It is Memorial Day weekend. We take time as a nation to remember those who served our country and those who lost their lives in the pursuit of our freedom and liberties. Musician Billy Ray Cyrus sings a hauntingly beautiful song for Memorial Day that says in part:
All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all
Memorial Day itself began simply as Decoration Day. As a nation, we first observed Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. People gathered at Arlington National Cemetery and placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Memorial Day, born in a nation divided, was simply a day of remembrance and reconciliation. Over time, we have expanded the concept of Memorial Day. We have made Memorial Day into a holiday with parades, backyard barbeques, retail store sales, weekend getaway, and of course, the first day of the fashion year in which we can were white clothing. We humans tend to complicate our lives over time. We do this with our homelife, our holidays, and unfortunately, we do this with our faith. This is one of the reasons why we have spent the last few weeks talking about simplicity of God’s desire for our life; to act justly, love mercy, to walk humbly with Him. God’s desire is that we would lay aside ceremony for mercy and traditions for simple acknowledgement of God as central to our lives. God wants us to take time to rest from the “hurry scurry” of our lives and remember Him.
Today, we have the opportunity in this sanctuary to rest in one another’s presence, to rest in the presence of God, and to look to unwind the complexity of church and faith that we could regain the simplicity of God’s desire for our daily lives. Today, I would like to see how God preserved the simplicity of his desire through the ageless and natural substance of salt. Salt is a substance common to all human histories. In its most ordinary form, salt is the chemical combination of the elements of sodium and chloride. Salt gives our bodies the sodium is essential for life. Without sodium, we might live for a week or so and not very well.
God chose salt as a simple reminder of his presence and his commitment. In our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Leviticus, God commanded through Moses that the people of Israel should season offerings of grain with salt. God instructed that the nation, the people of Israel, must not leave out, must not forget salt, because it would remind them of the salt of the covenant of your God. Simple. The people of Israel were to mark their worship observances with a seasoning of salt. Salt showed the bond, the covenant agreement, between God and the Israelite people. Salt signified God’s agreement that the nation of Israel would be His people and He their God.
It should not surprise us the Bible and histories of the nation of Israel tell us that over time offerings to God became much more complex and involved. By the time God sent Jesus, the Temple of Jerusalem, the place of offerings, had undergone expansion. The construction project had been going on for 46 years! The system governing offerings was most expensive.
Knowing all of this, Jesus gathered the people to a simple grassy hillside to speak to them about God’s simple desires. We heard Jesus words this morning. He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt was the physical evidence of God’s covenant. Salt was the physical reminder of his presence among the people and the responsibility of the people to represent God to others.
What then do we make of Jesus statement that, “You are the salt of the earth.” First, we see that Jesus says, “You are.” He is speaking in the present. He did not say, “You were,” as though he was speaking about some past glory. He did not say, “You will be,” as though he was speaking about a future period. He said, “You are,” meaning right now God’s desire is for you to be like salt. What does that mean?
We use salt as a seasoning. God told the Israelites to season their offerings. Salt, as a seasoning, changes whatever it touches. If you are not sure that is true, then do a little experiment. Prepare some food (French fries, steak, broccoli) all without any salt at all. Eat one-third of each item and remember how each one tastes. Then salt rest of the food. Eat half of what remains on your plate and note the significant difference in taste in the food that comes from the salt. With the final food portion, I challenge you to scrap off the salt or eat around the salt so that you can relive the taste of the food before you seasoned it with salt. You find it is impossible to do so because the addition of the salt has changed the substance of the fries, steak, and broccoli. This, of course, is a bit of a silly example of what Jesus meant when he said, “You are the salt of the earth,” but serves to remind us that salt once added changes the substance of what it touches. So if we act like salt, whatever we touch, changes.
