There is the story of the young woman who wanted to go to college, but as she was filling out her application she was confronted with the question, “Are you a leader?” Her heart sank as she considered the question and herself, but being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No” and then she returned the application. She was frankly expecting to be denied. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.” What kind of person are you? As Christians what kind of people are we called to be?
Jesus says that he wants his disciples to become the salt of the earth. Did you know that salt is so important and valuable that at one point in time people were paid in salt? Our word salary comes from the Latin word salt. Wars have been fought over salt. One of the underlying causes in the French Revolution was the outrageous salt taxes imposed by the French royalty upon the poor. Ancient Greek traders would buy slaves with salt which gave rise to the expression “He is not worth his salt.” Our bodies require salt to live. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow many thousands of his men died because their wounds could not heal due to the fact the army had run out of salt.
Digestible salt has always been important but did you know that actually Jesus was probably talking about a different type of salt. In Palestine they harvested salt from the Dead Sea. This salt was not pure like our table salt but had many other minerals with it. And this salt was used as fertilizer; it literally was salt for the earth. They have found today that salt used in moderate quantities helps crops to grow by aiding the soil to break down helpful minerals and retarding the growth of weeds. They have found that salt can be as effective as commercial fertilizers in helping plants to grow and produce.
So when Jesus is telling his disciples to be the salt of the earth he is not talking so much about preserving, or holding the fort, or defending against the moral decay of the culture around us, he is not talking about providing the spice to flavor life here on earth; he is talking about being fertilizer! He was talking about being an active agent that helps to produce healthy growth and will inhibit unhealthy growth. In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah the Lord was telling his people that it is not good enough to simply go through religious motions. No, there must be actions in our day to day life that show God’s life within us. This is what Jesus is telling us as well.
Probably like his disciples, we wonder to ourselves, “How are we supposed to be fertilizer in our world?” First we need to remember our context. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to be the salt of the earth out of the blue. The gospel reading today follows the beatitudes. He has just gone through those and told them that they need to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers. He has given them given them a mandate to be different, to live differently than others do in society. He has told them to have different standards, different goals, and different mindsets. It is through living like this that our lives effect change around us just as fertilizer does in the soil, effecting the growth of good and inhibiting the weeds. In other words encouraging good behavior and thinking and discouraging bad behavior. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says if the salt loses its saltiness it is of no value anymore. When we stop living like Jesus tells us to live, when we simply live like society around us and if we adopt their goals and values, we are no longer change agents, we are no different than the world around us. And when we are no different we have lost our saltiness.
Jesus wants us to be the salt of the earth. One of the things that is not clear in our English Bibles is the word “you.” In English you can be either singular or plural. When Jesus is talking to the disciples he is using the plural form of you. Here in the south we would say, “You all are the salt of the earth.” That is not to say that a single person cannot be salty and help others, but when this was spoken the listeners understood this was directed to them as a group. The early church would not understand our emphasis on individuality. The early church had a group mentality and was about community and as a community they approached society and its problems around them. During the first and second century in the Roman culture, people took unwanted babies and left them outside the towns to be eaten by the wild animals. I suppose this is similar to how our society views abortions. But the Christians began rescuing these abandoned babies and brought them into their own families and raised these children as their own. Later they began orphanages. They began helping the poor with food and shelter. They started up hospitals for the sick and diseased and they built monasteries next to the leper colonies so the monks could care for the lepers. They did these activities as the church, as the body of Christ; they did these activities and the world was astonished.
Today here at St. Andrew’s we have a Thrift Shop to clothe the people who cannot afford clothes from the stores. We have a food pantry to give food to the hungry. We have a back-pack program to provide food for hungry children over the weekends. We provide a building, Coulton Hall, so that groups of people who are trying to quit abusing alcohol, or drugs, or trying to stop overeating have a place to meet and encourage each other in a private setting. We have people who come to read to the pre-school children weekly. We as a church give money as we are able to the Dawn Center which exists to help and protect battered women and their children. We as a church give money to People Helping People in Hernando County to help their different programs geared to help the needy here around us. Do we want to do more? Certainly we do. We want to reach out to our own neighborhood and offer help because that is what Christ calls us to do.
So you see it really doesn’t matter if one views oneself as a leader or a follower. Jesus wants us as Christians to be salt of the earth, to be fertilizer right here in Spring Hill. He wants us to help things grow; He wants by our lives and living to encourage what is good and discourage what is wrong. We are to care for and help those around us. If you are involved in one of these ministries or another ministry—you are doing what your Lord Jesus has called you to do! Good job! If you are not involved in some ministry, you should be. You can be involved by giving your time and/or by giving your money. Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth. It is up to us to obey. Amen