Youse are the Salt of the Earth – sermon preached 9 February 2020

In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I seem to have reached a particular age.

I seem to have reached the particular age which is that whenever I got to the doctor about anything I come out with a prescription for another regular medicine and an instruction to give something up.

Red meat was one of this first things. No more red meat.

Red wine was the next. No more red wine. (Though I’m not that much of a drinker anyway).

[This being St Mary’s I can see several doctors in the congregation working out what prescriptions I got for which pills too]

But then it was caffeine that had to go. No more ordinary tea.

And the latest of course was salt. Cut down, cut back, give up on the salt.

Now, I have, or at least had, rather a liking for salt on my food.

It makes other things tasty.

So being told to cut it down and try to cut it out was something of a bitter blow.

What’s a poke of chips without a good sprinkling of salt after all.

Oh, and I know what comes next – it’ll be the chips next. First they came for the red meat. Then they came for the salt. Then they came for the chips…

Steak and chips nae mair, nae mair.

But the salt thing really got to me.

I took myself off to the supermarket straight away to find an alternative. And sure enough someone produces this stuff. Lo Salt it is called.

And it has all the attributes of salt. Except one.

It looks like salt. It feels like salt. It sprinkles like salt.

It is perfect in every way except the rather necessary requirement.

It doesn’t actually taste like salt.

It proudly says on the tub that it contains 66% less sodium than regular salt. And by my reckoning you need about three times as much of the stuff for it to actually taste the same.

And, well, the truth is, I’ve kind of lost heart with it as a substitute. It has been sitting in the back of the cupboard for a year or more largely unused. Better to retrain my tastebuds to do without salt than to be disappointed with ever sprinkle.

This stuff is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel today. Salt that has lost its savour.

And it is good for nothing.

Well, except for one thing of course. Real salt doesn’t ever really lose its savour. Real salt itself can’t go off. You can keep it as long as you like and it will still be salt.

And, well, that’s just one of the points that Jesus is making.

In the gospel words we have just heard, Jesus says, You are the Salt of the Earth.

But the wee periscope, the section of the gospel that we heard did not really make it clear to whom he is speaking.

Jesus isn’t talking to the church – it hadn’t been invented then. Nor is he talking to a congregation in a synagogue. Though he went to such places, he was outside when he preached this sermon.

Nor was he talking just to his disciples.

For this is part of the sermon on the mount.

He’s speaking to those who crowded around him to hear.

He’s speaking to the crowd as well as to his friends.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

Might it make a difference to how we hear the sermon on the mount to remember that he isn’t speaking only to us. He isn’t murmuring the sweet nothings of a personal saviour who has come just for me as an individual.

This isn’t just about my relationship with God.

He’s speaking to the crowd. To all of us. And more.

To all of us and a lot more.

To the forgotten and the poor and those with no influence and no power.

And he says, you, all of you, are the salt of the earth and the light of the word.

The crowd are the salt of the earth. The crowd are the light of the world.

When he’s talking about you, he’s not just talking to you.

In Old English, he’s talking to ye – all of ye.

In Southern American English, he’s talking to y’all – or even all y’all.

In Glasgow he’s talking to youse. Yes, all of youse.

Jesus seems to see human dignity and worth in every member of the crowd.

Each was part of being the salt of the earth. Together they were light to the world.

Every member in the crowd is made in the image of God and that gives us innate human dignity.

Dignity that Jesus sees and proclaims.

There are so many occasions when we can see simply the worst in people.

There are so many occasions when we experience a crowd as simply being the mob.

But Jesus looks with compassion at every soul there and says you – you collectively are the salt of the earth. You, yes, all of you are light.

What a world we would have if everyone was able to contribute to making the world tasty and full of light.

What a world we would have if the special dignity and gifts of every soul were recognised and affirmed and known.

What a world would we have if the innate goodness of everyone was visible and shining out like a light on a hill or a lamp put on a bushel basket.

Evil and sin abound are oh so real. Yet Jesus looks at the crowd and seems to see the vision of a kingdom altogether different and altogether new and altogether built on the goodness of every soul.

So, let your light shine in this city. Let your light shine in this land. Let your light shine in this world.

In loving you, God knows the light that is already in you. And God wants that light to be what you are known for.

Until the light illuminates everything and all wrongs are put right, and the tears are wiped from every eye so that every eye sees clearly that love has conquered. And love reigns supreme.

Look for the best in people.

Look for the love in people.

Look for the light in people. For the light in people is simply the sign of the love that is in them that connects them directly to God’s own being.

Look especially for the light in people in whom you don’t expect to find it.

And set that light high.

High on a bushel basket

And let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Five Thoughts On Losing Elections (and a referendum)

Everyone has their own speciality. Mine is losing elections.

