Salt Is Good For You - Matthew 5:13
It was 2012 and I heard, for only the second time in my life, the words that many of us men long to hear. No, it was not Anita saying, “Honey, let’s sit down and watch the game.” To be honest with you, Anita loves football so much, she was the one who talked me into sitting down and watching football—and I love it, though we have ended up on opposite ends of the AFC. The words I heard, that I feel many of us, maybe not just men, came not from Anita, but from Dr. George Hamrick, my cardiologist. The words were, “add more salt to your diet.” To be honest the complete treatment he recommended was to “drink plenty of fluids and add more salt to your diet.” You see, where many people are banned from salt because of high-blood pressure issues, I had gone into see my cardiologist with the exact opposite. Considering the fact that none of the medications that I was, or am currently, taking have an effect on blood pressure, we were sorting out a cause for the fact that my blood pressure was averaging between 107/64 and 90/60 at rest, and when I would stand up from either a sitting or bending position, it would drop even lower resulting in episodes of light-headedness and blacking out. When all was said and done, the diagnosis was naturally low blood-pressure and the most natural treatment, “drink plenty of fluids and add more salt to your diet.” Something that, and you can ask Anita, I have taken quite advantage of, considering six years earlier the doctor and I had a discussion over his attempt to starve me to death in the hospital by restricting me to a “heart-healthy” and “low-sodium” diet.
I Google searched uses of salt on Friday, and I am not sure of how many search results were returned, but I remember seeing all sorts of pages touting anywhere from twenty six to sixty uses of salt. Salt is a mineral resource that is very common and very essential to our everyday lives, and while I do not know if the folks of Jesus' day could have come up with sixty or even twenty six uses for the precious substance, Jesus was well aware of its significance. When Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth...." He was not saying that we are common or plentiful on the earth. He was actually stressing the importance of the role in the world of those who would choose to follow him. To understand this importance, though, we must understand the significant of the use of salt in Jesus day.
Of the five or six primary known uses for salt in the time of the New Testament, three really stand out. Salt was used as seasoning, as a preservative, and as a disinfectant. Other uses include sacrificial offerings and use as monetary exchange. The first three, though, are quite likely what Jesus was thinking of when He called his followers the "salt of the earth."
You are the “salt of the earth.” You are the “seasoning which the Father has sprinkled out upon the earth.” How many of us, by choice, not by medical necessity, like all our food salt-free? There are not many in our household (or should I say there are not any in our household). You ought to see the look I get from Anita when I accidently bring home a can of green beans or peas that are “no salt added.” I make sure the peanuts I get have sea-salt. I look for sea-salt labels on the chips I buy. I make sure I avoid the “unsalted” butter when buying sticks of butter. One of my favorite Yo-Zone flavors happens to be “Sea-Salt Caramel Pretzel.” What is it about salt? It takes food that would otherwise be kind of bland and gives it a flavor boost. It makes it pleasing to the taste—it excites the taste buds. It adds zest to the items on our menu.
As we consider how wonderful salt as seasoning makes our food taste, we need to stop and ask, in light of what Jesus calls us, the salt of the earth, whether we are doing for the world we live in what salt does to the food we enjoy. Are we adding flavor to our community? Are we bringing pleasure and excitement to the world? Do we add zest to life around us?
Too often God is labeled as a cosmic killjoy and we, as followers of Christ, at times seem to encourage this way of thinking. We spend so much time focusing in on the “thou shall nots,” that we offer a picture to the world that to live as a Christian is to live a boring life with no fun and no joy and no excitement. It gets to the point, it would seem, that folks that want to have fun avoid Christians, or at least they think they cannot have fun around a Christian. I think of times when I have been having exciting conversations with folks, laughing, cutting up, joking around, and then somehow it comes around to everyone sharing what they do. “What do you do, Lee?” Hesitantly I respond—hesitantly not because I’m ashamed, but because I know what will happen next--, “I’m a pastor.” Suddenly the mood shifts. Everyone becomes somber. The joking stops. Sometimes apologizes start flowing for what was said before even if nothing off-color or risqué was said. I think of a wedding that I officiated and then went to the country club and took my wife by the hand and we strolled out on the dance floor with other couples. The next thing I know there is someone sitting at a table to the side of the dance floor saying, “Hey, aren’t you the preacher?” “Yes.” “Then what are you doing dancing?” It is not all the time outsiders that think that Christians are bland, boring, stale, and killjoys. Sometimes I am afraid that we think that of ourselves. We think we are not supposed to have fun. We have been convinced that our lives as Christians are all about the “don’ts.” We walk around with sour looks on our faces as if all joy has been taken from us (kind of like the country ham that has been soaked and scrubbed to remove the salt).
