Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Salt of the Earth

Message preached February 9, 2014
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Matthew 5:13-20

Order of Worship

Listen to this message (mp3)

You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...

Let’s think about “salt” this morning, especially as it pertains to the Bible. If you’re like me, one scripture using salt that comes to mind at first is the rather unfortunate experience of Lot’s wife when fleeing the destruction of those seductive sin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Being told by angels not to look back, she could not resist one final peek. That little, itty-bitty glance proved to be her undoing. In the years ahead, the children of Abraham could look at a peculiar rock formation in that valley and be reminded of the consequences of trying to walk forward with the Lord when your head and heart are faced backward. Lot’s wife was immortalized in her moment of wavering as a pillar of salt.


Somehow, though, I don’t believe Jesus had this image in mind when he said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Certainly, salt has its negative aspects. In great quantities, it can destroy. The Dead Sea, on the border between Israel and Jordan, is precisely that, a dead sea. Since there is not an outlet for its waters to flow, it stockpiles all the minerals that don’t evaporate under the hot sun. Today, it contains about 300 parts of salt for every 1,000 parts of water. In comparison, the Jordan river, which feeds into the dead sea, is only 35 parts of salt for every 100,000 parts water. In other words, the Dead Sea is good for floating on without a boat, but not much else. You won’t need a fishing pole if you visit there.


In great quantities, salt can destroy life. That’s why, when in ancient times, a victorious army sought to prevent its enemy from rebuilding, they sowed salt into the ground. Similarly, salt was a part of God’s judgement. In Deuteronomy 29:23, Moses warned God’s people not to turn away from their deliverer, telling them that if they did, their future would not be a promised land of milk and honey, but a salty, barren dump. Psalms 107 says, as judgment (vs. 34-38) “God turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.


Of course, God can also do just the opposite. The Dead Sea plays an important role in God’s power to restore, instead of destroy - witness this beautiful verse from Ezekiel, a vision of God’s new age: “Wherever the river goes (which flows from the throne of God) every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish once these waters reach there. It will become fresh, and everything will live where the river goes. (47:9) Within this vision of Ezekiel, similar to that vision of John in Revelation 21, salt also plays a positive role. “The swamps and marshes (of the Dead Sea) will not become fresh; (Ezek 49:11) they are to be left for salt...


In great quantities, salt can destroy life. Salt can be a part of God’s judgment. But salt is also necessary for life. Job, commenting on the barreness of life, in the midst of his great misfortune, said, “Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt? (6:6)...


You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...


On the positive side of things, salt performs a great many functions. Without salt, the human body could not exist; in fact, our bodies are made up of a good percentage of salt. Yes, health experts advise us to cut back on our salt intake, but that is only because salt is already very present in everything we eat. As I said, in large quantities salt can be destructive. But it is also necessary.


As Job so aptly put it, Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt? Salt adds flavor to life. It is our #1 seasoning. A friend who was a cook in a nursing home once told me of the need to balance the nutritionist’s orders to cut back on salt, with the desire of residents to enjoy their food. After all, as life’s pleasures grow fewer and fewer, food remains as a joy. You need to eat. Salt adds flavor to life.


When Jesus speaks of us as “the salt of the earth, no doubt a part of that has to do with being a flavoring, a seasoning for the world around us. Life can be pretty bland and tasteless. Life in Christ is the opposite. We are not generic Christians. We are full of flavor, because of the seasoning of Christ’s Spirit in us. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. This verse from Psalm 34 describes our good news, and the way we share it. We are tasteful people. That doesn’t mean we slavishly follow the etiquette of Emily Post, or Miss Manners, just as it doesn’t mean we are enslaved by the law of Moses. Still, we are tasteful people. Folks taste us, if you will, and discover how delicious God’s flavoring can be. In so doing, they are drawn to experience the same flavoring in their own lives. If a person really got to know you, to taste, so to speak, of who you really are, with God’s flavoring in you, would this person come back for seconds?


You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...


We add flavor to the world around us. Salt also performs a healing function. Ezekiel 16:4 alludes to this, though it is hidden within a judgment. Speaking against the faithlessness of the people of Jerusalem, Ezekiel said, “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel string was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor were you rubbed with salt... Here we discover an ancient practice for preparing a child for life. Salt was a healing agent. It still is.


I remember, back in college, going to the infirmary with a bad sore throat, thinking they’d prescribe some fancy medicine. What do you suppose they gave me? Salt. Gargle with it every 2 hours. I thought they were being cheap. In fact, later in life another doctor told me he still prefers salt over medicines like “Chloroseptic”®, which acts more as an irritating acid than a healing agent on a sore throat.


Salt is for healing. When Jesus speaks of us as “the salt of the earth, no doubt a part of that has to do with being an agent of healing in the world around us. Life can be a pretty destructive existence. Walking wounded live all around us. The wounds may be very deep: emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually. The wounds of our world, though, are not just personal. Nations, societies, organizations, families, can be sick, wounded, unhealthy. Individuals living within them are wounded as well. Band aids don’t help when the sickness is that widespread.


