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The Questions Jesus Asked: If Salt Has Lost Its Saltiness, How Can It Be Restored?

Jarrett McLaughlin
The Questions Jesus Asked:
If Salt Has Lost Its Saltiness, How Can It Be Restored?
February 17, 2021 (Ash Wednesday)
Matthew 5:13-16

Scripture:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Meditation:
Have you ever noticed how many spices there are in the baking aisle at the grocery store?

You’ve got Carraway, Cardamom, Tarragon, and Tandoori.  You’ve got your Cayenne, Cumin, Cinnamon and Curry – both yellow and red.

You have all of these spices and dozens more, and yet the only one Jesus compares us to is plain, old, boring salt.

“You are the salt of the earth,” he says.
Not the Chipotle pepper of the earth.
Not the Thai Basil of the earth.
Not the Dalmatian Sage of the earth.
Just salt.
Why do we have to be salt?  Given all of the other options available, Saltʼs just not very exciting.  Unless of course, you are Harold McGee, who has made a career writing about the science of cooking.  In his book, On Food and Cooking, Harold McGhee writes about salt for four and a half pages.

Here is saltʼs magic, says McGee: “Salt…is a flavor enhancer and a taste modifier: it strengthens the impression of aromas that accompany it, and it suppresses the sensation of bitterness.”[1]

The wonder of salt is in what it does for the food to which itʼs given.  Salt takes something thatʼs already there––a Strip steak, popcorn, asparagus tips—
and it gets into the meat striations, it nestles in the kernel’s crevices, it penetrates vegetable fibers so that when we eat it we say, “Now that’s a great steak,” or “this popcorn tastes delicious!”  At no point are we talking about the salt.  Whenʼs the last time you ate something tasty and thought, “Now that is some good salt!”

No – because the thing about salt is that salt is not the thing.
Salt exists to bless what it goes into.

It may seem odd to be talking this much about food on the first day of Lent.  You might be thinking “Isn’t this the season where we give up certain indulgences?  C’mon Preacher, why you gonna go and make me hungry with all this talk about salty, delicious food?”

It is true that there are fasts associated with Lent, but those practices of denial are just a means to an end.  The purpose of a fast is to strip away all the distractions so that we might reclaim who God intends for us to be.

Lent is all about clarifying our identity.

If I understand this text, when Jesus told the Church “You are the salt of the earth,” he is speaking to us about our identity.
And, like salt, the thing about the church is that the church is not the thing.
The Church exists for one reason only – to bless what God shakes us onto.
Which is to say, the Church exists to bless this world that is so loved by God.

But my how quickly the Church can lose sight of that purpose.

I was speaking recently with Don Boulton – a member of our Church – and he reminisced about a time when Karl Barth, one of the premiere theologians of the 20th Century, was visiting the United States and he asked “Can you tell me which one of these Churches worships Christ and not itself?”

The implication is that too often the Church puts its own life first; our own survival and vitality ahead of all else.

I certainly hear this coded into the rhetoric of Christian nationalism; the ones who stoke nativist resentment; the ones who speak of taking this nation back for Christ using any and every means necessary.

Is this really what Christ wants us to do, because for the life of me I cannot square any of that with this man who willingly laid his life down and asks us to do nothing less.

He’s asking us to be salt, which brings us right back to identity, because
Jesus then adds, “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”

He’s talking about us.
History is riddled with conquerors, but there is only one Christ, and so those of us who would seek to follow him had better stay salty.

We better take him at his word when he says “to save your life is to lose it but to lose your life for the sake of the Gospel is to gain it.”
Nobody thinks that way – so we better stay salty.

We are the only ones who might stubbornly hold on to a hope in this thing called resurrection; the only ones who insist that no person or problem is beyond redemption.
Nobody think that way – so we better stay salty.

We are the only ones who just might take up a cross and follow in the footsteps of a dying man.
Nobody thinks that way – so we better stay salty.

And If we can’t – or won’t – live up to that calling…well, God might just pass us by and find a people who will.

So friends, if Lent is about clarifying our identity then let’s not spare the salt.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about salt – I think about that cylindrical Mortonʼs salt container – the blue one with the girl and the umbrella –
Back in the day, there used to be a slogan written in fine print right under her yellow Mary Janes.  It said: “When it rains, it pours.”

Salt wants to get poured out, you know?  So long as it’s in the shaker, itʼs worth nothing.  But as it gets poured into the world, as it lays down its own life, it becomes the tang of God’s kingdom.

If Lent is about clarifying our identity – then let us be the Church that pours ourselves out without counting the cost.  Then, maybe we will be the kind of salty Jesus freaks[2] that would make Christ proud.

So – in this season of Lent and beyond – stay salty.  Amen.

[1]  Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science of Cooking and the Lore of the Kitchen, (New York: Scribner, 2004), 604.

[2] Phrase borrowed from Andrew Foster Conners’ testimony at the NEXT Conference, February 28, 2011.

Jarrett McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: jarrett@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext. 112

Bio:

Jarrett grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he had a pretty regular childhood – riding bikes around the neighborhood, muddling through school, trying to play various sports (emphasis on try), going through a phase of wearing lots of black in high school, and through it all, always finding a place of welcome in the Church. Jarrett became a “traitor” to his NC State traditioned family when he went to UNC-Chapel Hill for college.  Missing youth group terribly, Jarrett quickly discovered Presbyterian Campus Ministry where, in addition to exploring his call to ministry, he also met Meg. After college, Jarrett served as a youth minister for one year and then spent another year traveling, spending a great deal of time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti living in community with disabled children at Wings of Hope. He then went to Union-PSCE Seminary (now “Union Presbyterian Seminary”) and then went on to serve as an associate pastor for mission and young adult ministry at Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.  In June of 2013 Jarrett and Meg accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church. In July of 2013 they learned that they would be expecting. In August of 2013 they learned they would be expecting twins.  In September of 2013 they moved and told the Church all of this on their second Sunday. Jarrett is very much looking forward to NOT repeating that pattern as they accept the call to serve University Presbyterian Church. When not engaged at Church, Jarrett enjoys running and hiking.  He is also an obsessive music fan intent on keeping up with independent music of all kinds – reading blogs and record reviews, scoping out live shows and constantly spinning tunes in the car, home or office.  Most of all, Jarrett has a deep passion for the Church as a place of radical welcome and hospitality and tries his best every day to honor the ways he has experienced that in his own life as grace upon grace.