Sunday, 26 September 2021

Worth the salt?

 Preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on Sunday 26 September 2021. Readings: Numbers 11.4-6, 10-16,24-29; James 13-end; Mark 9.38-end.

Jesus said: ‘For everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good; but if salt has lost saltiness, how can you season it?

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’ (Mark 9.49.50)




Fr David, the new priest at St George’s, Waddon, loves food.


‘Don’t’ we all’, you might say. Yes, but Fr David takes this love of food to levels you can only dream of. He is passionate about where food is sourced from, how food, meat in particular, is prepared, how it’s transported, how it is preserved and how it is cooked.


Food is a massively significant part of our lives. At the moment we are rightly very concerned about food prices, which will almost inevitably affect the poorest people most. In society the quality of diets and food is a major ongoing concern.


Last week I learnt more than I might ever have imagined about salt, as Fr David and I were discussing this Sunday’s gospel reading. I have been reading the entry on salt in his copy of an amazing book called ‘McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopaedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture’.


Salt is often taken for granted and has a bit of a bad press. High salt in ready meals is bad, and too much salt in the diet leads to high blood pressure. Salt is good for us, but the salt in manufactured foods gives the average person 10 times more salt than they need. Too little salt can increase cholesterol.


McGee tells us about salt production, granulated table salt, iodized salt, flake salt, kosher salt, unrefined sea salt, fleur de sel ( a most delicate salt!) flavoured salts and coloured salts.


It's when we get to McGee on ‘The Virtues of Salt’ (p.640) that we start to get an insight into Jesus’ mysterious words, ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’



Salt is like no other substance we eat and ingest. Sodium chloride, salt, comes from the oceans, and ultimately from the rocks that erode into them. It is an essential nutrient which our bodies cannot do without. Traces of salt from the soil appear in vegetables to make it way into our diet.


Salt is the only natural source of one of our handful of basic tastes, which is why we add salt to many foods to fill out their flavour. Salt both enhances and modifies flavours. It also suppresses bitterness in foods.


We even keep it, in pure form, on a table to add to our food  for individual flavouring.


Salt is amazing enough, but there’s more! Salt discourages the growth of destructive bacteria while allowing harmless, and flavour producing bacteria to grow, for example in meat. That is how it preserves and improves flavours at the same time.


Salt can even de-ice roads to make the way clear and navigable.


‘For everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good; but if salt has lost saltiness, how can you season it?

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’


These ‘virtues of salt’ help us understand how to be ‘salty Christians’.


Salt comes from the rock. To be a ‘salty Christian’ is to be connected to the bedrock of salvation. As the LORD says in the prophet Isaiah:


‘Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

   you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

   and to the quarry from which you were dug.(Isaiah 51.1)


Salt meets one of the four basic human tastes, along with sweet, sour and bitter.[1] A basic human desire is for God and to ‘taste and see that the LORD is gracious’.


Being ‘salty Christians’ means that we enhance the flavours of God’s world and people, in how we speak and act.


That’s what Moses and Jesus are doing when they recognise works of healing and prophecy and do not stop them, even if not done by a disciple. Do not stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name for ‘no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me’ (Mark 9.39).


Enhancing and flavouring human experience and existence is what ‘salty Christians’ do. We see it in the letter of James today. ‘Salty Christians’ pray for the sick, call the elders of the church to pray for them and anoint them (James 5.13). That saltiness restores them to wholeness.


Just as salt de-ices roads and pathways, so ‘salty Christians’ are called to melt wicked hearts and remove stumbling blocks, trip hazards and slippery ways that obstruct access to Christ for the little people of the world: children; the frail; the vulnerable.


Those who cause stumbling blocks and abuse children will find themselves in a place, of endless salt, a salt mine, sterile and barren like, like the extreme saltiness of the Dead Sea.


Salt suppresses bitterness. Being ‘salty Christians’ means we weep for the pains of the world. And what do we notice about tears? Yes, they’re salty. Little wonder the great saints have talked about the gift of tears, in other words the insight to see and be compassionate for those in bitter pains and then be moved by the Holy Spirit of God.


And like salt, there is much ‘salty Christians’ must preserve. The Tradition is not preservation in aspic; it is living faith that has been handed on with the essentials intact. So the Tradition is salted. Remember salt discourages the growth of destructive bacteria whole allowing constructive, and flavour producing, bacteria to grow. That is how ‘salty Christians’ are custodians of the Good News; never destructive, always flavour enhancing.


‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’: so, as a disciple of Jesus, as a church, are we worth our salt?

[1] Some say this oversimplifies it and there are nine basic tastes.

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