10/1/2000, P16, Year B
"Please pass the salt," or more informally, "Slide the salt down this way," are the most often heard requests at the dinner table. Salt adds zest to life and we all need more of that. In our texts we overhear Jesus saying that His followers must add flavor to life.
Basic to Jesus' metaphor is the assumption that whenever folks experience a good thing they are happy about it and express their delight. A new baby comes into our homes and the entire house is aglow with elation. If there is no joy at such a time something is terribly wrong.
Likewise, it is a good sign that there is joy and gladness around our church. We see a lot of handshaking and hugging around here. Every week visitors comment on how warmly they were greeted and how happy folks seem to be. They leave with a smile on their faces. Joy is contagious! If you do not share the joy then you may need a spiritual checkup.
The comment of one of our many recent visitors was that "all of this jubilee had to come from hearts full of God!" He was correct in his assessment for our joy exudes from a real experience that we have with Jesus Christ! Ours is a witness to this entire metro area.
Jesus calls our church to be, "..like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all the world to see." (Matt. 5:14, NLT). Salt is still added to lamp oil to add a festive sparkle. Ours is a ministry of adding zest and sparkle to life. These positive qualities will always attract human hearts in need of Grace.
Also, there were other uses for the abundant salt from their Dead Sea, sometimes called the Salt Sea. Until this century salt was the main preservative of food. In many parts of today's world, salt is still the only preservative. Refrigeration is a rather recent convenience. My parents grew up with an Ice Box. Salt cured meat was a basic food. While at the Mystic, Connecticut port our family toured a 19th century "salt ship" that brought thousands of pounds of salted at sea fish to the markets.
Christianity has always had a role in preserving the good qualities of our culture. Jesus called His Church to stand against evil, and to promote things that are noble and good. Sometimes we are called to promote change in society to bring about a better, and more Christlike opportunity for all. President Jimmy Carter's insistence on basic human rights for all people came out of a Christian heart.
Salt was also used in Jesus' day as a healing agent. In an emergency we can still pour salt on a fresh wound to kill germs and prevent infection. Likewise, believers must be healers in a broken world. Our calling is to become healers of broken people. Our many hospitals and nursing homes are a natural consequence of caring. "You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other." (Mk. 9:50).
Salt can also be used as a nutrient to enable heightened growth of plant life. During World War II farmers were unable to get chemical fertilizers and resorted to the technique of mixing sodium chloride with sand as an enhancer. Jesus' figure of speech is saying that we Christians need to nourish, promote and pump up, as we enable growth.
To be true to our text we must underline that Jesus was also saying that salt poured on a wound would be painful. Sometimes hot coals from the fire were used to cauterize a wound in order to stop blood loss, but it was extremely painful. Jesus was picturing the serious consequences of evil. Jesus said, "For everyone will be purified with fire," (Mark 9:49). In this phrase I hear him pointing out much more than the eternal consequence of hell, for in a positive sense he seems to be talking about our natural "Trials by Fire;" or, how we can grow through human adversity. Indeed, without the fire, pain, and trials, we would never know tribulation as a major vehicle for growth. In Christ even hardship has its upside.
In Jesus' wisdom concerning "Salty Christians" there is also a warning; He said, "You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? (Matt. 5: 13). Again, "Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again?" (Mark 9:50). As a chemical, salt cannot change into something else, but when diluted with other ingredients it can lose its effect. Christians should not merely blend in with cultural mores becoming polluted ourselves, but we should instead stand firm for morality and proclaim the Good News of forgiveness and cleansing through His Power at work within our lives. Looking back on the Cross we have found a way to become salty again.
America was founded as a "New Israel," a land where the principles of Christian calling and character could be lived out. With the Church as its moral guide, we have created the greatest civilization in history. Although we have not thought we could create utopia, we have maintained our course as citizens have listened to the leadership and consensus of the churches. Sure, some have lost their way and our policy of freedom of religion has led to the creation of many sects; but still, our nation stands as a result of the moral influence of Salty Saints.
In the light of Jesus' straight talk we need to ask our own hearts if we are adding any zest to life, if we are responding to Jesus' call to be helpers and nurturers, and if we are modeling the moral character that Jesus so wanted in us? The Spirit calls us to a life of usefulness and purpose. By the power of the Cross we can become and remain Salty Saints!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor