February 9, 2020: “The Salty Gospel”

February 8, 2020

Matthew 5:13-16

Pastor Mark Opgrand, preacher

Well, we’ve sung about light… now we’re going to talk about salt. “You are the salt of the earth.”

To understand this… we need to remember the term idioms …or expressions? Like…

It’s raining cats and dogs.”

I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

If that happens, I will eat my hat.”

The boss just gave him the ax.

Lend me a hand.”

These are idioms. So when Jesus says, “You are the salt of the Earth,” “Salt of the Earth” is an idiom.

The   Oxford   Dictionary of Idioms says this…  about “salt of the earth:” “’Salt of the earth’ is an expression used to describe a person …or persons …of great kindness, reliability, or honesty.”

This expression goes right along with the beatitudes we heard about in the sermon last week. But here’s something I have wondered about.  So why … does “salt” for the earth … refer to ….  “a person of kindness, reliability or honesty?”

And furthermore…. what’s… so special …about salt  that “salt of the earth” is something Jesus says … we ought to be?

So… digging deeper… Did you know …  that “salt of the earth”  is only written in the whole Bible just one time?

 Right here. Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth.” By itself… The word “salt” … is only written …in 31 verses. That’s 31 out of 31,000 total verses.

And when you take out the times when Salt is used simply to describe  … places, like the “Salt Sea” or the “Valley of Salt”  or Nibshan, the City of Salt, there are just a few verses left … that have deeper …. significance.

Those few, however, are most significant when looked at…  in context. And here we need to remember that for us,  salt  … is a common and relatively inexpensive seasoning …. and preservative, but during ancient Bible times salt was valuable. 

Salt was very costly to refine … and…   expensive. Many steps …were required…  to refine good salt … and it took special care to keep salt usable.

In Exodus and Leviticus we also learn salt was an essential part of the Israelites’…  offerings and rituals. It was used in recognizing and celebrating the covenant between God and the chosen people. 

Leviticus :  2:13 (for example) instructed them” Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant.  

(Key insight here).  “to remind you of God’s eternal covenant” … or “God’s eternal relationship.”

Salt was an important component in this.  So when Jesus says… “You are…  the salt of the earth” we do not want to be thinking “cheap table spice ….. or condiment” here.

In that culture, salt had great religious and secular value.   You history channel watchers may have learned sometime that salt has been used as a commodity   to pay soldiers their wages … as well as purchase slaves.

Have you ever heard that other old idiom, “He’s not worth his salt.”? Well, that’s where it comes from.   If a slave didn’t work well, he was not worth his salt.

Even the word “salary” comes from the Latin “salarium”… which (you guessed it)  means “salt.”   The word “Sale” comes from salt.

Therefore …when the people first heard Jesus describe them … as “salt of the earth,” given all of what I have just said… what do you think they would hear and understand?

At the very least… they would hear …  they are valuable! Extremely valuable!

You are important! (Jesus says)

You are valuable!

Furthermore…  would also know the preservative qualities and the way salt was used in seasoning… they would understand how…  they …  like salt, are important in keeping God’s work fresh.

They (just like us) would also recognize that too much salt 

(on food, anyway) … would ruin a good meal.

St. Paul also talked about that, how too much salt can also affect (or ruin) a relationship.

That’s when where St. Paul uses salt …. to describe effective witnessing. In Colossians 4:6 Paul says… 6 “Let your conversation always be full of grace, … seasoned with salt, so that … you may know ….how … you ought to answer everyone.”

Certainly you, yourselves, have met someone, who in their enthusiasm to share the gospel, has poured it on …. a little too much and has turned people off.

This is not unlike that old restaurant prank of loosening the saltshaker (remember this one?) so when it’s poured all the salt comes out and ruins your meal.

Both Paul and Jesus, then, are reminding us … that “salt of the earth” people …are people who show a lot of grace in their relationships with others…

This fits squarely with the beatitudes… Jesus could have added “Blessed are those “salt of the earth” people … for they shall be seasoning in God’s banquet of joy.”

Let me know go back to when I mentioned salt in the Old Testament rituals.  Did you know that Martin Luther once used salt in baptisms? 

It was in an early baptismal liturgy written by Martin Luther in the year 1523, not long after the beginning of the reformation.

In this liturgy, along with blessing the child through water and word, the pastor was instructed to put a pinch of salt in the infant’s mouth, with these words:

“Receive the salt of wisdom, and may it aid you to eternal life.   Peace be with you. “

It was later dropped in favor of a simpler liturgy focusing simply… on water and the word. But I was intrigued by this use of salt, especially when you see the Biblical connection to sealing the covenant with salt and how Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth.”

Pondering these connection … I was reminded of when I was a seminary student and interning in campus ministry at the University of Texas in Austin back in 1976.

(Just a few years after   our members Michael and Jo Ann Megahan … were involved there as students).

Back then….  campus pastor Curt Johnson… incorporated salt into Holy Communion; he did something that I had not seen before in worship, nor have I seen since.

Before distributing the Bread and Wine, and as students knelt before the altar, a pinch of salt was placed in each person’s hand with the words “Remember your baptism.”

They then tasted the salt… and remembered God’s promises. that was pretty neat, and clearly connecting God’s original salt-sealed covenant in the Old Testament with Luther’s baptismal liturgy.

We did this every Sunday during communion, except one. On Easter Sunday, unbeknownst to the communicant, sugar was substituted for salt. 

I will never forget….  the joy and delight on each student’s face … when expecting salt, it was sugar they tasted and when they heard these .. sweet …  words: “Remember the Resurrection.”

Remember the Resurrection! Through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, God makes   great things happen in our lives. 

Today, we celebrate….  that … God transforms unseasoned souls into “salt of the earth”…  people of faith.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says.

In Jesus Christ, this is who you are.

Not who you will be, or might be.

By God’s grace,  this is who you are  … right now.

It’s a wonderful promise.

So live in that grace.  

Turn on the light.

Let your light so shine.

Say grace.

Pass the salt.

Remember your baptism.  

Remember the resurrection.

And Share God’s love with others. Amen. 

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