19th Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 3018
“Have Salt in Yourselves and Be at Peace”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Mark 9.
My dear friends,
A few months back I came across a vendor at the weekly Sarasota farmer’s market. “Florida Sea Salt,” the awning said. Inside were bags and bags of salt harvested from the Gulf of Mexico by Tim Norwood, a very faithful Christian man who runs this business full time. I sampled his product and was amazed! Sea salt, from the Gulf, but seasoned with roasted garlic or lemon zest or Portobello mushroom. You can buy his product around town and I now stock 4-5 of his salts among my numerous spices. It is an incredible product resulting from an incredible idea run by an incredible Christian man. But…the red tide has really hurt Tim Norwood’s business. With the red tide in, he cannot harvest any useable salt. So freely abundant, yet so unusable. Jesus said, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). This will be our focus today.
Jesus was not talking about the red tide, but still has something important to tell us here. In order to understand what he means, we need to rethink the way we look at salt. If you go to Publix to buy salt, you’ll find it with the spices. That aisle has some of the most expensive things in the whole store. Some will set you back more than $100 per pound. Then on the bottom shelf is the salt. Fifty cents a can; almost giving it away. In ancient times, though, it wasn’t like that. Salt was valuable.
Salt is good. It’s good for cash—so much so that soldiers in the Roman army were paid part of their wages in salt. The Latin word for salt is sal and that’s why we call our wages today a salary. Salt isn’t just good for making food taste better; it’s good for preserving it. In pre-refrigeration days, it was critical for keeping food. Without salt to preserve food for the future, day-to-day survival was much more difficult. Salt is good.
Then Jesus said, “If the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” (v 50). This is difficult for us to understand because of what we have for salt today. Salt is sodium chloride—a very stable molecule; it doesn’t really degrade over time. If you buy a can of salt and leave it in your cupboard for fifty years, when you finally take it out, it will still be salt. It may be one solid chunk, but it will not have become anything else. That’s because we have pure salt. In biblical times, they didn’t.
In those days, like “Florida Sea Salt” does, salt was harvested from the surface of salt marshes or pits where salt water had flowed from the Mediterranean or the Dead Sea and it was filled with impurities: from the rocks it was scraped off, algae, sand, and other crud in the seawater. Dead Sea salt is even worse; high levels of toxic bromide made it almost unusable in antiquity. How, then, can salt lose its saltiness? Humidity, sun, heat, and constant contact with the earth leach away the easily dissolved sodium chloride, leaving behind the impurities. Bits of rock and sand, mineral crystals, dirt and debris remain to make it look like it might be salt, but it’s tasteless. On the surface it looks like salt, but inside? Not so much. It has lost the fire of the salt within. Hhm.
Is this not exactly what St. Paul warns us of in 2 Timothy 3? “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents…heartless…without self-control…not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1–5). Sound familiar?
What Paul describes is what happens when the fire of the Holy Spirit is driven out of people. We become empty crystals, having the form of the godly salt of the earth, but doubting Jesus’ presence or questioning the authority of God’s Word in our modern world. The salt can be leached out by the humidity of a life not fed by the Word of God and the Sacraments. We can become flavorless, going through the motions, without faithful stewardship and sacrifice. We can be hypocrites: actors who look like believers by outward action, but having no faith. We lose our saltiness if we refuse to stand against evil. A church that says “all roads lead to God” or “it’s all good so long as you love” is a church that has lost its savor. Salt must purify; it must preserve what is good and worth preserving. Salt substitute is not salt.
“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). You have been salted with salt…Jesus was your salted sacrifice. He was the one who purified and preserved you. The salt of his sweat in Gethsemane, the salty blood he shed for us at Calvary, these are what has won our forgiveness and given us strength to endure hardship, to flavor and preserve, so that you can love and forgive one another. Now by God’s Word and Sacraments, that forgiveness, that purity, is given to us. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have salt in ourselves. Now…what are you going to do about it?
In our Epistle, James tells Christians how they can have peace with one another. He says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working…My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:16, 19–20).
Salt has no power in itself…just like us. Our holiness, our forgiveness, our righteousness, our power, our love, our “saltiness,” come from Christ. The salt in us only has power because it is from Christ. The world leaches the salt from us, but Christ salts us with his word and spirit to have peace with God and with one another. May Christ so live in you in peace today and always.