This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon by Rev. John Kerssies, Retired Pastor, Stayner, Ontario
Dear People of God:
Doctors will tell persons with high blood pressure to exercise more and eat a healthy diet, and also to reduce their salt intake. Obviously too much salt can be detrimental to your health. A fact is, however, that no one can live without salt. Someone has suggested that alongside air, earth, water and fire, salt should be labeled as one of the necessary basic elements to life. Both humans and animals and even some plants need salt in their daily diets in order to survive.
Right now salt is a rather cheap commodity. It can be bought in your ordinary supermarket for less than fifty cents a pound. It has not always been that way. If you read the history on salt, you will find that nations and peoples have clashed in wars about salt. In fact, it is known that Roman soldiers were paid their wages not in silver or gold coins or even in coins of the common currency, but in salt. Did you know that the words “salary” and “sale” derive from the word salt?
In the Bible you will find almost fifty references to salt. Here are some of the common references:
Leviticus 2:13: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.
Numbers 18:19: “Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the LORD I give to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD for both you and your offspring."
2 Chronicles 13:5 “Don't you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt?”
Ezekiel 43:24 “You are to offer them before the LORD, and the priests are to sprinkle salt on them and sacrifice them as a burnt offering to the LORD.”
Mark 9:50 "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
And so we could go on, but that will it for now. The focus today will be on the passage found in Matthew 5:13, which read as follows, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” In these words Jesus offers both An Indicative Description as well as An Indispensable Prescription. So let’s look at this passage a bit closer.
What we find here then in an indicative description. “You are the salt of the earth.” Let’s analyze these words for a moment. “You!” Who are the “you” Jesus refers to here? To find out, we need to backtrack for a moment to Matthew 5:1, where we read “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he said to them.” We often incorrectly assume that Jesus intended these words for the crowds that were seated on the mountainside, but Matthew tells us here specifically that Jesus was here addressing his disciples. “His disciples came to him and he said to them.” These disciples are his faithful followers, those whom Jesus in the verses 3-10 of Matthew 5 calls “blessed,” “happy,” or to be “congratulated.” These are those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who thirst after righteousness, etc. These are folks who have nothing to offer God but who come to him with empty hands desiring to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, and those who are even willing to be persecuted and suffer for the sake of Jesus and the Kingdom.
If you will, these are the people who are desire to live by the charter of the Kingdom of God, as that Kingdom charter is outlined in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7. This charter states that Jesus’ followers are more interested in inner transformation than in external observances of human-made creeds and legal requirements. Or if you will, the “you” in the statement “You are the salt of the earth” is a description of any Christian whose life has been changed from the inside out and desires deeply to exhibit that new life in his or her every day existence.
Jesus says to these people “You are the salt of the earth.” Notice carefully that this is an indicative rather than an imperative statement. Jesus does not say, “Be salt!” or “You must be salt,” or “You should be salt,” or “It would be nice for you to be salt.” No, if you are the “blessed” ones mentioned in verses 3-10, if you are truly my disciples, then by that very definition you are the salt of the earth.
In other words, you and I, if we truly claim to be followers of Jesus, cannot excuse ourselves from being who we by definition are. We cannot say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We cannot say that we don’t mind to be a follower of Jesus but that we refuse to be salt. You are either a follower of Jesus or you are not a follower. And if you are a follower of Jesus, then salt is what you are, whether you asked for it or not, whether you like it or not.
The big question is, of course what does it mean to be salt? One commentator on this passage lists as many as fourteen characteristics of salt that one can apply to followers of Jesus. He mentions for example that “Salt is refined. So as Christians we must have impurities removed from ourselves.” Furthermore, he says that salt “Melts. Christians should thaw bitterness and prejudice.” He also mentions that salt “Creates thirst. There should be something about us that makes other people want to have what we have.”
Let me add five more characteristics that may well apply here. First of all, Salt is Palatable. It adds taste to the food we eat. The above-quoted commentator states that salt “Brings out flavor. There should be something about you that brings a little more meaning into people’s lives and provides zest and flavor to their activities.”
Secondly, Salt is precious. In Jesus’ day salt was a rare commodity and thus had enormous more value than the fifty cents per pound for which we purchase it now in the supermarket. Greek aristocrats had a custom of buying their slaves with salt. If the slave did not meet the purchaser’s expectation, that slave “was not worth his salt.” Whence the expression, “He is not worth his salt.” As salt followers of Jesus we are extremely precious “commodities” in this world. We better be worth our salt for Jesus’ sake.
