Out of the Saltshaker / Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 9/26/2021

Mark 9:38-50

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “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 underfoot.”

A few years ago, there was a convention in San Francisco. This convention was an organization of whose members have an IQ of 140 or higher. Several of the members were having lunch at a local cafe. While there, they discovered that their saltshaker contained pepper and their pepper shaker was full of salt. The members, being naturally inquisitive, began to question how they could they swap the contents of the two bottles without spilling any of the contents, using only the implements at hand. After all, this was clearly a job for the best minds available.

The group debated and presented ideas, and finally came up with a brilliant solution involving a napkin, a straw, and an empty saucer. They called the waitress to their table, convinced that they would dazzle her with their solution. Ma’am, they said, we couldn’t help but notice that the pepper shaker contains salt, and the saltshaker contains pepper. Oh, sorry about that. Without further comment, she unscrewed the caps of both bottles, switched the caps, and then said, will that be one check or separate checks?

I guess they learned something about the worth of common sense that day, from a café waitress. Let’s talk about saltshakers for a few moments today.

Jesus described His followers as the salt of the earth in Matthew 5:13 as part of the Sermon on the Mount“You are the salt of the earth,” He said. “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 underfoot.” In Matthew’s Gospel, these words follow the Beatitudes and are often interpreted as referring to Jesus’ expectations of His disciples.

Mark uses the same imagery in today’s lesson from Mark 9:50: “Salt is good,” he said, “but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?”

When a thing loses its essential quality and fails to perform its essential duty, it is fit for nothing but to be thrown away. In those days, salt was a really valuable commodity. Salt was valuable for two reasons: as a preservative for food and to enhance the flavor of food. We all know how essential salt is for enhancing the taste of food. On some of our most popular foods, salt really brings out the flavor.

In 1853, a chef in New York, accidentally invented a popular new dish. An annoying patron kept sending his French-fried potatoes back to the kitchen because they were soggy. In an attempt to teach the customer a lesson, Crum sliced the fries extra thin, fried them to a crisp and drowned them in salt. To his surprise, the complaining customer liked the converted fries and thus, potato chips were born.

What would potato chips taste like without salt? Or how about French fries, for that matter? Or popcorn? Obviously, we can overindulge in salt, but few people voluntarily go on a completely salt-free diet.

When Christ said that we are the salt of the earth, maybe He was saying that we should bring flavor to life as He brought flavor to life.

Years ago, a woman named Marge wrote columnist Ann Landers with a complaint. In her letter, she said, “I’m 44, husband same age (swell guy). We get along O.K. no drinking, no gambling, no skirt chasing. He has a good job and our home is paid for. Our children are healthy and normal. They do well in school and the three older ones (teenagers) have never caused us any trouble. So, why am I writing? she asks. Because my life is blah. Something is missing. It’s like stew without salt. I feel a certain emptiness.

Can anybody identify with her complaint? Many people in our society have that emptiness within their lives. Like this woman, their lives, are “blah.” Something is missing. As this woman described her life, It’s like stew without salt.

How do we bring flavor to people’s lives? We do it by showing them genuine concern. We let them know that somebody cares for them.

One Saturday in a small town in Michigan there was a 5K footrace. This footrace featured different age classes of runners. A nine-year-old boy in the race named Boden was showing signs of fatigue.  Behind him a 19-year-old Marine, Lance Corporal Myles Kerr, noticed that Boden was struggling.  Myles offered him some encouragement.  Boden looked up at Myles and asked, “Sir, will you please run with me?”

As you know, Marines don’t leave their fallen buddies behind, even if they’re only 9-years-old and even if the Marine is carrying a full backpack.  It took almost 36 minutes for Boden and Kyle to run that 5K race together. Their story was carried on the Facebook page, Seal of Honor, which added these words: By his unwavering commitment to help those in need through his ability to inspire others by his unequivocal level of motivation, Lance Corporal Myles Kerr reflected great credit upon himself and was keeping in the highest traditions of the United States Marine Corps.

I would like to think followers of Jesus Christ would be as kind and as helpful to anyone who was struggling as that Marine was. Any time we show genuine concern for someone else, we are making this world a better place. We are adding flavor to their lives. We are showing ourselves to be “salt of the earth.”

Jesus said to His followers that they were the salt of the earth. It was a high compliment. We are to bring flavor to the lives of everyone around us by our genuine concern for others.

That’s the first thing that salt does. Salt brings flavor to food. Traditionally, however, salt has played an even more important role in the lives of human beings. For many generations it was the only real preservative humanity had for food. Indeed, before the modern miracle of refrigeration, people were quite limited in the foods they could enjoy because they were limited in preserving food especially meat for later use.

Salt was so valuable that soldiers of the Roman Empire received an allowance of salt as part of their pay (the origin of the English word salary). In various eras people in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa have used cakes of salt to pay their debts. Salt has been considered very valuable even in our land all the way up current times.

During the Civil War, General Sherman of the Union Army charged one of his captains with aiding the enemy for letting the rebels acquire salt. Without salt they cannot make bacon and salt beef, he said about the Confederate troops. Salt is eminently contraband, Sherman insisted, because [of] its use in curing meats, without which armies cannot [subsist].

We simply cannot over emphasize how important salt was to earlier societies, including our own. The question is: how do we as followers of Christ serve as a preservative in our time? Here is one answer: Are we not those who have been entrusted with the task of preserving for future generations the Good News of Jesus Christ? Isn’t that the essential task of the people of Christ—to be a witness to his presence in the world?

I’m reminded of a popular television commercial that some of our golfers might remember: Two golfers are swatting golf balls around a certain golf course. A voiceover accompanies their efforts: Greens fees: $116. Graphite shaft clubs: $877. Lunch at the turn: $13.50. Balls, tees: $36. And then the clincher, as one miraculous shot bounces across the green and into the cup. Hole-in-one . . . and a witness: Priceless. There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.

If I ever hit a hole-in-one that’s certainly what I want a witness. Otherwise nobody would believe it! What Jesus wants are witnesses, people who will witness to this generation that Christ is alive and at work in the world. People who will testify to the difference His presence has made in their lives. People who, because of their credibility, will make it possible to preserve the teachings of Christ for later generations. We each need to ask the question whether our lives would convince people that Christ is alive by the difference He has made in their lives. Are we a witness for our Lord?

Salt is good, Jesus said, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Salt is good, but if salt stays in the saltshaker, what good is it? How can it flavor life if it stays in the saltshaker? How can it preserve food if it stays in the shaker? How do we get the salt that will change our world out of the saltshaker? Really, there’s only one way and that’s for followers of Jesus to live as Christ lived, showing His love for all the world to see. You are the salt of the earth, Jesus said. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? There’s only one way for that to happen as well. That’s by each of us drawing closer to Him so that His love will radiate through us. You are the salt of the world, said Jesus . . .