It seems to have become a primary passtime. More than a hobby, less than a national identity but part of who I am.

I’ve lost elections in school, university, the church and civic society. I’ve not become president of my College student association, nor a Member of Parliament, nor a Councillor, nor a Rector of the Univerity of Glasgow and I’ve recently not become a bishop.

I am proficient at it. It is my own special skill. I’ve done it so often that I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of my most triumphant defeats.

I can’t say that losing elections is easy. Each comes with its own particular disappointment; its own lasting murmer of what might have been if only things had been a bit different.

But it is from this perspective that I want to say something about how to lose an election and in particular how to react to having lost one particular referendum.

For a significant moment occurs today. At 11 pm this evening Britain will leave the European Union – and become the only nation in world history ever to have declared economic sanctions against itself.

I was in favour of remaining for all the same reasons that I was in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. I’m predisposed to think that we should be in anything.

I remain of the view that the poor in the UK will pay the highest price for coming out of the EU.

So I was on the losing side of this one. I mourn our departure from the EU.

As an experienced expert on losing elections then, I tentatively offer the following reflections on how to lose.

  1. When you are beaten, it may be because the other side was better at it than you were.
    Oh, I know that this is difficult to accept. I’ve felt the pain of feeling robbed time and again. But one of the things I’ve learned from those who I’ve fought alongside in the liberal/left/pro-European corner of the political vineyard is that many of those I’ve been very close to just can’t accept the basic reality that those who have different ideas just might be better at getting them across. People who think differently might be clever. Might indeed be cleverer than thou. Accepting this hideous reality is the first step in coping with losing. It is far easier to claim that the other side cheated than that they were better. It is relatively rare that they did.
  2. Change happens.
    New opportunites present themselves. As soon as the dust clears from one battle, the pathway to the next becomes clear. There’s no going back. The world only spins one way. But one of the features of the way the world spins is that change is still always going to be part of the journey.
    In 2005 I took no small pleasure in nearly doubling the Liberal Democrat vote in Stirling and knocking the SNP into fourth place. The fact is that the seat has been held by Labour, Conservative and now SNP members since then. And I took tiny scintilla of pleasure in seeing how it changed hands at the last election, even though it wasn’t a party I’ll ever vote for who won. Change has always happened and always will happen. Recognising this is the first step towards getting back on board and standing publicly for something again.
    I hope that the UK forges a path as close as possible to the EU and ultimately rejoins. I’m in the minority here but that’s what I hope for. And learning what one hopes for is a large part of poltical participation.
  3. You don’t have to win an election to have an effect.
    Getting a higher turnout in an election is a good thing. Getting more votes for what you are standing for than people expected is a joy. Losing elections can be part of turning the tide in a wider movement for change. I cannot count the number of votes that those of us campaigning for equal marriage in the Scottish Epsicopal Church lost but each was a step along a journey that eventually led to change that has brought joy into the lives of people who didn’t know how much their hearts could sing. You are part of something. Try to see the bigger picture.
  4. You don’t have to win an election for it to have an effect on you.
    I’ve been changed by all the elections that I’ve fought and mostly for the better. I’ve probably been changed for the better more by those I’ve lost than the few that I’ve won. Participation in an electoral system is an invitation to learn from others. I’ve learned skills of persuasion and learned that people are interested in original ideas no matter how off the wall they first seem to be. I’ve learned that being able to see over the horizon is no guarentee of electoral success but I’ve learned to see a little bit further over the horizon all the same. There’s much  to be gained by standing. That isn’t invalidated by losing.
  5. It is about winning, all the same.
    There’s a time and a place for bitter regret. And that place is never in public. The tough reality is that sometimes one simply has to suck it up and accept that one lost. Whether one wanted a particular democratic event or not, sometimes the fact remains staring us in the face that this time it was a loss.
    It is particularly difficult seeing people and organisations who claim to be hugely committed to democracy finding it so difficult to accept that the Brexit referendum didn’t go the way they expected it to. Yes, some of the reasons some people voted were about xenophobia. Yes, some of the reasons were to do with reasserting a sense of Englishness which has gone sour in recent years. Yes, some of the reasons for voting in the recent election were, however misplaced, about a sense of self-interest. But they were real feelings. Change won’t begin to happen until ideas emerge from the losing side that capture or recapture the hearts of those who voted differently.
    All elections are won on hope. Even hope that you despise.

If rightwing populists can win the hopes of people across the world then anyone can win the hopes of an electorate. But that won’t happen automatically. It needs imagination, inspiration and those prepared to take risks, dream dreams and stand up for what they themselves hope for in public.

And it needs people prepared to lose elections.

Until one day they win.