Thirdly, Salt penetrates the food into which it is inserted. It permeates throughout the entire dish. Perhaps you can’t see it with your naked eye, but although it does its work silently, it does so very effectively. Followers of Jesus worth their salt will not want to toot their own horn or make a lot of noise, but they quietly and effectively permeate the flavor of the gospel in the community around them.
Fourthly and fifthly Salt preserves and thus prevents. There were no freezers in Jesus’ day as we have today. The only way to preserve food, such as meat, was to salt it away and thus prevent it from destruction and decay. Jesus says to his followers, to you and to me, “You are that palatable, precious, penetrating preservative that prevents decay.” And you are that “of the earth.” The earth is the place where people live and toil. It’s the place where people work at their economies, build their communities, construct societies, form nations, and develop cultures.
That earthly community and society has within it the bacteria of decay and corruption due to the sinfulness that is present within he hearts of people. Followers of Jesus, by their very presence in these societies and cultures, together, as a body (not just individually) are the salt that will prevent the human community from utter chaos and decay. For true followers of Jesus have within them the redeeming presence of Jesus himself and the empowering influence of God’s Holy Spirit.
To this indicative description, “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus adds An Indispensable Prescription: “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “What if salt does not perform like salt anymore? What if salt loses its power to preserve and prevent? In likelihood Jesus is here referring to salt that was garnered from the seashore of the Dead Sea, also known as the Salt Sea. What happened in gathering in this Dead Sea salt is that sand would become mixed with the pure salt. When that happened, it would be impossible to separate the salt from the sand and thus salt would lose its power to do what salt was supposed to do. When the sand of secularistic and hedonistic philosophies and lifestyles becomes mixed with the pure gospel, the gospel itself loses its power, and people who are supposed to represent that gospel lose their power to be the salt of the earth.
What do you do when salt and sand are mixed together? Is it possible to reverse this process? “Can this salt be made salty again?” so Jesus asks. This rhetorical question demands only one answer and that answer is “No,” and “No” again. Jesus adds, “It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” In the 14th chapter of his Gospel, Dr. Luke pens a paragraph where Jesus speaks about the cost of being his disciple. In this periscope Jesus concludes his message on discipleship with these words: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (See the similarity to Matthew 5:13?) It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” It cannot even be used as fertilizer. It is totally worthless. Pretend-to-be disciples of Jesus, who are salt less, or who have some salt mixed with a lot of sand, are of no use for the Kingdom of God. The term “salt less disciples” is a misnomer, a contradiction on terms.
Jesus says in effect to all of us here today, “Become what you already are!” You, as the collective body of Jesus Christ, are the salt of this earth, of this society, this community, in this culture wherein we find yourselves.
What a challenging assignment from the mouth of Jesus! It’s not going to be an easy ride for such disciples, as Christians living in Muslim nations will gladly tell you. Followers of Jesus worth their salt will invite tough and hard-hitting opposition. For humankind, including and especially those living in this post-Christian western society prefer the rottenness of decay over the redemptive and healing power of the Gospel. Genuine followers of Jesus can be like salt in an open wound. It smarts. As someone once observed, “You can’t be the salt of the earth without smarting someone.”
How on earth are we ever able to be this salt of the earth? Perhaps we must need to hear again the echo of the “blessed” beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn, “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” etc. That it to say, “Blessed are those who have the Spirit of the Lord Jesus within them.” Blessed are those who cannot be salt in their own strength, but who rely solely on the power that comes from above. Are you connected to that power? Amen.
Opening of the Service
Welcome and Announcements
Opening Song of Praise: PH 475 “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”
Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3
Grace, mercy and peace to us from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn of Praise: PH 239 “Amid the Thronging Worshipers”
Service of Reconciliation
Call to Confession: Psalm 15:1-5
Prayer of Confession
Lord, we cannot come into your holy presence, for our walk is not blameless and we do not always speak the truth from our hearts. Sometimes we slander others and cast slurs on our fellow humans. We fail to keep our oaths. We are guilty of all of these transgressions. Speak to us a word of grace and assurance. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:9-10
Hymn of Response: PH 267 “And Can It Be”
Service of the Word
Prayer for God’s Leading:
As we open your precious and infallible Word, open also hearts ears, our minds and our hearts that we may hear, understand, believe and then put into practice what we hear. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.
Scripture Readings: Matthew 5:1-16 and Mark 9:42-50
Scripture Text: Matthew 5:13
Sermon: “The Salt of the Earth”
Prayer of Application:
Send forth your Spirit in our hearts, dear Lord, so that we may indeed become what we already are, namely, the salt of the earth. Amen.
Song of Response: PH 508 “Jesus, with Your Church Abide”
Service of Prayer and Offering
Closing of the Service
Final Song: PH 622 “Magnify the Lord”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.