You are the Salt of the Earth..6-12-16


Matthew 5:1-13

June 12, 2016

Rev. Armen Hanjian

Chilmark Community Church

You are the salt of the earth.”  When Jesus said that, there were several obvious things to which he referred.  Today,  the implications of this vibrant sentence from the sermon on the mount are not quite so obvious.  Nevertheless, as Christians we must grapple with that statement which becomes a command:  you are to be the salt of the earth.

Salt was used in Palestine for many purposes.  Lamps would burn brighter when salt was sprinkled in with the oil.  Some salt will act as a fertilizer.  Too much salt will make the ground sterile.  In the book of Judges there is reference to towns being conquered and salt being spread on the land to insure bareness.

Those who live in Israel today must still deal with salt in a big way.  In order that the Sea of Galilee may be useful for drinking and irrigating, engineers had to tap the salt water springs on the sea bottom,  They run these waters along the coast in open concrete channels dumping the salty water back into the exit of the sea – the Jordan River.  The Jordan then winds 200 miles and empties into the lowest spot on earth – the Dead Sea.  Nothing lives in this salty sea – 25% of which is composed of solids.

Do you know what is the greatest use world-wide of cowhide? It is to hold cows together.  Whether 2000 years ago or today, the greatest use of salt fulfills two functions.  One to preserve things from spoiling and the other is to add zest and stimulate appetite.  Palestine, now Israel, is about the same parallel as the state of Georgia; the weather is quite warm most of the time.  Food spoiled quickly if left unsalted.  My parents came from that area of the world and I recall as a child seeing my mom and dad gathering young grape leaves each spring and storing them for food use in earthen crocks having salted them.  In Jesus’ day, a bag of salt was as precious as a person’s life.  So when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” he was proclaiming that our world will go rancid without the lowly few who mediate his spirit.

Today, you who are the fellowship of those committed to Christ are called to be the salt of the earth for today.  Our primary influence is our unconscious influence.  Yes, once in a while we consciously say to ourselves, “Now, I am going to be Christ-like”, and our conscious decisions go a long way in setting the habits for our unconscious influence.  But 99% of the time we are either Christ-like because we have become good salt or we pass for salt and are worse than useless – we are harmful.    How many times I have heard thru the years,

“If Christians are like those people, I don’t want to be a Christian. 

Would anyone who visits our homes, our worship services, our meetings be so impressed as to say, “How these Christians love and trust and respect one another?”

What do you do when the basses are loaded?  Well, you sober them up or replace them with baritones.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  What do you do if the salt has lost it’s taste?  How shall its saltiness be restored?

Actually, pure sodium chloride does not deteriorate; salt cannot lose its saltiness.  But when it is mingled with other ingredients,  then this is possible.  That is, salt can be adulterated.  Because it was so essential for preserving food, it was valuable.  Conquers taxed it and no doubt much diluted salt came on the market. Perhaps Jesus was echoing the remarks many a homemaker must have made when she discovered she had bought adulterated salt, “This is of no use at all!” One translation of the verse has Jesus saying, “It is neither fit for seasoning or manure.”

A modern playwright has one of his characters crying out his discovery, “The very word majority is offensive to me.  It is always the minority that preserves for us whatever good there is in human life.”  You know, that must have been quite a scene in history.  There stands Jesus telling his disciples, very average people, the incredible words: “You are the salt of the earth. “ “You are to be the light for the world.”  To these few Jesus committed the ministry upon which the democratic movements across the centuries have depended.

There is no despair because the group is small or because the task is gigantic.  There is no call by Jesus to remain in one place, rather the disciples are to go into the world touching even what seems unworthy to redeem it.  George Buttrick  put it crisply: “The Christian either redeems the world, or the world robs him of his Christianity.”

Int. Bible 7:289  (repeat with her)  Jesus makes his point undebatable by using such a universal item as salt for his comparison.  He was talking to fishermen who used it to preserve their catch, and everyone who put food into their mouths.

Moffatt translates this verse: If salt becomes insipid, what can make it salt again?”  The greatest danger the Church ever confronts is not that it will die.  It don’t believe it will ever die.  The greatest danger is that it can become insipid, absent of tang and vitality, standing for nothing in particular.  The Church began with a sharp cutting edge.  It confronted the Roman life with sharp contrasts to the day’s standards.  It literally turned the world upside down.  Then the Church got more reasonable, more sane, in a word, more insipid.  And today we can see monstrous wrongs and seeing them not feel compelled to struggle against the them.  When we love in word and not in deed our saltiness is gone.  If we have nothing to offer but a weak 7-fold amen of blessing on the standards of the world, if we do not trumpet the alarm against the forces which deteriorate and adulterate human life, then we are bankrupt.

You and I know it’s impossible to be 100% sure about the meaning Jesus intended in offering any of his teachings.  Some were pretty evident – he took a story about a good Samaritan man helping another man in need to show the neighbor we are  called to love is the one in need.   Now, when he said, “You are the salt of the earth,”  the meaning and implications are not quite so obvious.  When he said, “You are…”, he addressing the disciples.  The Greek words for you singular and you plural are two different words.  Here, “you is plural. indicating “You all are the salt of the earth.”

C.H. Dodd, in his book, Parables of the Kingdom (p.111) comes at it this way, “Here is a picture of a commodity valuable to men(people), and indeed necessary to their life; but it has lost the one and only property which gives it value….  Now in the situation in which Jesus taught, what was the most outstanding example, in His eyes, of such a tragic loss of value?  There is abundant evidence that He saw the state of Judaism in His time just such a tragedy….  The comparison is simply the lamentable fact of a good and necessary thing irrevocably spoiled and wasted.  Applied in this way, the parable falls into line with other sayings of Jesus.”

In any case the question is,  “How can I as a person today and how can we as a church today best become the salt for the world we live in?”   No simple answers.  How do we make love the order of the day.  I can easily offer general answers – “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”  But love is a very specific thing and each case requires a specific response.  Unless we as individuals and we as a church come forward with specific acts of love for our neighbors in these days,  we become salt that has lost it’s saltiness and are good for nothing.

We see pretty clearly the ideal Christian way, but tragic human situations seldom give us the choice of the ideal Christian way.  We are instead pressed to chose between courses which are more Christ-like or less Christ-like.  It  is in making these choices where Christ’s authority over us becomes evident.  We are always under pressure to take the more excellent way.  (from Joy in Believing,p.189)

You know,  Jesus never told his disciples to copy him; rather he asked them to follow him.  In other words, his disciples have had to keep working out for themselves the best way to express their convictions.

When I started my ministry the 1960 Webster’s dictionary described a space ship as an imaginary space vehicle.  The word laser was not even mentioned- it was discovered in 1963.  New breakthroughs have been coming in communication – a major task for Jesus’ followers.  If we send smoke signals when everyone else is communicating with more attention-getting means the message of love can get lost. Our challenge is to use the blessings of technology while not losing the personal connection.

The final sentence of Herbert Butterfield’s book Christianity and History

(Was prof. of Modern History at Univ. of Cambridge) , the summary sentence points to what is needed:  “hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.”  – An inflexible commitment to Jesus Christ and a flexible expression of that commitment in the world God loves will give us an ever new ministry.  It will mean there are no simple prescriptions.  It will mean Christians must continually communicate among themselves as to what courses should be followed for this new day.  But it is only in so doing that future generations will be able to so of us as persons, of us as a church, “They were for their day the salt of the earth.”

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