Living in Christ, we are people of God’s balm. Salt of the earth folks are agents of healing in an unhealthy world. Yes, this has to do with praying for others, but it also involves being present with others, allowing God to be present in and through us, that God’s salt might work for healing. You know the blessing of Aaron, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you  and give you peace.


Well, the “shine” of “his face,” and the “light of his countenance,” both speak of God’s presence in our lives, a blessing presence, that we might be agents of blessing; a healing presence that we might be agents of healing; blessing and healing through our own “countenance,” our own face toward others, which is really God’s light in us, his shining in and through us.


To be salt is to be present with others, in the presence of God, as healers. Now, we all know that  salt rubbed into a wound can hurt at first. But healing is the goal. No salt of the earth person can avoid pain. But we live with the hope that out of that pain comes healing.


You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...


We are healing agents in our world. Salt also performs a purifying function. In the Old Testament, salt was a significant part of various offerings given to God.  In Exodus 30, Moses was instructed to make incense for use only in the tent of meeting, where God was especially present with his people. This perfume was not for personal use. With equal measures of various spices, Moses was to “make an incense blended with salt, pure and holy. (v.35) Salt performed a purifying function, no doubt related to its seasoning, and healing qualities. Leviticu 2:13 instructed that “You shall season all your cereal offerings with salt; you shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your cereal offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Salt was a part of every offering, as well as an important element of the incense used when making an offering. In this capacity it was present as a purifying agent, an element of holiness.


When Jesus speaks of us as “the salt of the earth,” no doubt a part of that has to do with being a purifying agent in the world around us. Life can get pretty messy. You don’t have to travel downtown to “the block,” or make your way to certain street corners where impure substances are sold - to be smoked, injected, swallowed or ingested in any possible way. No, life can be rotten enough right where we live. We don’t have to look “out there” for the vices of life, do we? They exist even in our own homes. That’s a foregone conclusion. Why else would the world be so tasteless, and unhealthy, in need of flavoring and healing? We live in an impure world.


To be God’s agents of purification, though, does not mean that we stand above it all, in a “holier-than-thou” fashion, pretending that we are “perfect” people. One of the great misunderstandings of many who would be disciples of Christ, is the belief that you need to be perfect before you can become a disciple. That’s just not true!


The church of Jesus Christ is a place where we can confess before a holy God how far short we all come from real holiness. We have not arrived at perfection, we are “becomers.” Each day, we can only offer as much as we understand of ourselves to as much as we understand of God. Of course, we are hopefully growing, day by day, in this understanding. In so doing, we are becoming agents of purification living in a pretty messy world, and seeking, with God’s help, to change ourselves - and in the process, changing the world.


Those Old Testament passages I just read, well, we don’t perform those offerings as part of our worship anymore. They didn’t train me at seminary in the fine art of slaughtering a ram or a bull, and firing it up on the altar of the Lord. According to what we believe as Christians, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross did away with those earlier practices. However, in a way, there is an offering presented daily on the altar of each human heart, as we give ourselves to God.


Likewise, when we gather for worship, our time of giving “tithes and offerings” is more than just writing out a check, sticking it in an envelope, sealing it, and placing it in the plate when it passes by. Our time of offering is a time of placing our very selves on the altar of God’s fire.


You are the salt of the earth. One peculiar aspect of salt, as it pertains to offerings, is this: the salt is consumed by the fire. To be a purifying agent in an impure world is not to avoid impurity, but to live amid it, allowing the fire of God there to consume us, and thus to light a torch in the darkness. That doesn’t mean we take every opportunity to place ourselves where sin can consume us, but instead we live as down-to-earth people, salt-of-the-earth people, caring about others, seeing them not as objects of God’s judgment, but rather folks for whom Christ died, just like us. Only then can we be agents of purification, or to use another word, agents of redemption.


You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...


We are agents of purification, of redemption in our world. Salt performs many other functions, such as being a preservative. But, I run out of time to continue. “You are the salt of the earth, Jesus said - flavoring, healing, purifying, and preserving the earth. You are salt.


In olden days, salt was a pretty valuable commodity. It was heavily taxed. Often times this resulted in folks buying less of it and mixing earth with it and re-selling it. As a result, it lost something. It still was salt, but it really didn’t do the job all-that-well. You couldn’t really take out all the dirt, not back then. So, once salt lost its “salt-ness” in the desire for personal gain, to make a buck at the expense of everything else, it became worthless.


Thus, Jesus said, if salt has lost its taste, how shall it be restored? It becomes “good for nothing. In other words, (here’s Pete’s paraphrase): You are the salt of the earth, but when you forget that salt is intended for flavoring, for healing, for purifying, when you forget your purpose, who you are, whose you are, and seek to treat your life in Christ as if it is something you can manipulate for your own gain, you have lost it.


Now, Jesus doesn’t say it’s impossible for salt-less salt to become full of flavor, a healing agent, good for purification once more. He just left a question mark. How can it be restored? The point is this:


You are the salt of the earth. That’s what Jesus said.
He didn’t say, “you ought to be,” or, “you should try to be.”
He just said, You are the salt of the earth...


I wonder, what would it be like if we really saw ourselves as being who Jesus said we are?


©2014, revised from 1996, Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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