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September 30, 2018 Be Salty Salt Mark 9:38–50
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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Jesus ends this section of Mark 9 by saying: “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.” It’s like a parable. He’s referring to Christian witness & unity in the faith, beginning with your own faith. He used 2 illustrations: 1) Don’t stop someone doing good things in Jesus’ name, just because they don’t belong to your group; & 2) don’t you dare be the cause of sin in those who don’t know the faith very well. We are supposed to be the Lord’s salt for others; helpful & not a hinderance, and be at peace with one another.
SALT. If you go to the grocery store to buy salt, you’ll find it with the spices. That aisle has some of the most expensive things by weight in the whole store. $7 for a little shaker of something could be more than $100 per pound. Salt is cheap; about 50 cents /pound.
In Bible days, it wasn’t like that; salt was valuable.

Salt is good & a necessary part of human biology & life. In the days of Rome, soldiers were given a part of their salary so as to buy salt. The Latin word for salt is sal, salarium is ‘salary.’ +An old description for a valuable person is: ‘he’s worth his salt’ == although I guess that saying wouldn’t apply to Lot’s wife {in Gen.19}, who longingly looked back at the city of Sodom as it was being destroyed, and was turned into a pillar of salt. +When you’re not sure whether to believe someone, you take them ‘with a grain of salt’. +Sailors get the blame for having ‘salty language’ = but I was a sailor. +Good, solid people are referred to as ‘the salt of the earth’; although, if you actually put salt on the soil, plants won’t grow.

Overall, salt is good. More than making food taste better. Before refrigeration, it was critical for preserving food, and that prevented starvation. If you’re cells are low on salt, you can become faint. If you have too much, blood pressure goes up; but if have too little salt, you can die of heart failure.

As the Lewis & Clark expedition made their way down the Columbia River, and realized that they were running out of salt, they were in great danger. Without it, their health was at risk. This was one of the reasons Clark exclaimed in his journal, “Ocean in view! Oh, the joy!” They spent much of their time on the Pacific coast that winter boiling seawater to make salt.
God even made salt holy by being part of the ritual of sacrifice. In the OT, sacrifices were first salted before being offered, both the meat & grain sacrifices. This was a sign of purification, and a symbol of how God would preserve His Covenant for His people. So, when Jesus says, “Salt is good,” it would remind the disciples of all of these physical benefits of salt. But even more so, he was referring to True Faith; to the spiritual applications of purity, and the seasoning effects of true faith in the history of God’s people.

The disciples would remember the time when Elijah was leaving this earth = 2 Kgs.2. Elijah tried to send Elisha away a number of times, but his loyal disciple would not leave him. Elijah asked Elisha what he wanted. He said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you. . . .’’ After just a little while, there appeared chariots of fire and horses of fire, which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Elisha took up the cloak of Elijah, and returned across the Jordan to the city of Jericho. Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

Salt is purifying, as Jesus said in vs.49: “Everyone will be salted with fire.”
We might describe salt as like a little crystal with fire in the middle. If you put it on your tongue, you can taste it burning. If you put it on a cut, you can feel it burning. Fire is purifying; it’s used to burn away impurities. Fire sanitizes & sterilizes, like when the Israelites used fire to re-dedicate to the Lord the places polluted by pagan altars & religions.
When Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire, he’s referring to /trials, /difficulties, /& temptations which can purify & refine a person’s faith & trust in God. Being salted like this is not pleasant, but our Lord is able to use trials to get our attention, call us back, & preserve us from the dangerous corruption of our day, and the immoralities of our culture.
Salt is like a purifying fire; and WE are like salt because of this faith, and the purifying HSp. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt 5:13).
But then Jesus says, ‘but if you have lost your saltiness, how will you make it salty again?”

The salt we have today is ‘sodium chloride,’ a very stable compound that doesn’t easily degrade. If you buy a container of salt, and leave it in your cupboard for 50 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, salt was harvested from the surface of salt marshes or pits where salt water had flowed from the Mediterranean or the Dead Sea. Mediterranean Sea salt had mineral impurities, plus other impurities of seawater as it was scraped off the rocks == like algae, sand, & bits of dead sea creatures. The Dead Sea salt is even worse; most of the minerals in the Dead Sea are not sodium chloride. In Jesus’ day, salt could lose its saltiness; just like believers can lose a good & effective faith.

An author tells a true story as an example: A merchant of the region of Sidon had a gov’t contract to import salt. He shipped in a large quantity from the marshes of Cyprus; enough to supply the whole region for many years. But to avoid some taxes & fees, he stored it away in the hill country; he rented 65 local houses and filled them with the salt. However, the houses had dirt floors, and in just a few years of the salt sitting on the ground, it was completely spoiled. It literally was taken out of the houses and thrown onto the roads, trampled under the feet of men & animals. His investment had become ‘good for nothing.’

