoughtful criticism of those parts of national or European government that are not working – rather than colluding with the idea that we will be better off if the whole thing is swept away.
The day President Trump signed his infamous banning order, a British politician on Radio 4’s Today programme was asked – “Well if you could just tear up the rule book and have any border controls you wanted – what would you do?”
Just a provocative interviewer? I’m not so sure we should even use such language. Should we talk about sweeping away protections grown out of the horrors of the Second World War, built on decades of debate and consideration of facts – as if this was a rational policy?
Poet Michael Rosen, a great defender of language – picked up on someone welcoming President Trump’s refusal to be bound by political correctness. Well I was teaching 4 year olds when ‘Baa, baa black sheep’ was outlawed – so I can rant against PC with the best – but how easy to make sweeping statements about stopping busybodies telling us what we can say – and forget the battle fought over decades to stop us using language to belittle people because of their race, gender, disability.
Trump is an easy target – but we are the salt of the earth. In a world of wild accusations and the language of hate we need to protest with words of truth as we attempt to understand even when we cannot agree.
In a world were many do feel abandoned by their governments, we shouldn’t demonize them for following people who take them seriously, but find out where we agree, and offer thoughtful, rational challenge where we do not.
In a world where we are asked to side with people like us, and be fearful of ‘them’ –we should follow Jesus’ example and speak with love, of refugees, foreigners, Muslims, of people who support leaders who give them hope. Of people whose political views we disagree with – or just cannot comprehend.
You are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world.
No one says ‘pass the salt please’ – hoping their food will taste the same. No one flicks a switch – hoping the light won’t come on. Now is not the time to be silent, but to reclaim language as we seek the truth together in loving discussion of our differences.