Friday, February 04, 2011
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, Year A
Sodium chloride – salt – has gotten a particularly bad reputation in recent decades. Even though humans require a certain amount of salt for survival, most of us take in too much, and ingesting excessive amounts has been linked to major health problems. Individuals who eat too much salt are at a risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even stomach cancer.
Those trying to eat healthy quickly learn the need to limit daily salt intake to an amount equal to one teaspoonful, including all that is contained in food itself prior to whatever we pour out of a shaker. They also discover that salt can be found in over-supply in cheese, butter, margarine, snack food, breakfast cereals, canned goods, soy sauce, and processed foods. It is used in many foods as a color additive, a binder, an element for giving texture, and a control agent in making bread.
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. He placed a high value on them and on what he required of them – just as the first-century culture placed a very high value on salt. He taught his followers to act for God in ways as important and varied as salt was in their world.
Our being salt to the world would help others learn to make life special and not be the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” existence described by Thomas Hobbes. Christian faith can provide spiritual seasoning that gives life joy and meaning. To keep life from being bland and unrewarding, we season it with Christian commitment and understanding of God’s love for his children. Being salt to the world means adding flavor to life wherever and whenever possible. It means adding a zestful spirit to life and love. It means pursuing meaning in all we do and in all we encounter. It means acting in love with all whom we touch.
In Jesus’ day, salt was often connected with purity. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things, because it came from pure things: the sun and the sea. It was used by the Jews to purify their offerings to God. If we modern Christians are to be the salt of the earth, we must accept a pure and high standard in speech, thought, and behavior – keeping ourselves unspotted by the world’s self-centeredness. Jesus calls us to be a cleansing presence, constantly witnessing to the good that is found in God and the values of God’s realm.
In ancient times, salt was valued as a basic ingredient of a good life. As salt in the world, we can serve as a basic nutrient for others. We can become nurturing agents for those around us – caring, helping, enriching, teaching, and bringing them to Christ.
Salt was also used to aid healing. As salt in the world we can promote healing through prayer, caring for others, and supporting the least, the lost, and the lonely – holding hands with one another and administering the holy oil of anointing.
We could do well also to make an application from the use of salt to thaw ice on roads. As salt in the world, we can help melt the iciness of life. Frozen relationships can be melted by applying the warmth of Christian love. We can take that love and wear down the indifference or lack of feeling that often overtakes human beings.
Salt has, for centuries, served as a preservative to prevent food from spoiling. If we, as salt in the world, become preservatives of God’s goodness, we can help prevent spoiling and corruption wherever we find it. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to preserving Christian principles that keep ourselves and others from going bad.
It might be instructive to note something Jesus did not say. He did not tell his disciples to become the “pepper of the earth.” Pepper calls attention to itself, as opposed to salt that, when properly used, only highlights what it flavors. Jesus does not expect us to call attention to ourselves in our salting efforts. Rather, we are to make others more acceptable, more meaningful, more loving.
We can focus on the immediate context of Jesus’ charge for the disciples to become his salty followers. It came immediately after his expression of the beatitudes. So the seasoning takes on the character of the values he exhorted.
Sometimes salt is discovered in domes or dried from water of the ocean as well as being found in boxes in our pantries or shakers on our dining-room tables. For the salt to become effective, to do its work, however, it must be released from its container. God can release us from what entraps us so we can truly salt the people of the earth.
God can release us to do the work Jesus commands us to do – 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.
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.
Unlike many modern people whose health depends on moderation in eating sodium, we “salty” Christians do not need to go on a spiritual salt-free diet. Let us rather become the salt of the earth. Let us reach out to our communities in a world in desperate need of what Christian seasoning can provide. As Christians, let us remain pure and committed and let us accept the responsibility to help make ourselves and others a people more and more in keeping with the values of God.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Pastoral Letter from The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis,Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt
from the Anglican Church News Service
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27
My Dear Friends, Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
First, I would like to thank you so much for your prayers, phone calls, and messages from around the world that you have sent in the last few days. I want you to know that these meant a lot to me personally and to your brothers and sisters in the church here.
In the midst of the turmoil which Egypt is going through, we have felt that the Lord is very near to us. We have experienced his peace, and we were assured of his protection. In most of our churches and homes, there have been prayer meetings for the situation and for our beloved country Egypt. All our churches are safe, although they have not been guarded by the security since Friday when all the security were withdrawn. This assured us that the one who protects the churches is the Lord of the Church.
I was touched to see young adults, Muslims and Christians, guarding the streets, homes, and our churches. They did not allow any thieves or looters to come near the area. They also arrested some of those and handed them over to the Army. I applaud our local Egyptian clergy and people who joined the youth in the streets in guarding homes and churches.
I admired all our expatriate clergy and diocesan staff who refused to leave Egypt in order to stay in the midst of the people who decided not to go, even when their Embassies encouraged them to leave and provided airplanes to do so.
Yesterday demonstrations were very peaceful, in spite of the huge number that gathered in the middle of Cairo. We praise the Lord that we have now the internet back, and we can communicate with you all. This morning the security also returned to guard the churches as normal.
Yesterday, President Mubarak made it very clear that he will not seek re-election after he finishes his term in November 2011. He appointed Mr. Ibrahim Soliman as a Vice-President. He has a good reputation among Egyptians. This appointment ruled out the possibility of appointing the President's son as a successor. President Mubarak also appointed a new Prime Minister, Mr. Shafik who was the Minister of Civil Aviation (Egypt Air, etc…). He is a very good man and has done a lot of improvement in his previous Ministry. President Mubarak also called for a review for the Constitution to allow democracy; he also assured the people that those who were responsible for the violence, destructions, looting, escape of prisoners, etc… will be brought to judgment.
Our concern was that extremist groups would take advantage of the demonstrations to push for violence. We thank God that this did not happen. It seems that the majority of the youth who are demonstrating are aware of this possibility. Many of them started to see this possible risk. The youth who were interviewed by the television yesterday mentioned that all what they need is democracy. Many groups this morning are demonstrating in support of President Mubarak, the new government, and peaceful transfer of authority at the end of the Presidents term.
Egypt is a very important country in the whole of the Middle East, and whatever happens in Egypt affects the rest of the countries. I was amazed at how the President of Yemen, this morning, announced that he will not seek re-election and will not promote his son to be the next president. We pray that we can set a good example to the surrounding countries.
We appreciate your prayers for:
• Our churches and institutions, so that we can fix our eyes on God who is in control. May what is happening help us to draw nearer to God and to know that the time is short.
• The end of demonstrations, especially in view of the changes that President Mubarak announced. This will bring Egypt back to normal and the curfew will be ended.
• The new government, in order to achieve the desired targets in serving the people, especially the Minister of Interior who is now trying to re-build the trust with the people of Egypt.
• People to find their needs of food and health care.
• Wisdom for the youth, in order not to allow the extremists to stir them up.
• The families who lost their loved ones in the violence, and those who are injured.
• Our beloved Egypt to recover this turmoil.
Once again, thank you so much for your prayers and words of encouragement.
May the Lord bless you!
Yours in Christ, +Mouneer
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis
Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt
with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
President Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican
Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
[ed. note: There was significant fighting, fire bombing, injuries of various degree and a reported 15 deaths as tension grew during the afternoon through evening and overnight to Thursday. We pray for a return to peaceful means to cool off tensions in Freedom Square.]