My friends, that cannot be the way we live in the world. If so, we are like salt that has lost its flavor. Jesus didn’t call us to be killjoys or stuffy, boring people that everyone wants to avoid. He did not call us to live lives that seem that way. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy [to rob folks of the flavor of life]. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[i] Jesus did not intend for us to have empty boring lives, but lives that are full of abundance—full of joy, full of excitement, full of fun. Jesus didn’t intend for us to sit at home like hermits away from the rest of the world…he wants us to be out in the world offering the Father’s flavoring.
Does that mean we can go to the parties? Yes. By all means, go to the parties. Does that mean we can get drunk, get high, and get lucky like everyone else? ABSOLUTELY…NOT! God calls us to be in the world, but not of the world. As salt we add flavoring to the world by sharing with others that we can have fun and have a great time without abusing our bodies (which are God’s temple) or abusing others (by treating them as sex objects rather than precious children of God). However, it is not about going to the party and telling everyone that is engaging in that behavior that they are going to hell for doing it—we don’t make that judgment call. We have fun and enjoy ourselves, and bear witness to the world that life as a follower of Christ is not about avoiding fun—it is about living life to the fullest in the way God created us to live. Enjoying life because it is a precious gift from God, not because we have filled that life with so many artificial stimulants that we do not what is real and what is fake.
Following along that same thought is “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are that which the Father uses to preserve and protect His Creation.”
We are a people of refrigerators and Tupperware (or Rubbermaid or Sterilite or whatever brand food container you might use). We don’t tend to use salt to help preserve and protect our food. However, in the days before refrigeration was common, salt was commonly used to preserve and protect the food that someone would want to keep. It worked as a preserver by essentially drawing the water out of the food—more or less dehydrating it so that it would last. It protected the food, because not only did it draw the water out of the food, but it also would draw the water out of the microbes that were responsible for causing the food to breakdown and rot.
Too often we have adopted the notion of “we can’t wait to get off this rock,” and forget that the ground we stand on is God’s Holy Ground, that which He created, and the very place that He intends to build the New Jerusalem we hope to inhabit. We are to remember that life is a gift from God and that death and destruction came into God’s creation as the result of sin. As followers of Christ, we are about preserving and protecting life, preserving and protecting God’s creation. That means that we are to be God’s means of interacting with this world in such a way that where we see life in danger, we are called to strive to preserve that life—whether it be the life of a baby in utero, someone who has shared with us the desire to kill themselves, a terminal patient seeking Kevorkian-like treatment, or an inmate on death row. It means we look at the life of creation around us and see it as a gift from God to be preserved, not used up and discarded.
Not only are about preserving life, like salt, we are to be the protectors, the disinfectants of life. That means when we see something that is destroying life, taking life, eroding life, we are called to stand in the face of that evil and protect life. Sometimes that is as simple as providing food for the hungry where the evil of poverty has left folks without nourishment. Sometimes it is standing up against companies or individuals who would mindlessly, or with complete disregard, destroy the environment. Sometimes it is working to rescue folks who have been swept up in human trafficking, or refusing to support companies whose products are a result of slave labor. Sometimes it is taking a stand against practices that seem to further the gap between those who have and those who have not. Maybe it is about standing toe to toe in person with someone threatening someone else’s life.
Regardless of the situation, if we are to maintain our saltiness, we have to preserve and protect life. There is danger in being salt as well…because we preserve and protect life as we preserve and protect life. We don’t use the weapons of the destroyer to preserve and protect, we use the weapons of our Savior…which involves loving your enemy, praying for those who persecuting you, turning the other cheek, and, if need be, laying down one’s life for another. Salt doesn’t attack the microbes by killing them, only drawing that which makes them dangerous out of them…likewise, we don’t attack the evil with the tools of evil, we put on the armor of God, and as Paul says, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning goals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil [don’t become evil to battle evil], but overcome evil with good.”[ii]
Salt is good for you…salt is good for others…salt is good for the world…
Yes, being salt can be dangerous…but better dangerous useful salt, than salt that has lost its flavor and is no good for anything other than being trampled underfoot.
If your doctor will let you, enjoy your salt.
Regardless, though, let the all the earth enjoy you as salt.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.