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Salt Of The Earth

Date: 30/09/2012/Speaker: Ps Su-Lin Ngiam

Good morning church.

I’d like to start today’s sermon by asking you if you think you’re salty?

How salty do you think you are?

Did you know that Jesus says your identity is salt of the earth, and following that, light of the world? These metaphors can be found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 13 – 16). This is who Jesus says followers of Christ are to be like: salt and light, both essential ingredients to life.

I have been meditating on one of the verses from the lectionary passages for today for a while now, from Mark 9: 50:

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus seems to be posing a riddle here: “salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” It sounds almost like a philosophical question.

Can anyone here tell us how does one go about seasoning salt?

But I’m being an irresponsible preacher if I don’t give you the full context of the passage in which this verse appears. Today’s full lectionary passage is Mark 9: 38 – 50.

So the context of this salty verse, or the point of it is that it seems to actually be a rhetorical question; Jesus is saying that it is better to get rid of those parts of ourselves that causes us to stumble or hurt ourselves, that causes us to stumble and hurt others because otherwise, it will contribute to our losing our saltiness, to our losing our understanding of our identity in Christ. And if we lose our saltiness, how can we be seasoned again, how can we become salty again? It’s difficult to make a grain of salt which has lost it saltiness, salty again. You can’t season a grain of salt because by itself it is already a basic element.

Therefore, it’s important to prune those parts of ourselves that will prevent us from being salty.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what’s so good about salt, our bodies are made up of primarily water but it’s the sodium or salt levels that keep the body working functionally, from our neuronal circuits to our muscles. When the salt levels are off in our bodies, we can get mental disorders, severe muscle cramps, and so on. Salt is also used as a seasoning or flavouring in food and hence adds texture, colour and joy to our lives. The foodies amongst us cannot imagine food without a little bit of salt, right? It is also used as a preservative, keeping things whole, and also in healing and rejuvenation practices.

Yes, that’s who Jesus says we are: essential, basic elements in life, irreplaceable, necessary for the functioning of human life, and bringing flavouring and joy, as well as wholiness, healing and rejuvenation.

Fwah, imagine putting that on your CV! Wonderful, right?

And yet, that is you! That’s your identity in Christ, your calling, the reason why you’re here, the motivation and driving force in your life, the direction in which you’re going, and the goal you’re moving towards.

Do you believe it? Are you convinced?

This is your identity:

“I am essential, a basic element in life, irreplaceable, necessary for the functioning of human life, and bringing flavouring and joy, as well as wholiness, healing and rejuvenation.”

Please note this is to be said not with a narcissistic, self-important tone but one of humility, unpretentiousness and self-acceptance, and reverent awe; that’s how God sees you.

Jesus is not questioning whether you are salt of the earth; the assumption is you are, that is your identity in Christ. The question is what must you do in order to not lose your saltiness, and he is saying one needs to cut off parts of yourself that is preventing you from bringing love and joy to yourself, and to those around you, to bringing reconciliation, healing and rejuvenation to self and others.

Ok, but I couldn’t help but fixate on Jesus’ question as one that needed an answer: “salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” It’s such a rich and provocative question, isn’t it?

So I thought of the different ways that salt can be made.

Firstly, there was through sweating. When we sweat and it dries, what’s left behind is a salty compound, and of course smell too! But is this salt that is left behind useable? Is it useful? I don’t think so, it’s not pure salt. It’s something residual, and it leaves us grimy and sticky.

And I thought how true, that if we try in false or unauthentic ways to become salty – maybe by thinking that if we somehow pray more, read the Bible more, attend church more, serve more, that we will become salty automatically, without having to actually look deep inside ourselves – all it does is we become sweaty from all the effort and busyness, and what is left behind is useless salt.

So then, how else? How else can salt come about?

I guess maybe if the salt could somehow go back to its original salty source, then maybe it could become salty again. Where does salt come from? From the waters before human time, from before there was light, from the great ocean that our tradition tells us God separated to create life.

Will a grain of unsalty salt when thrown into the sea become salty again?

I’m not sure, I don’t think it can become salty again from just being in the sea. I think it needs to be broken down, melted or dissolved into liquid through the use of heat, and then given back to the sea. And then through the whole process of evaporation, one gets salt again.

No wonder Jesus alluded to the fact that is it a difficult and challenging process to becoming salty again, that it is better to prevent losing one’s saltiness. But I guess it’s technically not impossible, right?

In fact, I think we often don’t cut off those parts of ourselves that cause harm soon enough, we let it fester and in doing so, we remember less what it means to have, and be salt of the earth. Some of us may have little salt left in us, we’re tired and jaded, maybe even bitter and cynical.

But have we thought that perhaps all the heat we go through in life is not necessarily bad or pointless? Some of it may be of our own doing, our false ego’s doing, we didn’t cut off the harmful parts in ourselves soon enough; some of it happens to us, but all heat can be used for refining purposes. As we are being melted down, it is also a process where we are most open, most vulnerable to change, and being returned to our original relationship with God. It is from here that if we allow ourselves to be worked upon by God, that we can finally let go of or cut off the harmful aspects of ourselves, allow it to be evaporated, and become salt again.

