“The Salt and the Saltless”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Salt is good, but if even the salt is made tasteless, how shall it be seasoned again? It is suitable neither for the earth nor the manure pile; they throw it out” (Luke 14:34-35). The stories are not hard to find. A close friend denies even knowing his Master, who has been falsely accused and awaits execution. A second friend betrays the Lord of all creation for thirty pieces of silver. A Pharisee of Pharisees murders and imprisons followers of Jesus. And the unbelieving world and the devil rejoice at their downfall. If even the salt is made tasteless, how shall it be seasoned again? On it goes to our day: A priest is convicted of abusing a young boy and the parish has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. The head of a major American Evangelical organization steps down in disgrace after someone reveals his homosexual affair. A television preacher goes to jail for defrauding hundreds of people who gave money in support of his ministry. A pastor must leave his congregation after accusations of sexual or financial improprieties surface. And the unbelieving world and the devil rejoice at their downfall. If even the salt is made tasteless, how shall it be seasoned again? Both the earth and the manure pile are worth more than such salt. If Christians, who are the salt of the earth, have lost their ability to season the unbelieving world, who will keep it from rotting away? If Christians, who are the salt of the earth, cannot preserve the distinction between the salt and the saltless, why should we be surprised when the rest of the world looks like Hell? If there is no salt left in a world of decaying flesh, the only scent will be rancid decomposition. The lord of the flies will see his minions multiply. Forget the world. It is time for judgment to begin with the House of God (1 Peter 4:17): if even the salt has become something other than salt, if it has been made tasteless by the infection of sin, hypocrisy, weakness, and failure, who can season it again?
If you have been preserved from obvious, public sin, give thanks to God who, in spite of your private predilections and secret sins, has kept you from openly crucifying your Lord again and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:6). The only thing between you and devilish deniers, broken betrayers, and fanatical Pharisees is the grace of God. The only thing separating you from pedophile priests, hidden homosexuals, thieving theologians, and predatory pastors is the mercy of Jesus.
Before you eat and drink holy things today, this is as good a time as any to count the cost of following Jesus. We have already seen in the Gospel of Luke what sort of things you may expect as a Christian in this world: you go out like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3), and those wolves will seek to devour you. They may not do it openly, but they will rejoice to point out how you do not live up to the standard of the Christ. You will face division between you and unbelieving family members, who will be watching to see if you live like you say you do (Luke 12:51-53). You must not be a hypocrite, who wears the masks with which the surrounding culture will tempt you (Luke 12:56). Count the cost; strive to enter through the narrow door. For many will seek to enter and will not be able (Luke 13:24). Count the cost; if you seek to live the life of a Christian, will you be able to be faithful to the end? Or will those watching you mock you and enjoy the spectacle of your downfall in the flames of hypocrisy? Count the cost and calculate what it means to be salt in a saltless world. Are you willing to reject your family for the sake of the cross if it comes down to it? Are you willing to carry the sign of the Crucified at the cost of the approval of those with whom you live and work? Can you with ten thousand go out against the twenty thousand principalities and powers that come against you in battle? If not, it would be better to make your peace with the world now, before you disgrace your Lord and crucify Him again before the eyes of the world.
All of this is what it means to be the Christian whom God made you in your baptism. There is no way around it. It is too late now to ask whether your life will bear witness to your God; the question is, what kind of witness do you bear? Do you live such good lives among the pagans that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (1 Peter 2:12)? Or have you been made tasteless by the corrosive characteristics of this present darkness? If even the salt is made tasteless, who shall season it again?
There is only One. You are tasteless by yourself. You love your family more than Christ. You are ashamed to bear the cross. You want the approval of those around you. You have already made your peace with this wicked generation. You cannot salt the world or withstand its assaults; it is too much for you. The devil has been around much longer than you and he knows all the tricks. Just when you think you’ve got your pornography addiction under control, you will find an e-mail promising perversions both thinkable and unthinkable. At just that moment when you and your spouse are in the throes of marital bliss, the smallest argument will bring you to the brink of divorce. Right when your honor-roll student receives her most recent straight-A report card, you will find drugs or birth control in her backpack. And on and on it goes. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, ESV). This salt has lost its savor. This salt needs a Savior. All our unfinished buildings and our peace-making with the world stand as scandalous monuments to our inability and our saltlessness. We have lost our taste; who will season us again?
There is only One: One who builds and One who makes peace with His enemies while they are still a long way off. He will have a holy Church for Himself and, since there is no one righteous, it will be full of those who have crucified and disgraced Him with their sin. The Son of God came in search of a holy people to be His salt in a world that is destined to be salted with fire. But all whom He found were tasteless and bland. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Luke 13:34-35a, ESV). Because they had forsaken Jesus, Israel’s house was forsaken of God, and so is ours. We live in the ruins of our barely-begun dream house. In disgrace and ridicule we find ourselves unable to complete a day, let alone a life, of any merit before a God who is Holiness. As if a house of sand could hold back the ocean of the wrath of God!
As the result of our rebellion, pretending that we can meet the armed hosts of heaven with our pitiful sticks and stones, the Son of God goes forth to war. I say to you today, surrender. He does not wish to fight you with the double-edged sword of His mouth when He returns in glory (Revelation 1:16). Ask the Prince of Peace for the terms of His peace. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2)! He would rather kill you now before the second death claims you for eternity. Give up your building and your warring. He came-He comes-for you. His terms of peace are thus: death and resurrection. He will kill you and He will raise you to new life. He has done it already and He promises to do it again and again until He raises you one day for good. Baptism and daily repentance are His tools to restore your saltiness. If even the salt is made tasteless, how will it be seasoned again? In a most unusual way: His own Body and Blood will make you salt in a decomposing world, very often in spite of yourself. You are not your own; you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). You are that holy Church that He is building (1 Peter 2:4-10). You are the ones to whom He has given terms of peace. You are the blood-bought salt of the earth.
As you yourselves know, salt is so badly needed in this decadent world. Having been baptized into Christ, you are that good salt. As you go out to your jobs and families, God will use you to work against the taste-destroying temptations of this world. He will use you to salt your friends and family with the Word of Christ, so that while He still delays they also might ask Him for the terms of peace. Those terms are free, but they are costly. They cost Him everything; they will likewise cost His followers everything. The closer you are to Christ, the closer you are to His cross. But everything that must be renounced in this life, even life itself, is only so much worthless trash compared to what your God has prepared for you in Jesus Christ.
Nonetheless, the way is not easy. Nothing has changed for the followers of the Crucified in two thousand-plus years. The Church remains, always and ever, hidden under the cross. Those who claim to be her representatives will continue to fall and to disgrace her name and the Name of her Husband. You, and those like you, who are kept for the day of resurrection will find that their prospects on this earth match their Lord’s. Out of the large crowd that followed Him in Luke 14, none was left by the end of Luke 23. As it was in the beginning, so shall it ever be. The cross will never leave the Church until death is done away with. But neither will the One who died on the cross leave His Church. Holy people, salt of the earth: He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). Once you were tasteless, but Christ has seasoned you with His own precious blood. He has put you in the midst of a saltless world as baptized bearers of the terms of Christ’s peace. They too have lost their savor and they, too, need a Savior. Bring them with you to this House; the Savior wants also to make them into salt for a tasteless world. What shall we say, then? How can the salt be seasoned again? Only by the blood of Jesus-shed on the cross, poured over you in your baptism, and given to you in His Supper. Behold, there is wonder-working power in the blood of this Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world, even yours.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/4/07