Note to the reader: This post is made up of pieces of the sermon I preached at Presbyterian Church of Henderson, KY on Sunday, February 9. The whole sermon doesn’t make as much sense on paper as it does in person, so I’m editing to include the highlights.
“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.” Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:12
In the Hebrew Bible, there are 35 verses that mention salt; in the New Testament, there are 6 verses that do the same. In the Bible, salt is a symbol of durability, purity, loyalty and value. It’s most prominent mention in the Old Testament might have to do with Lot’s wife, but it was mainly used by the ancient Hebrew people in their covenants and offerings. The covenant people even rubbed their newborn babies with salt, as a sign that they would grow up to be truthful and honorable. The new testament use of salt relates mainly to this verse and verses like it. The idea that Jesus’ followers were to “be salt.”
In this particular verse of Scripture, Jesus focuses on the taste of salt. “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, what good is it?” Humans have 5 different types of taste receptors, and saltiness is one type of taste that is detected. The need for salt is universal among all human cultures. We crave salty things and our body needs a certain amount of salt to survive. Now, of course, this is delicate balance as we also know that in our food world full of preservatives and salty foods, salt is the culprit blamed in some instances of bad health.
But flavor is important. We keep salt in table-friendly shakers so we can sprinkle it on foods that need a little extra something. If our salt did not add flavor, why would we add it? It’s useless to us if it’s lost its saltiness!
So it is in the Kingdom of God. If we’re flavorless, not adding any good to the situations we’re “sprinkled” in, we’re not much use in the scope of Christ’s mission.
What makes us flavorfull? Well, we might have to look around a little bit and even read the verses right before Jesus’ words about salt. It’s the Beattitudes in Matthew 5:1-11. Blessed are…
the pure in heart
the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness
the peacemakers…to name a few.
We’re called by Jesus to add flavor to the world…but not just any flavor. Anyone with eyes and ears can see that the world is anything but boring. You could say a lot of things about the current state of culture and affairs, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince your average person that it’s boring. More than ever, we have lights and sound and color and hundreds of televisions channels and billions of websites and phone apps and movies to watch in theatres or on demand at home. The world is wildly exciting at times. Believe it or not, in less technical and modern ways, this was also true for believers in Jesus’ time. They didn’t have Xbox or Candy Crush Saga, but they had other intriguing, exciting things happening.
Jesus wanted his followers to add a specific type of flavoring to the culture and we’re called to do the same thing. The flavoring of peace and mercy and love and humility and purity. This flavoring was relevant and needed in Jesus’ day and it’s needed in our day as well. Romans 12:12 stands out as relevant here: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are called to add the flavor Jesus teaches us to add to a world that needs a taste of the Gospel.
Salt is a preservative. Ancient cultures used salt before refrigeration was available. Meat and fish were salted so that they could be transported and traded across deserts. Today, salt is still used in the preservation of foods.
Jesus calls his Church to preserve The Way of truth. It boggles my mind and leaves me scratching my head when I realize that when Jesus left earth, he left his message with his disciples—a rag-tag band of hippies at best. The same guys who seemed to have lots of trouble understanding what Jesus was saying most of the time, such that when Jesus was arrested and crucified—a thing he had been predicting and preparing them for all along—they fell apart! These guys were the leaders of a new church. They were called to preserve Jesus’ words, Jesus’ ways, and Jesus’ story. This is a huge job, but they did it. We have Jesus’ words and we have Jesus’ story and example to follow.
As modern-day preservers of these things, we have a task. We need to study our Scriptures. We need to line up what the culture tells us—even what the Church tells us–with what we see in the red letters. We need to be questioning church leaders and religious experts when what they are teaching does not reflect Jesus’ heart and hope. Love of neighbor…lack of love for money…peacemaking…humble service…love of enemies…the list continues—how are we preserving these teachings so that future generations receive them in tact?
Christians, are his values our values? Are we living in such a way that we’re preserving Christ’s mission? It’s a question we need to ask if we are to preserve.
When you add salt to water, the salt is more dense than the water. The ocean, as I mentioned already, is about 3.5% salt. In Israel, The Dead sea is about 33% salt. People float in the dead sea. If you can’t float in your swimming pool—my husband for example sinks straight to the bottom every time no matter what—you can float in the dead sea. The dense salt creates buoyancy for objects that attempt to float in it, such as humans.
Our saltiness as followers of Jesus should create buoyancy. The world is hard. There’s bad news everywhere, children and friends sometimes make terrible choices, the toast is bound to land with the buttered side down, people get sick for no apparent reason, horrifying accidents happen just feet from the doors of our schools…the world is hard enough. Life is hard, but God is good and that should be the message we carry, not just on our lips but with our actions and our care for others. In every interaction you make a choice: you can beat up or you can lift up. You can offer complaints and criticism, or you can offer encouragement and kind words and hope. That doesn’t mean we say things we don’t mean…that means we choose our words more carefully and seek to be loving first. We look for possible solutions or ways we can help and even if we don’t find any of those, we stand by people who are having a tough time. We hold their hand, we offer prayer, we find reasons to hope in Jesus, who cried and mourned with Mary before he raised her brother, Lazarus, from the grave.
We’re called to be salt. To be flavorful. To be preservative. To be buoyant.
We are not called to be boring or bored…to simply flow along with whichever way the tide turns…Not called to rejoice when others fail or participate in bringing others down.
Being salt is a big calling, but just like the first disciples, we are called nonetheless. So pick one thing—any thing from the “salty” list—and live that way this week. Trust in God’s provision and grace to guide you as you seek out your salty calling. And don’t lose your flavor!