A few Sundays back the Gospel was centered on “salt of the earth” and “light for the world” images. Familiar concepts, not all that earth-shattering or snazzy—We are salt and light. That’s a good thing. Go out there and be one of those two. Or both. End of sermon….
Not at our church that day. As part of her homily, our pastor invited us to think about “salt of the earth” people. The folks who personify the salt-metaphor. For our shared recollection—and to bring the matter close-at-hand, she noted the death earlier that week of Charlie, one of our beloved parishioners. A man who had reached 101 years of age, who died quietly—as he had lived.
She went on to describe how and why we could think of him as salt-of-the-earth. Like salt—and light, too—he was both an ordinary person and a man without parallel. Part of the Greatest Generation, he had fought in World War II. He had come home and constructed around himself a conventional lifestyle. With his salt-of-the-earth wife, he had raised a good family, took care of others, earned a comfortable living and retired well. Like salt, there wasn’t anything about him that stood out from the rest of his generation.
You probably know folks like this—not all of them old and not all of them men. Like salt, they flavor everything and everyone they’re in contact with. The flavors are all good: Kindness, empathy, shirt-off-your-back generosity, honesty, trustworthiness, simple-and-useful spirituality. These folks are dear friends, wise parents, dependable employees, helpful neighbors. They’re often behind the scenes rather than in front of life’s parades. They’re unassuming, humble and easily mistaken for average. Salt-of-the-earth people form the solid core of neighborhoods, churches, businesses, organizations. In some settings, we call them good citizens. In the church, we call them faithful members. They’re good stewards, through and through.
It’s probably true that there’s a bit of Jesus in every salt-of-the-earth person. Maybe that’s why we admire our Charlies (and Charlene’s) so much. Just like we can’t live very well without Jesus in our lives, the same may be true about salt and light people. We need to see what a Christ-like life looks like in real terms.
This brings me to wonder how we can honor the Charlies around us with more than eulogies in memorial services. How do we help them understand how important they are in the larger scheme of things? How can we assure them that they inspire others without attracting undue attention? How can they realize that we love and respect them because we want to be like them?
As I said, you probably know people who fit Charlie’s description. In fact, the word-picture I’ve just painted may describe you. Not a badge you wear, your everyday uniform or the way you would describe yourself to others, but that’s who you are at your core.
If that’s true, let me assure you of your value in the greater good that God wants to get done. Your supposed ordinariness often helps you succeed in changing minds and hearts. Your attitudes and behaviors are heroic—people you don’t even know might think of you this way. Like other salt-of-the-earth people, you may have more personal power than some leaders. In your setting, you are well-known and beloved.
On that Sunday, we heard good news—good words to live by. Assurance and forgiveness. Grace. Perspective, encouragement and wisdom.
And an invitation to be like Charlies and Charlenes….
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