I wonder how many of us here are going through a melting period now, are going through a difficult and challenging time, a time of doubt, depression and lots of questioning. Perhaps we’re losing hope, we’re losing sight of our identity, we’re losing our relationship with God. Allow yourself to be refined, to be made into salt again. Our God loves us and does not forsake us, it’s just that letting go and change is often hard and painful. But be faithful to the process, or rather, keep faith and be open, don’t make hasty decisions or conclusions, and let God speak to you.

Are you being taught and led to see the aspects of yourself that brings pain to yourself, to others? What do you need to prune, cut off, let go of in your life, in your behaviour, in your thoughts, in your beliefs in order to remain salty, or to become salty again?

How about as a church? Are we a salty church?

Next Sunday is our anniversary service, and in the lead-up to that, I thought let’s spend some time thinking about our collective body that we call home, the Free Community Church.

This was timely as well, as the cell group I’m a part of at a church which I used to attend before FCC, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, did a recent session on the topic of the church. There was a provocative statement in the material, that said, “without the church, we cannot be Christians”. It was meant to get a discussion going.

My first instinct was to disagree with the statement. We don’t need the church in order to be Christian, our decision to follow Christ is a personal one and independent of the church, and we can continue to be Christians without the church. But as I let the statement sink deeper, yes, the statement contains truth. Without the church, the body of believers and community in Christ, how does one come to know about Christ in a lived way; meaning, you can hear about Christ and Christianity from a single person and decide to become a follower, but you wouldn’t necessarily know what it means to be living as a Christian, beyond your beliefs and faith until you encountered and experienced other Christians, for better or for worse!

Being in a community of Christians allows us to reflect and model to one another what it means to have salt. We are reminded of our identity when we see it mirrored back to us; through corporate worship, serving and doing life together, we sing, narrate and enact to each other our identity and relationship in Christ as salt of the earth, and light of the world.

Being part of a community of salt enables us to benchmark our saltiness, to see if perhaps unknowingly, we have been becoming less salty; being part of church holds us accountable. Our faith is also deeply relational, reflecting the relational God we seek and follow; we are less effective and useful as single grains of salt, than when we come together as a community and collectively increase our saltiness.

Being part of a community of faith and the body of Christ however, also means rubbing each other the wrong way, a salt scrub can be painful! But how else will we see ourselves, and each other more clearly? Conflict can contribute towards a pruning, rejuvenation and refinement process as well; if the parties involved are open, and allow it to. It is in community that we have opportunities to practice Christ-likeness, even more so the harder it gets. It is then that we realise what it means to have salt.

The second part of the verse we have been looking at says, “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Perhaps if we are not at peace with one another, then maybe it is an indication level of how much salt there is in us as individuals, and as a community.

Another reminder the cell group study provided about the church, is that we are called out. The Greek word for church, “ekklesia” means an assembly that is called out. 1 Peter 2: 9 says:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

We have been called out and given an identity, and called to be salt of the earth, to be a blessing to those around us.

I believe those of us who are part of FCC – past, present and future have been, and are called out of darkness, that where previously we were individuals yearning for safe and accepting community, we have been brought together into God’s marvelous light and have greater value as a community, as a church.

We probably are familiar with the values of our church, and if you’re not or need a refresher, you can read our ‘Principles of Community Life’ on our website. But apart from what our values are, and perhaps especially so as our anniversary is round the corner, perhaps we should pause and think about are we a community of value? How are we a community of value? How salty are we, how can we be more salty, or salty again?

The third area the study on church highlighted is that as a church, we belong to one another. In Romans 12: 5, it says:

“So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

We belong to one another. I wonder how many of us see each other this way? What does it mean to belong to one another?

I think it means to recognise that as a family in, and of God, we are interconnected and impact each other. We are individuals responsible for ourselves but also for each other; not in the way of taking responsibility for someone else’s thoughts or behaviour but to look out for one another, ensuring as much as possible, we don’t lose sight of what it means to be salt of the earth, as individuals and as a community.

It means that often there will be times when we place someone else’s needs in this family above ours, that some sacrifices will need to be made for one another, some risks taken, stepping out of our comfort zones, and a level of vulnerability involved.

And we don’t get to choose who this “one another” is; just like we don’t get to choose our families of origin, to a large extent we don’t get to choose our church family either, you can’t control who steps through that front door, who sends an enquiry e-mail; this family has members whom you see often and others less so, members whom you like and get along with and those whom you don’t, members who are similar to you and others whom you find so different and strange, even queerer than queer. But we all belong to one another; unknowingly, we need each other to be a community of salt, and God has called us out to come together to be a blessing to those around us.

Simply put, I think to “belong to one another” is to love one another, to create spaces for each other to exist and belong, and safe spaces where we can be the body of Christ despite our differences and diversity. We also hold the space for each other when we journey with one another, sharing our faith, hope, love, resources and strength with one another, especially with a member who is unable to do so. This space that is held for someone else becomes a healing space, one of reconciliation and rejuvenation.

One of the other lectionary passages for today is from James 5, and verse 19 says:

“My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

It is in creating safe holding spaces in our community, that those who have forgotten what it means to be salt or lost their saltiness would be willing to be part of a community that can remind them, and model what it is to have salt, and once again embrace that identity in Christ. It is only when they feel safe, and not judged will they be willing to be vulnerable, and cut off or let go parts of themselves or areas in their life that is causing their soul to die.

So as we look forward to celebrating our birthday as a family next Sunday, may we spend the week leading up to it reflecting on our identity in Christ, as individuals; and as a community belonging to one another, called out to be a blessing to others:

“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Amen.