9/28/97, P18B

“Can You Make it Salty Again?”
Mark 9: 50

"Salt is good; but if salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again?" ( N.A.S.)

Nearly every church that I have served has had a regular f1ow of down and out folks begging for a handout. One of the most unforgettable ones was a middle aged woman who was about as filthy she could be. She had not bathed or changed her clothes in months. Mixed in with all of this was the stench of cheap whiskey. She had a black pirates patch over one eye and avoided eye contact with her good eye. As I was going through the routine information about how we did our help for the homeless through an ecumenical agency, she mentioned that she had been a Director of Christian Education at several Methodist Churches in Florida and was a graduate of Emory's Candler School of Theology. Having had experience with many fabricated stories since the days when my mother gave food to hobos in the '50's, I knew just enough to ask questions about Pastors she had served with and Candler faculty she would have known: Suddenly it dawned on me that she was telling the absolute truth. In shocked and woeful voice my only question was, "What happened to you?" Her only response was, "Church people can be hard." I then recovered enough to talk in terms of how we could help her with: a meal, a change of clothes, and a place to stay; but soon realized that she was not yet ready for a hand-up, only a hand-out.

So, I broke the rules and gave her cash; thus becoming codependent in teaching her how to beg, but my heart told me that I sure would want somebody to do the same for me if I ever ended up that saltless. It can happen to any of us. Sam Jones, the great Methodist evangelist of 100 years ago who was so popular that when he died they placed his body in the rotunda of Georgia's State Capital building and the long line of people filed by for 48 hours without a break in the line. Folks loved him because he never forgot that Jesus had saved him from a life of evil and debauchery. The story goes that the world-famous preacher was back in his hometown of Cartersville with a longtime friend when a down and out drunk man came staggering down Main street.

The scornful remark by the friend was, "Look at that no-good drunk, they ought to lock him in jail!" Sam Jones' reply was, "But for the grace of God, there go I." That's why the people 1oved him so. It can happen to any of us. We can seemingly lose our salt, our power, our purpose. The whole world mourns the earthquake damage to the many frescoes in central Italy on Friday. Price1ess historic art treasures damaged. But the good news is that they are damaged… -and not destroyed. The greatest art restoration experts in the world are Italian and in time the paintings can be restored to their original appearance. Damaged but not destroyed, that's the picture of the sinner separated from God. A priceless treasure that is unique and precious in His sight. God is the artist that can restore lost glory. If we will give Him permission.

Salt that has lost its saltiness can become salty again. In fact, any chemistry student knows (at least any that made higher than C-) that salt never loses its saline properties. It however can be damaged to the point of uselessness by dilution, or by mixing it with other substances. Often the Romans would mix sea salt with sand in order to inhibit weeds growing in the roads. Even mixed salt has some usage, and if you were to pour it into a lake the lake water would taste salty. However, the point Jesus was making was that polluted salt could not be used to season food; or, at least in the first century they did not know how to reclaim damaged salt and make it look usable for cooking. In fact, Jesus may not have been referring to table salt at all. He may have been talking about salt's ancient usage as a preservative. Then, as now in many parts of the world, they had grown fond of salt preserved meat and fish.

One of the tourist attractions in the recreated historic port of Mystic, Connecticut is a salt ship. We four Allreds climbed down into the core of the hull and saw how they could salt down each day's catch, day after day, layer upon layer, until the ship was about to sink from months at sea. This was the best preservative the world knew until this century. When Jesus said for us to "Have salt in yourselves... " he means for his disciples to have a preserving ministry. We are the custodians of values and morals and teach people how to obey God's plan. However, that is just a part of our task. Jesus does more than play defense, we have our offensive assignment too. During WW II farmers were unable to get potassium fertilizers and resorted to an ancient technique. They used sodium chloride, (salt) as a fertilizer. Perhaps Jesus is encouraging us to enable, to nourish and nurse along, to promote and pump up, to uplift and lift up, our fellows along the way. We can't all pledge a billion dollars like Ted Turner, but we can help somebody along the way, today. Also, we must remember that all pledges are not paid, but actual acts of mercy are done then and there in a hands-on manner.

A burglar stole a bank bag from a neighbor church filled with $70,000.00 in pledge cards-- did it help him? (come to think of it, maybe it taught him a valuable lesson when he opened that bag.) Perhaps we could write our own understanding of Jesus' words to mean: "Give permission for the enhancing taste of salt to give joy to the world, and allow the preserving nature of salt to hold dear what is eternally true, and become as nutrients and helpers in a world full of damaged brothers and sisters. Go thou and do and become!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/28/97, P18B