For the next several months, I’m preaching on words from scripture or our faith that engage us.
This week our word is “Salt!”
“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.”
It’s an odd word for a sermon, isn’t it? There are more complicated theological words:
Christology, eschatology, reconciliation, atonement, predestination…
Now those are words that tell you’ve been to seminary! But “salt?” Salt is a Jesus word. He chose that word.
“You are the salt of the earth.”
Notice he didn’t say:
‘You should be the salt of the earth. Or,
You will be…
You ought to be…or
You need to try harder to become the salt of the earth.’
He didn’t say any of those things. It’s emphatic. “You are the salt of the earth…” That’s who you are.
The thing of it is, he is talking about our function, not our status. Salt never exists simply for itself. You don’t order a plate of salt for dinner.
When have you heard: “I’d like to have the salt with a side order of broccoli. And could you put some pepper on that salt, please?”
When Jesus calls his followers ‘salt’ he is not bestowing some high and lofty status on us, “You are the salt.” It is more like he’s defining our function.
Commentaries note that “salt” was highly valued in the ancient world. A bag of salt was reckoned as precious as a person’s life. In those days, salt was connected in people’s minds with three things, “purity,” “preservative,” and “flavor.”
In his commentary, William Barclay reminds us a bag of glistening white salt, “looks” pure. So was Jesus saying that those who belong to him are called to a life of purity? That’s not often a word too many of us use regarding ourselves.
What would it mean to remain “salty” in a world that lowers its standards? Like it or not, there is to be something distinctive about a person who is a follower of Christ. Barclay highlights: “Purity in speech, purity in conduct, purity in thought.” There is something pure about salt, untarnished by the world.
In the Letter of James, we heard this:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans, and widows in their distress, and to keep one’s self unstained by the world.
So is that what Jesus meant when he chose the word salt?
Perhaps. Yet in the climate of Palestine salt was indispensable as a preservative. It keeps things from going bad. In Jesus’ time, with no refrigeration, salt was used to preserve fish and meat. It served as protection against destruction.
The human race is prone to self-destruct. When our lives are disconnected from Christ, from the love and grace of God, things can begin to spoil. Being a Christian doesn’t protect you from accident or illness, but it does guard you from a meaningless life. That’s a different kind of destruction. To be salty may be to have that quality of life that preserves rather than deteriorates life.
Then there is the third use of salt, flavor. Christians should add flavor to the world!
Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote:
I might have entered the ministry, if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers!
Robert Louis Stevenson celebrated in his diary:
I have been to church today, and am not depressed.
He sounds surprised!
Who wants to join a church that is flat and without flavor? Who wants to belong to a church that is boring and irrelevant? Yet it is possible for Christians to lose their flavor. Listen to Jesus:
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Its no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.’
Jesus wouldn’t bring this up if he hadn’t seen it or experienced it among his disciples. Something goes flat. This happens in Christians, in our faith, in our relationship with God. Maybe that’s why the word ‘salt’ is in here – to remind us of who we are, to call us back to something we may have lost.
When Jesus chooses to use the word ‘salt’ he is telling us there is something distinctive about us.
Douglas Hare puts it this way:
Any church that adapts itself so completely to the secular world around it that its distinctive calling is forgotten has rendered itself useless.
On the other hand, some Christians seem to relish in the fact that they are irritating and they call that being faithful or distinctive from the world.
Maybe it is. But I don’t think so. They seem so angry, so mad at everybody. Where’s the joy? Where’s the love and compassion of Christ? Where is the zest for life in God’s created world?
Think about this: How often do those outside the church experience the Christian faith as tasteless, boring, oppressive, pietistic, irrelevant, judgmental, prejudiced, legalistic, and non-compassionate? According to Jesus that would be …no longer good for anything … and should be… thrown out and trampled under foot.
A person who belongs to Christ, if anything, should be winsome. “You are the salt of the earth…” You add something to the mix. You bring flavor to life. You don’t take away from life. Others will want to come to Christ because of the observation of the way you live your life.
Listen, you can almost hear them:
I want some of that. Where did you get that? You have a sense of joy, inner peace, a love for other people that I don’t have. You are not self-consumed. You’re gracious.
Sounds like Jesus doesn’t it?
So what do you think is Jesus’ point, pure, preservative or flavor? I suspect it is all three!
Salt is an interesting word. You would think the Son of God would use more sophisticated language, but maybe he used the word salt because he thought we had a chance to understand it. It’s not difficult to understand, it’s just easy to lose its taste as we get all mixed up out there in the world.
May God keeps us in God’s mercy, and may God keep God’s people salty in this world.