“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Last fall the phone rang in my study.
It was a newspaper pollster doing a survey on church and society. His main question was, “What would your city be like without the church?
I was tempted to be funny in my reply.
Like the cartoon that shows a pack of wolves howling at the moon. A wolf on the back row is looking worried and asks another fanged friend, “Do you think we’re doing any good?” Sometimes I feel like that when the church seems to be ignored or irrelevant.
Yet anytime one feels he is small and can’t have much of an impact, just remember what it’s like going to bed with a mosquito in the room!
Actually I told the phone researcher that a city without the church would be like life without salt. Why do I say this?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” That was quite a compliment in Jesus’ day, for salt was very rare, yet highly prized.
Greeks called salt “the second soul of meat.” A half pound of salt was worth more than a human being. Soldiers were often paid in salt. The word “salary” is derived from “salt.” This is where we get our saying, “He’s not worth his salt.”
So, when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” the compliment must have “wowed” the apostles. They were valuable to God and society. As we say today, they were worth their weight in gold.
But what does it all mean practically speaking?
Consider the flavor enhancing properties of salt. Why, what are French fries without salt’s savor? How bland! And as salt adds zest to a meal, so Christians are the spice of life at school, at the office, in the classroom, and down at the local club.
The good Lord never meant for Christians to be dull, lifeless killjoys. Why, Jesus was the life of the party. Not only was He invited to the wedding feast of Cana, He served up some petty good wine! Jesus explained, “I am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Yet how many Christians walk about looking like they’ve been weaned on a dill pickle? All of this prompted Mark Twain to comment, “I’ll take heaven for climate and hell for society.”
Young Patrick is a college student and a strong Christian. He recently joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. “In this sign, conquer” is their brotherhood motto. It goes back to Constantine before the Battle of Milvan Bridge. He saw the cross of Christ in the sky and heard a voice saying, “In this sign, conquer.” He did and in the early 300’s A.D., became the first Christian emperor of Rome. The Sigma Chi’s seek to emulate the Christian leadership qualities of Constantine. At least, that was their intention when the fraternity was formed. Yet time, like a careless laundryman, shrinks many of our ideals. And many a fraternity like Patrick’s has devolved into a society of drinking, swaggering and partying hard all day, everyday.
At the lunch table the brothers tell dirty jokes. And for every bad joke, Patrick tells a funnier clean joke. After several mouths of this, Hank said to Paddy, “I’ve never met someone like you. You have as much fun or more than we do, yet you’re clean and sober!”
Not only can salt add flavor, it also owns the property of melting ice. Why, a snowstorm barrels across our city, and road crews busily spread salt on our bridges to melt the ice.
In our day human hearts have grown frosty; long icicles of indifference are suspended like daggers from our lives. We have our cliques, our racial walls, our cold–blooded murders. “I don’t care about God. I don’t even care about you. All I care about is me!”
And it takes salt, Christian salt, to thaw out a society.
A young lady in our church was looking forward to attending a concert. She and three of her friends had tickets, and the day neared. In casual conversation, she found two other students really wanted to go, but couldn’t find a ride. They had room in their car. But these two were of a different race. They ran with a different crowd, lived on the other side of town.
When she suggested to her three chums they take the two with them, she was met with a stout, “No!” Undaunted, the girl pressed on about how the two were human just like themselves, how it was time to build some bridges of kindness in their high school, and how there should be enough of her to love her three friends and two new ones to boot!
Now, that, my friends, is salt!
What else can salt do besides add flavor and thaw ice? It can induce thirst.
If you take a date to the movies, just about the time the movie is getting good, you’ll feel an elbow in your ribs. “Popcorn!” she’ll say. So you scramble out to buy some. But don’t be cheap! For while you’re out you might as well purchase a drink. For the popcorn is so salty that after four bites, you’ll get the elbow again. “A drink,” she’ll command.
Then there’s an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” True. But you can add plenty of salt to his oats. And he’ll find the water trough soon enough.
When my Kathryn and I first married, we lived in a tiny three room apartment in Atlanta. The complex had about 300 people in it, mostly blue collar worker–divorcees, homosexuals, alcoholics, the unemployed. Looking back, it was a rough place, although it didn’t seem like it at the time. There was always a domestic spat, a drug bust going down, or a break-in. The swimming pool was unfit to swim in. Beer cans strewed the lawn. Paint peeled everywhere. And there was no gospel in the neighborhood. Why, come Sunday morning you could sleep in the middle of the road and not get run over by a single person going to church.
Kathryn and I lived there two years. That’s where our first baby was born. We were there without any insurance, so I got a job picking up the trash, mowing grass, cleaning the pool, and painting to make ends meet, to pay the bills of our first born.
Come Thanksgiving, just before Kathryn gave birth, we decorated for Christmas. Nobody ever did that there. But it’s as if seeing our wreath and colored lights stirred something long asleep in those people. And before many days, the apartment complex twinkled with festive decor.
