With or Without Salt

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” — Jesus

“We must choose words and phrases that deepen the argument of being alive.” — Padraic O’Touma

A woman calls up her friend. She says, “Becky, l understand you’ve got a new apartment.”

Becky says, “l do. It’s great! Just moved in. Hey, why don’t you come visit tomorrow morning?”

“I’d love to visit,” the friend says. “But you gotta give me directions.”

So Becky says, “Great! I live on 1486 Eighty-Sixth Street. You’ll take the train, get off at 86th Street. You’ll see a big apartment complex, 1486. Outside, you’ll see a double door. With your right elbow, press down the handle from the door. Push open the door, and you’ll be in what is called a vestibule . . . And there’ll be a list of bells. I’m apartment 4B. With the left elbow, press 4B; it’ll ring upstairs. As soon as I hear the ring, I’ll buzz you.

When you hear the buzz, you can use your right elbow to press on the inside of the door, push open the door, go straight ahead to the elevator. And then, with your left elbow, press UP. Get in the elevator; and with your right elbow press 4 for the fourth floor. The door will open up; you’ll go straight into my apartment. 4B. Ring the doorbell with the right elbow. Or give it a couple of kicks with your foot. I’ll be waiting for you and have some coffee ready for . . .”

Her friend interrupts, a little frustrated. “Becky, what kind of directions are these, with my left elbow, my right elbow! What’s with all the elbow stuff?”

Becky says, “What? You’re coming empty-handed?”


What’s the first thing you do as you get into your car, heading out into the day?  A purse or a sachel, a Yeti filled with coffee, keys in one hand, phone in the other (or maybe the phone is pressed between your cheek and shoulder).  Add to this luggage the baggage of our emotions and worries, our anxiousness about the world around us or what we may be feeling about work.

We rarely head into our day empty-handed. Our days are often cluttered with baggage and agendas and unfinished business. We are more like a run-on sentence, or a series of dependent clauses and non-sequiturs than a carefully structured paragraph of hope and intention.

I suspect Jesus’ day was filled with no less fear, worry, and anxiety. And yet, he tells an overwhelmed and impoverished crowd on the side of a mountain, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Seems to me to be a very strange thing to say to such a crowd. Salt is what preserves life and gives life flavor. So how are some of the most rejected, dejected, and marginalized folks in that culture supposed to hear such a statement? Clearly this guy, Jesus, isn’t paying attention or he’s an unrealistic idealist.

Salt, according to the BBC Food Science magazine, works best when it interacts with something.  By itself, it doesn’t do much. With food, it can tame bitterness, enhance savoury tastes, or bring out the sweetness in chocolate. It can preserve food, heal wounds, or bring balance to one’s health. It is one of the simplest elements in our vast universe of elements, and yet its true usefulness is only when it interacts with something else.

When Jesus tells his listeners they are the salt of the earth, he’s not so much telling them to go and do something new as much as he’s telling them to be who they are. They bring life to life when they realize they are the substance of life itself. Their worth is unquestioned. Their substantive value immeasurable.

But it’s useless without connection.

The story is told that the 20th-century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich often went to the ocean. And when he got there, he would pile up a mound of sand and sit on it gazing out at the ocean waves advancing and receding. It was an intentional ritual for him.

And every time, as he watched the waves, tears ran down his cheeks. Every time.

Perhaps he was becoming conscious again, remembering the source of life, where all life originated, the mixing of salty air and salty tears, as he experienced the fullness of the Ground of Being. Some would say that wherever Tillich went, he carried this sense of connection to God, to the vastness of life as close as our breath and tears, with him in all of his interactions with others; and that you couldn’t help but feel it when you were with him.

Salt can do that, it brings flavor and emotion and substance to life.

That’s what we can do.

Salt has as much to do with who we really are as with what else we might bring. It’s as if Jesus wasn’t saying, “You need to be something separate from the world to be in God’s kingdom.” What if Jesus was simply saying, “You’re salt. You’re the substance of life. So, be like salt. Being who you truly are will bring life to this life.”

This Sunday, let’s explore what it is that we bring to life as we think about being the “salt and light” of the world. The band will join in with music from Michael Franti, the Wailin Jennys, and Waylin Jennings!

See you then!

Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven


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