What does this mean for us? If we claim a relationship with God through Jesus, then we have been changed and we are to season with Christ’s love those whom we touch. So in our lifetime, how many people will we touch? How many will we have contact with, have some sort of interact with? I read a study that says, on average, in a lifetime, we will touch 80,000 people. Some of those people we will touch but once and others we will touch daily. But overall, each of us will touch 80,000 other human beings. The desire for God is for us to show his presence in our life to others.
A couple of weeks ago we had a workshop for small churches. One of the issues small churches can face is a belief that they are too small to make a difference. Consider the math for a moment. A small church of 30 people, on average, has the capacity to touch as many as 2.4 million people. Now we know that math breaks down a bit since there are not 2.4 million people in the capital district, but the point of the math is that it shows just how much impact a small group of people can make who are seeking to be the salt of the earth.
Some years ago, when I was working for the Federal government, I was responsible for security at several nuclear facilities throughout the country. One day a mail handler asked my secretary if he could speak with me. She ushered the man into my office. I knew the man from our passing in the hallways but no more deeply than that. The man was nervous given the difference in our positions, but after introducing himself to me, he pulled out a small pamphlet with a question on it. The question was "Do you know if you're going to heaven?" He asked me did I know if I was going to heaven. We had an enjoyable conversation and I told him that I believed I would go to heaven. However, this experience taught that this man was not sure that I was a Christian. Why else would he have asked me that question about going to heaven? He had come into my office to season me with the salt of Christ’s love because he cared about me and had not seen me season him with the salt of Christ’s love before this day. It was sobering moment for me to recognize that Jesus does not want us to be a full container of salt that is sealed tight. We must be opened and used to season other people’s lives.
Jesus said, “13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Ouch! This business about being salt is serious. We need to be mindful of God’s simple desire for our life to be the salt of the earth. Sometimes we question ourselves, “Why am I here on earth? What is my purpose?” “You are salt of the earth,” Jesus says. “That is your purpose. Now share God’s love found me with the 80,000 people you touch.” Salt changes whatever it touches so long we use the salt.
Now many things happen when salt touches something. Salt obviously seasons what it touches, but salt also preserves, purifies, heals, and creates thirst. Our purpose as Christians and as a church is to serve others through words and actions. Our words can heal those struggling with life’s difficulties. That comes from the salt of Christ. We can encourage others with a just a warm greeting. A couple of weeks ago, someone shared at a Bible study that they met a person on the street earlier in the day who was crying. This was one of the 80,000 people that we will meet in our life. The person telling the story said they stopped to ask how they could help. This is being salt by encouraging others. In that interaction, the person in need was changed because they knew there were people, Christians, who genuinely wanted to help. And that life changed again because the Bible study group prayed for that person and placed their needs upon God’s throne who will answer all prayers.
As a church, we are engaged in local missions. As we are traveling this life together, we are seasoning the lives of others with the salt of Christ’s love. In some cases, we are preserving the lives of people with food, shelter, clothing, and dignity. For others we are bringing healing from grief and turmoil.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” so think about the opportunities you have to season the lives of others with Christ. In case we did not understand fully Jesus’ call to do so, Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world.” Being a Christian is not an invitation to work for the Secret Service. We are to visible. We need to reflect the light of hope that we have in Christ. We need to reflect to others the joy that comes from knowing that our future is assured. I recently met a man who said, “I have great peace because I no longer need to be concerned about what happens to me when I die. I know that big question has been answered for me by Christ because I know I will be in heaven with him. Having the big question resolved, I can now live a life peacefully honoring God through Jesus and sharing that joy with others.” Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
So this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, some of us will participate in a cookout, a parade, or just a time spend time in the company of a few people. Whatever the setting, know that God has given you the authority and the responsibility to season other people with his love. God has given you the authority and responsibility to be a light to that gathering and show his love to others. We can do this simply through our voice, our expressions, and the subjects we choose to speak about. So, let’s remember to season each touch with those we meet with the salt of Christ’s love. And I know if we season with Christ’s love each touch we have in the life of another person, then people’s lives will be changed and God will be glorified. Let us pray.