When spring came, Kathryn asked me to make her a window box for her flowers. I did so, and all summer, banks of lovely flowers spilled over our porch. 0ne by one, I began to see hanging baskets and flower pots added to other apartments.
After graduation we said our goodbyes and moved to work in a church in Virginia. And it was six years before we had a chance to visit our old Atlanta neighborhood. But as soon as we turned the corner and saw it, we burst out laughing! Flower boxes everywhere, newly mowed lawns, a pristine swimming pool, and the resident manager, Ann, told us she’d become a Christian and showed us her 3‑D picture of Jesus hanging over her television!
See how salt works quietly? We just live our lives before a watching world and they get thirsty for our savior.
What does salt do? It flavors, thaws, and promotes thirst. But it also heals. Recall your childhood sore throats, and how Mom made you gargle with salt water? Though it stung, it ultimately brought soothing relief.
Christians are like that in society. If you study history, you’ll find Christians going where the hurt is, killing germs, and healing sickness.
Example: The sick. History teaches they were often ignored, abandoned to die in a field, or left to wallow in a bed of pain without sufficient treatment. Christians understood Jesus as a healer of the sick, a man of hospitality. So they began hospitals to show the love of Christ to the sick and dying. And, if you look around, you’ll be astounded at how many of our healing centers have their genesis in Christendom–Duke, Bowman-Gray, Presbyterian….
Example: Orphans. Often the girls were reared to be prostitutes. The boys were horribly disfigured and used as beggars in the street. Christians saw this and came running with salt. Look around you. Elon Homes, Oxford, Thornwell–all Christian havens for the parentless child.
Example: Ignorance. A nation that couldn’t read, didn’t know history, couldn’t add. The Bible tells us Jesus could read. And that was in a day when few could. He could also write. And again, Christians were salt. Go down the east coast: Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, William and Mary, Duke, Davidson, Furman, Emory–every one started as Christian ministries to the ignorant. See here how salty Christians see the germs and rush in to bring healing–hospitals, schools, orphanages, counseling centers, day care, rest homes, housing, fair legislation….
Last spring drinking got out of hand at the local college. And after a party a young man crashed his car and died. The campus was numb with grief. That’s when some Christians began the Greek Christian Fellowship and made it their goal to educate the campus on alcohol abuse, to not let friends drive drunk, and to show their friends how to party drunk on God’s Spirit and not on liquor.
Salt! Glorious salt! Flavoring, thawing, inducing thirst, healing!
But salt is also a preservative. If you cure a ham with salt, rather than spoil, it can last indefinitely.
Stick your head out the door and you can catch a whiff of our society spoiling.
Take New York City. 830,000 people are on welfare (a total bigger than the population of all but ten U.S. cities). 366 cars are stolen each day. 200,000 people a day jump the turnstiles to ride the subway free. There are over 2 million warrants out for people who failed to show up in court. The public school system has more administrative staff than all of Europe. New York has 500,000 drug addicts. It is the AIDS capitol of the world. The illegitimate birth rate in Harlem is 80% and rising. 10,000 babies a year are born “toxic.” That means their mother was a crack cocaine addict and it will take $220,000 for each baby in remedial medical attention just to get them started in life.
There is a stickup every 6 minutes. There were 93,387 armed robberies last year. 21 cab drivers were murdered.
And what’s going on in New York City is but a foreshadowing of where our nation is headed. In Los Angeles, in Dallas, in Charlotte, and one day right here in Wilmington. Now is the time for salt. To preserve marriages, to initiate and sustain friendships, to be an effective parent, to renew racial dialogue, to preserve values in public schools.
If we withdraw, if Christians cocoon themselves, if we keep our salt to ourselves, then our children’s world won’t be fit to live in!
In the 1930’s, as Hitler rose to power as a Nazi dictator, Albert Einstein watched with growing alarm. He expected the newspapers to expose Hitler’s corruption, but the media was quickly silenced. So Einstein looked to the universities to stop Hitler. Instead, they went along. In the end, only the church stood squarely in Hitler’s path. And Einstein wrote, “What formerly I had no use for, I now praise unreservedly.” The salty church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
George Gallup, the famous pollster, writes that fewer than 10% of Americans are deeply committed Christians. “These people are a breed apart. They are more tolerant of people of diverse backgrounds. They are more involved in charitable activities. They are more involved in practical Christianity. They are absolutely committed to prayer.” And they are “far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Then he goes on to say that such devout Christians exert an influence on our society that far outweighs our numbers.
Just like salt. It only takes a pinch to do the whole job! Quite a compliment, eh?
Jesus didn’t say we were the sugar of the earth. He called us salt! And of its wonderful properties we share!
But with the compliment comes the warning. “But if salt should lose its saltiness, how shall it be restored? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trodden under foot by man.”
Heed well Christ’s warning, my friends. And be what you are, for the need is great!
Lord, restore my zest. And make my life count for Christ. Amen.