That’s how salt can lose its saltiness. /Humidity, /sun, /heat, /& constant contact with the earth leach away the easily dissolved sodium chloride, & leaving behind all the impurities. Bits of rock, sand, mineral crystals, dirt & debris make it look like it might be salt, but it’s tasteless. It’s lost the fire of the salt within. Likewise, sometimes people appear to be Christian and have a faith, but under closer examination, or under testing, or as seen in the things they say or do in this life, they’ve lost their good, biblical & salty-faith.
Jesus warns of this as He has Paul write in 2Timothy 3. He says: “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, & ungrateful, …> /unholy, heartless, & unappeasable, /slanderous, &without self-control, /brutal & 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. “Avoid such people!”
This is what its like in the era of the ‘last days’. That era began after Jesus ascended, continued into Paul’s day, and by this description, is also obviously applying to OUR day as well; not just in the politics, but even in the church.

The Holy Spirit is the fire for God’s salty people. These terrible things Paul describes is what happens when the fire of the Holy Spirit is driven out of us by our love-of-self, or when we allow the corrupt world to leach it out of us. We become empty crystals, having the form of the godly salt of the earth, but denying the presence & power of the Holy Spirit by neither knowing nor following the written Word of God. Because that’s thee tool of the HSp.

Without being fed by God’s Word & Spirit so that we behave as holy people, we turn back to our old nature, & do whatever we think is right; or we follow after whatever the unholy world around us is doing, and we lose our godly flavor. We become worthless to the kingdom, like the rest of the unbelieving world. One can appear to be religious while being a very worldly person. By definition, a hypocrite is an ‘actor’ who looks like a believer on the outside, but having no faith on the inside. Or, as James says, their faith-talk has no faith-action.
And then when ‘birds of a feather flock together’, even whole church bodies can become salt-less by refusing to be purified by God’s Word & to salt the world with His Truth. In Col.4 it says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Without a biblically salty-faith, a person will refuse to call sin ‘sin, & won’t stand up against evil. A church that says ‘all roads lead to God’ or ‘not all the bible is true’ is a church that has lost God’s flavor. God’s salt must purify & preserve. ‘Salt~substitute’ is popular in the food industry, but it’s not popular with God; if it’s not real salt, it won’t work right.

FINALLY, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” That’s still Jesus’ word to His Church, and to you & me. Actually, his warning about losing saltiness is kind-of good news. He wouldn’t talk about losing saltiness unless we have salt; unless he’d given us salt in the first place.
That was our good news in the beginning: ‘You ARE the salt of the earth.’ You are!
This is what the gift-of-faith has done: You have been purified, washed, salted with salt, just like those Old Testament sacrifices. Jesus himself is your salted sacrifice.
HE was the one who purified you. By his death on the cross, he accomplished what all those salted sacrifices of the Old Testament promised, chiefly the forgiveness of all sins.
Now by God’s Word & Sacraments, that forgiveness =that purity= is given to us. His gift of the Holy Spirit has been given to you in the promise of his baptism of you. As we live by His Holy Word, so we live in our Baptismal grace, & we bear his name on our lives, and that’s how we have salt in ourselves.
As the Lord’s forgiveness of our sin is our greatest gift, so we are enabled to offer a forgiveness to others. We know it’s not easy, but when we forgive others, we bring a purification and peace that is from God. In the first part of our lesson, the disciples asked Jesus about a man = not one of their group = casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”

That nameless exorcist had salt in himself. He had faith in Christ, and he was acting as a believer in Christ. He was making peace, and driving back the kingdom of darkness.
The disciples hadn’t recognized this man as having the salt of Christ, so they thought they were in conflict with him when they weren’t. They didn’t realize that by their shared faith in Christ, their shared saltiness, they were actually at peace with him ~ & with others.

In our Epistle lesson, 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.” Having the Lord’s pure salt, in His Name, we have the opportunity & duty to be the vessel to carry that forgiveness to others. God’s forgiveness works peace.

And, of course, our holiness, our forgiveness, this power to walk in His Word come only from Christ. The salt in us only has power because it is from Christ Jesus. Just as He said: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches; if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; but apart from me, you can do nothing.’
The salt of his sweat in Gethsemane, the salty blood he shed for us on the cross, these are what has won our forgiveness, & filled us with salt. In His Name we have a power to resist & battle against the powers of evil; / His Word & teaching gives us the power to live a life of purity & cleanness; / as disciples of His Name, we flavor & preserve the world around us; / and by his forgiveness, we forgive one another.

So, Jesus uses salt as a parable for Himself & His truth. Salt is good; it purifies.
His sacrifice for you has purified you and made your salty; but without him & his word, you will lose your good flavor.
The message of the day is: The World continually Leaches the Salt from Us, but Christ continually Salts Us with His Word and Spirit so that we will be his good people, useful in his kingdom, and will Have Peace with One Another.
Amen