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Interfaith Student Reflection by Joseph Kempf

Joseph Kempf, Class of 2016


“(And Jesus Said) You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Matthew 5:13

You are…a people of faith. You are…a city on a hill. You are…the Salt of the Earth. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his followers salt, of all things! Don’t get me wrong, salt is delicious and needed. But we could be something great! We could be legends, we could be a mountain, instead Jesus charges us with salt. While there are numerous interpretations of what exactly is meant by being the Salt of the Earth, I personally hold this verse in the Gospel of Matthew to indicate how followers of Jesus should engage in the world. I am going to do this with a little bit of Chemistry.

I wanted to be scholarly and a little rebellious so I researched what Salt of the Earth even means. According to the Wikipedia page devoted to Matthew 5:13, it reads “Salt itself, Sodium Chloride, is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavor…(then some author notes) Jesus is ‘not giving a chemistry lesson’” I’m almost a little offended. Who are they to decide when chemistry stops. If there is one thing I learned at Augsburg…chemistry never stops. Since Jesus clearly was not teaching chemistry, I think I will step up to the plate so to speak.

I’m sure all of you are familiar enough with cooking. You know with all of your might that oil and water will never mix, no matter how much you stir. Oil is simply too big for water to take on. Long chains of carbons and hydrogens are not attractive to water’s oxygen and hydrogen combo. Maybe for too long, Christians have become oily in practice and deed. We have become too engrossed with our beliefs, what road to heaven or what does this passage actually mean. If water represents the world, sometimes we just sit on top, looking at the world below us but never submerges ourselves. We see our neighbors of various religions, but we may seldom act. What we need is a radical shift in ideas and our approach to other religions. But Jesus doesn’t call us the ‘oil of the earth’ we are the ‘salt of the earth’! You know perfectly well what salt does in water- it breaks apart and fully involves itself in waters affairs. An important thing to note is that the salt is never destroyed in this transaction. Often what holds us back from working or engaging in interfaith dialogue and service is the simple fact that we are afraid of losing our faith. Of changing for the worse or even where to begin. But of course these actions can be learned. WE are called to engage the world and serve our neighbor. How much longer are we going to separate ourselves from this sacred service?

Interfaith service and dialogue is important and needed work. Important because we are called to live in this world, not as only Christians or only Muslims, but as humankind. To serve rather than to be served. To engage instead of fall asleep to the cries of the world.

I have come to the opinion that the Gospels don’t need much prodding in order to reveal to Christians that interfaith service is a necessary project. Many people continue to approach interfaith service and dialogue like a nice option; a creative and unique box to explore for its own sake. While interfaith work is altogether important and requires a well of creativity, the Gospels call…no wail out to us to serve and engage our neighbor. We must wander the world around us, desperately and endlessly listening to the calls of the poor and oppressed; not regardless of their religion, but because of their religion. There is no doubt that rich and powerful work can be done when we grasp the hands of our friends and neighbors and use faith or beliefs as a starting point and cornerstone to our work. I engage in interfaith service because the Scriptures I see in my tradition call me to be first in service and generosity, and truly take on the title of Salt of the Earth.

*This message on the importance of interfaith engagement was one of two student presentations at the 2015 Augsburg Corporation Luncheon.