The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
“Jesus [told the crowds], “You are the salt of the earth;”
What kind of salt are you? Are you an old salt; a seasoned sailor who is often a raconteur, regaling people with tall tales of adventure.
Or maybe you’re someone who needs to be taken with a grain of salt; a person whose words need to be heard with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Then again, maybe you are the salt of the earth; a person who is solid, truthful, reliable, and has integrity.
What kind of salt is the Church? Well, that varies.
There are churches who tell pretty tall tales about what it means to be a Christian.
Certainly, there are no shortage of churches whose words about the Bible need to be taken with more than a few grains of salt. And then there are churches that are solid, truthful, reliable, and who strive to live with integrity.
What kind of salt is Christ Church?
Salt is essential to life. Yet too much salt is dangerous; a threat to life resulting in all kinds of illness, like hyper-tension and strokes. But, conversely, without salt in our diet we would die. And as an amateur chef, I will observe that food without salt is pretty bland, and despite the best attempts of the nurses in cardio re-hab to convince me otherwise, even inedible.
In the ancient world salt was highly valued. The word salt is mentioned over forty times in the Bible; maybe most famously in reference to Lot’s wife, who disobeying God’s instructions to not look back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, was turned into a pillar of salt. What kind of salt was she?
The Greeks called salt theion, which means divine. The Romans made up a little jingle about salt. Had electronic media existed back then, it could have been an advertisement for Morton’s. It went like this: “Nil utilius sole et sale,” which translates as, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.”
Being a beach lover, I totally agree!
When Jesus told the crowds gathered to hear his Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth, there were three associations that his hearers would have made.
The first is purity. Salt being glistening white made that connection an easy one. The Romans said that salt was the purest substance on earth, because it came from the interaction of two pure things, the sun and the sea. Salt was used to purify things which had become impure. When the waters of the city of Jericho had become tainted, the prophet Elisha threw salt into them to make them potable.
The second association with salt was as a preservative. Up until the last two centuries, with the development of canning, freezers, and vacuuming sealing, salt was the most common way to preserve foods, especially animal flesh. Without salting – or curing of some sort – animal flesh has a very short shelf-live before it begins to deteriorate. Salt preserves it, so that it can be eaten weeks, and even months, later. So, salt prevents rot and corruption.
And finally, salt would have been associated as giving flavor to things, which I already mentioned.
Keeping those three associations in mind – purity, preservative, and giver of flavor – what kind of salt are you? How does the salt of your life and your faith, purify, preserve, give flavor?
Unless you live in total isolation, it’s no secret that we live in a world losing principles of purity: an era where acts of decency, honesty, morality, and integrity are in decline, placing the culture in a tail-spin. In fact, on some days it feels as if we have crashed. No follower of Jesus can be the salt of the earth if they condone, or remain mute, when they encounter this loss of purity in our lives. We cannot be salt of the earth if we turn a blind eye to such behaviors, allowing them to co-opt us, in the process becoming tarnished by them. We are a part of the world, and as a part of the world we cannot withdraw from it, like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Followers of Jesus must be in the world, setting the example of a better way of a pure life, while simultaneously, as the letter of James says, keeping ourselves, “unstained by [that] world.” (James 1:27)
Which means as the salty followers of Jesus we must be agents of preserving, being an antiseptic to those corrosive, corrupt behaviors and words that bring rot and decay to our lives, our culture, our religion, and our nation. If we are to be the salt of the earth we must witness to the wholesome power of the salt of Jesus’ good news to preserve our souls.
Followers of Jesus also must bring the excitement of the vivid flavor our faith has to offer to a culture whose taste buds have gone dead. This flavor is the joie de vie that comes from knowing all of us are beloved children of God.
Following Jesus and being good salt means we bring to others those qualities that gives life its flavor and zest: the qualities of compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, non-judgmentalism, community, beauty, grace, and abundant love. When we do so, others can see that ours is a faith of pure radiance! Ours is a faith where one is called to enjoy the fullness of life, including laughter and joy. In fact, if you can’t be joyful and have fun being a Christian, we may as well as give up the whole enterprise! Joy is essential to being good salt.
We live in an age of high anxiety. We worry, (to the point of despondency) over many things - income inequality, corrupt business practices, the environment, the deplorable impurity of our political landscape, rogue states developing nuclear weapons, the coronavirus – all these heighten our anxiety and threaten to consume us, to the point of becoming, as Jesus said, “salt [that] has lost its taste . . . no longer good for anything.” Losing our saltiness leads to a demise in our sense of self-worth, of believing we have value. Depression sets in, which breeds its progeny of despondency and despair. More and more people give up on the possibility of a better life, a brighter future. Many turn in-wards, seeing no value in community. Many others turn to addictive behaviors like opiates and alcohol to escape from the darkness of their reality.
We followers of Jesus have something critical to proclaim and work toward in the midst of such brokenness. Being the salt of the earth means we are called to be diffusers of hope, promise and joy, and we do so not by being Panglossian – offering empty words of optimism - but by actively working toward bringing about structural and behavioral changes in our society; changes that will allow people to have hope, living life fully, experiencing joy. Proclaiming purity, preservation and flavor as paramount to human life, we become witnesses to the fundamental Christian belief that each and every human life has infinite value, is redeemable, and is worthy of dignity and respect. No exceptions, no excuses. That is what it means to be the salt of the earth. That is the message of the good news of the Gospel.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone.” Let the saltiness of that truth, be the salt of our lives. Amen.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.