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Thursday, May 6, 2021

113 Salt

    (Note: This blog entry is based on the text for “Salt”, originally shared on May 6, 2021. It was the 113th video for our YouTube Channel, Streams of Living Water (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB7KnYS1bpHKaL2OseQWCnw), co-produced with my wife, Rev. Sally Welch.)

      What is the most important part of a Christian life? I mean after we have become Christians. We are made Christians by faith through grace by God, not by our own efforts, but the Christian life looks like something. What would that be? Today, we’ll find out.

   The pandemic in India and Brazil is exploding with sickness and death. Here in Southern California, we who are in LA have been the most infected urban area in the country are now making such great progress that we are entering the state’s yellow tier, the least restrictive tier in the State of California’s coronavirus control system. But, let’s remember that “the least restrictive tier” is still a restrictive tier. We aren’t out of the woods yet. Or, as our governor said, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But we’re still in the tunnel.”

   The remaining restrictions are designed to help everybody, and particularly those who haven’t gotten their shots. We don’t need 100% compliance, but it is those who are getting the shots who are making the world more livable for everybody else.

   We’re back in the kitchen today to talk about salt. It only takes a relatively small amount of salt to preserve food, and a very small amount of salt to flavor a dish, but it does have to be salt.

   Jesus said, in Matthew 5, the 13th verse:

   “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.”

   Salt was a means of preserving food in Jesus’ day, when there was no refrigeration in a Mediterranean climate much like that of Southern California’s. Salt was of stable value everywhere in the Roman Empire. That’s why Roman soldiers in the Roman Empire, that was occupying Israel during Jesus lifetime, were sometimes paid in salt. When we say that a person is “worth his/her salt”, that’s where the expression comes from.

   Salt was a symbol of purity in Jesus’s culture since it was only useful if it was pure.

   It was seen as something necessary for life, not as the enemy of blood pressure in our affluent society.

   Natural salt, or sodium chloride, cannot lose its flavor per se. But natural salt can become polluted with other things and lose its natural flavor. It will lose the character that makes it valuable as a result.

   If salt gets polluted it can no longer be used as salt and gets thrown out. Salt that was polluted with dirt from its surrounding environment during mining was used to make roads in Jesus’ day. Either way, it was trampled underfoot.

   It can only be a preservative or a flavoring agent if it is what it was created to be.

   This, and its seasoning qualities, are the images that would have come to people’s minds when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” at the beginning of his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, preserved at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew.

   Human beings were created for a living relationship with the one true living God. That relationship is the substance of faith. We can only preserve or flavor the goodness around us if we are who we are created to be. We are who we are because of whose we are and that has been created and revealed within us by the Holy Spirit.

   I grew up in Wisconsin, and I remember the city spreading crushed rock salt on icy roads in the winter. Some of the salt dissolved in the surface water and lowered the melting point of ice, which made more ice dissolve which made more water which made more salt dissolve, and so on, which eventually melted the ice and made travel safer.

   That wouldn’t happen if the salt wasn’t sodium chloride. And it didn’t work as well when the water mixed with the dirt on and alongside the roads.

   Likewise, we are the people of God and nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand. But, we can be polluted and have no influence on the world around us as a result.

   We can become so polluted with the cares of this world, with a desire to be accepted by it, and a thirst for relevance that removes everything that makes us who we are that we have nothing to offer the world.

   Have you ever given up your values in order to be accepted by a group, maybe the popular kids or their grown-up equivalents? You probably know that their acceptance carries a heavy toll.

   The first Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire, but they were not persecuted for their faith. The Romans could care less what a person’s faith was as long as they accepted everyone else’s faith as equally as true as their own.

   Romans valued unity in the empire. It made it easier to control. More troops could then be dedicated to the expansion of the empire. When Christians and Jews refused to believe in anything but the existence of one God, it created disunity in the empire, and they were persecuted.

   When the Romans tried to make the worship of the emperor the glue that held the empire together, Christians and Jews refused.

   They were not persecuted for their faith. They were persecuted for their intolerance. They refused to be adulterated. They were salt, the salt of the earth, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the streams of living water within them, they remained salt.

   Being salt wasn’t in their character. Being salt was their character.

   We all face a lot of pressure to go along to get along. But when salt ceases to be salt it can have no influence on the world around it.

   Being who we are, defined by whose we are, is what preserves us and makes us flavoring agents for Jesus Christ because it doesn’t come from us, but by our relationship with God, the character that comes from, and can only come from, God.

   In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, the Colossians, in the 6th verse of the 4th chapter, he writes,

   “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”

   That is, we don’t know how to share our faith because we’ve memorized answers. We share our faith rightly because we are the people of God who have been put right with God by God. We share our faith from who we have been made to be by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Our character comes not from who we are but from whose we are.

   My favorite definition of character comes from the speaker at an Eagle Scout achievement ceremony for a member of the church I served in San Dimas. He said, “Character is what you do when there is no reward for doing the right thing and no punishment for doing the wrong thing.” Character is acting with the integrity of who we are. It comes from our relationship with God, our faith. It comes from whose we are, who we have been made to be.

   As we come out of the pandemic, what the New Normal will be may yet be unclear. But what is clear, at least to me, is that people who are seeking to make sense of their lives, to experience God in a way that is real and uncompromising, are looking for a life that truly is life, not more of the same old life.

   Our task is not to be relevant, to pander to what the world thinks it needs, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, a new start in life, a life that is real, a life that is like salt, able to make a difference in the world and to preserve what is good in the name of God.

   Christians are like salt. We don’t need to be big. We don’t have to be many. We just need to be real, and to live in the reality of whose we are with integrity and character. We are called be true only to who we are as a new Creation in Jesus Christ with no regard for what the world thinks, only for what God thinks. We are the people of God, the salt of the earth, not perfect but seeking to be so, by God’s forgiveness and grace, that God may be glorified.