Sermon: Salt of the Earth


When we lived in Wichita, our physician, Dr. Ron, was a dear, longtime friend of Diane and

mine. Several years ago, during a routine annual physical, Ron found little glitch with my blood

pressure, which had always been really good, but in the previous couple of doctor visits, my

blood pressure had pushed the upper limits of `good.’

“Blood pressures’ still a little high,” Ron says, as he’s updating my file on his laptop.

“Try cutting down on the salt,” he recommends.

“You mean I’ve gotta start eating my French fries without salt?” I ask.

And Ron looked at me over his glasses: “Cut out the French fries,” he says.

“But doc,” says I, “How can I enjoy my quarter-pounder without fries?”

Now Ron swivels on his stool to face me, “Nix on the quarter- pounders!”

I guess it’s true what they say: a little salt goes a long way. Problem is, of course, that we

Americans eat way more than we need: about four pounds a year per person, in small doses.

We’ve acquired an insatiable taste for salt in this country.

So, I started wondering, what is it that’s so special, so alluring about salt? There seems to

be something deep within us that resonates with the element of salt.

Well, to begin with, salt has long been known as a food preservative. As fishermen,

Jesus’ disciples would have been well aware of the intrinsic value of salt to preserve their daily

catch as they prepared it for market, or to storehouse for later consumption. As far back as 6050

BC, salt has been a vitally integral part of the world’s cultural development; widely known for its

beneficial properties to cleanse, heal, preserve and enhance. Indeed, it was considered so

valuable in the ancient world that it was used as a currency in trade.

But even more than all of that, the essence of salt, itself, is imbedded deeply in our

human existence. Sodium-chloride ions were present in the waters of creation; the briny stew

from which the prehistoric antecedents of our species arose. It is, therefore, also one of the most

essential elements needed for the preservation of human life. In the proper amounts it ensures

good bodily function, good water absorption; and for those of you who have ever suffered

dehydration, you know that sodium is crucial for keeping the body’s electrolytes in balance,

which is in turn critical to our health and wellbeing.

And, as we were told earlier, John F. Kennedy observed, “All of us have in our veins the

exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in

our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea –

whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” (From a dinner

address given at America’s Cup Races, Newport, September 1962)

Now, just some sixty miles northwest of where I grew up, near Hutchinson, Kansas,

you’ll find one of the largest salt mines in the world. Formed 250 million years ago from ancient

oceans, these caverns run over 650 feet deep and nearly 70 miles long. Besides being another

major producer of salt, those caverns make a perfect storage facility, “Safely tucked away from

prying eyes and disaster,” as the Hutch Salt Mine’s promotion goes, “more than 1.7 million

square feet of space holds untold millions of items in cool, dry conditions.”

Apparently, during the height of the nuclear cold war, the Hutchinson Salt Mines were

used as a safe haven for our government’s sensitive information and assets. Today, Fortune 500

companies and small businesses alike store vital documents there. And it’s the largest single

storage facility for movie and television film internationally.

In my research, also I discovered that the salt industry has a long history in Syracuse. A

history that began when Jesuit missionaries visiting the region in 1654 discovered salty brine

springs at the southern end of Onondaga Lake. By the 19 th century, the majority of salt used in

the U.S. came from Syracuse. In fact, Syracuse, reportedly, was essentially built by the salt

industry and, in fact, is still often called “The Salt City.”

Salt. Such an ordinary element; yet so essential to life. Found in abundance, from the

beginning of time, nearly everywhere in the world.

Perhaps it is, in part, because of those existential, physical and economical connections

with human kind that salt also holds such a prominent place in nearly every major world religion.

For example, in the native Japanese religion of Shinto, salt is used in purification rites for

Sumo wrestlers. The Hindus used it in wedding and housewarming ceremonies. Celtic tradition

employed salt in the consecration rite of a new church, as well as in exorcisms. And it’s still

often part of the religious custom in Catholicism to add salt to holy water.

There seems to be an ontological correlation between the element of salt and the essence

of human spirituality.

If you delve into the depths of Holy Scripture you’ll find that thirty-five verses of the

Hebrew Bible mention salt, the earliest being the story of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar

of salt upon looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah.

And it’s referred to at least six times in the New Testament, lastly as the Apostle Paul

encourages the church in Colossae, to “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned

with salt,” which I think is an obvious reference to Jesus’ own exhortation for his disciples to be

the `salt of the earth’.

In light of all this, what, exactly, did Jesus mean when he said we were `salt of the earth’?

Colloquially; to be `salt of the earth’ means to be solid, sober, practical, pragmatic . . . a

`down-to- earth’ kind of person. And certainly many folks of the Bible, as well as people we

know, could be said to fit that description.

But I think Jesus may have had something more in mind when He used that analogy.

Like so many grains of salt, Jesus gathers us up together because he has some things he

wants to get done in the world and he cannot do it without a group of folks to work with him…in

him…through him!

That’s what Jesus had in mind for his disciples. Has in mind for us.

We are apparently called to do extraordinary things in Jesus’ name. But, it’s interesting,

and telling, I think, that when Jesus uses an analogy to describe his disciples, he doesn’t say,

`You are a band of angels descending gloriously upon the earth,’ or `You are a great army

marching into the world.’

He simply says `You are salt’. Or `You are light.’ Basic, everyday, easy to access and yet

infinitely necessary, elements of life. Small, fragile, ordinary.

Irreplaceable.

For a little salt, like a little light, can go a long way.

Not in big dramatic ways. Not by drawing a lot of attention to itself. But simply by

bringing it’s unique, elemental character into whatever situation it finds itself. Just by being

God’s `salt of the earth’ through Christ Jesus.

It’s true! I’ve seen you do it.

You stuck up for the immigrant co-worker who’s trying to make a better life for himself

and his family amidst the daily hazing and ridicule of others. You went out of your way to care

for the wayward child everyone else has given up on. You were there to tell your husband how

special he was when he had given up on himself. You stayed up long, late hours with a friend as

she waited for her husband to get through that first critical 24 hour period after a major surgery.

You got down on arthritic knees to pray and pray and pray for a struggling infant.

You were that essential substance that brought back the savor of hope for someone whose

life had become bitter or bland. Deposited there by God…you blend in…you spread out…you

permeate. You add that unique, irreplaceable seasoning to situations and to the world that does

so much more than just add flavor.

It preserves the quality of life from imminent and ultimate decay.

It heals the wounds and protects against the corrosions of the world.

It provides a safe haven for keeping a deep repository of faith and hope and love fresh

and new.

You are the salt of the earth. It’s not easy thing to be. It’s never been easy.

But it is who you were created, from the foundations of the earth, to be.

You. Only you can bring the holy character of God’s love to the world.

For you are the salt of the earth. In Jesus Christ.