“Stay Salty” Learning Time for Harrow United Church, Feb 5, 2023

I saw familiar faces when I went to the Portuguese Club this week to donate blood. My least favourite part is when they insert the needle into my vein. My most favourite is going to the snack table afterwards, to grab my crunchy salty snack. 

The body uses salt to help it manage and retain fluid. Apparently the average person loses about 3 grams of salt with every blood donation.

I learned some things about salt, which is an electrolyte, when I trained for and ran marathons, and half-marathons. At every race there were people who were not careful enough with their intake of water and electrolytes, and had to be helped off the course, oftentimes carried off the course. My running partner for my second marathon beat me to the finish line, but ended up in the medical tent, and then in a hospital emergency ward.

Salt can be a matter of life or death. It is no exaggeration to say wars have been fought over access to salt. 

Salt has also been used as part of non-violent efforts to make change.

When the Indian National Congress asked Mohandas Gandhi to organize non-violent civil disobedience to launch their campaign to end colonial rule in India, he chose to protest the Salt Laws, which the British created to give themselves exclusive right to produce, sell and impose tax on salt.

Even people who lived near the ocean were prohibited by law from doing what Gandhi proposed, which was to make salt by evaporating sea water. It’s the same kind of colonial control that was exercised here in Canada, which banned First Nations people from hunting, fishing, farming, leaving the reserve without permission of the Indian agent, and even speaking their own language. 

Gandhi chose salt because it is basic to human life. It is needed by every person, rich and poor, Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Jew, or Sikh or Budddhist. Gandhi said,

“Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”

This common staple of life has been used for thousands of years to flavour and preserve food. Before the world became connected by ocean freighters and transport trucks, proximity to salt  determined where people could live.

Some scholars think the word “salary” derives from the latin word salarium, which was an allowance paid to Roman soldiers to buy the basics, like food and salt, to live. It’s where we get that phrase about a person being “worth their salt”- are they doing enough to justify what they are paid, or is the salt wasted on them?

Salt is serious stuff. In the ancient world, they may not have had a scientific grasp of it’s nature and properties, but they knew that it was powerful, necessary, and almost magical in its powers.

That may help us understand why the reading from Leviticus made mention of including salt when a person places an offering on the altar for sacrifice. Salt was a gift from God, given back to God. Giving back something valuable was a way of expressing the magnitude of your gratitude.

We often encounter salt as tiny little crystals, but when Jesus told his disciples to be like salt, it was no small thing. He was telling them to remember that they had important, life and death work to do, that would change the world.

I mentioned Gandhi earlier. On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and about 80 others from his community set out, on foot, for the coastal village of Dandi. They walked a little over 10 miles a day, and reached the sea in 23 days. The route was planned to pass through many villages, towns and cities. They gathered more followers everywhere they went, and more attention was gained for their cause.

They did simple, basic human things. They walked, and talked to people. They slept when tired, and ate when they could. 

When they reached the coast on April 6th Gandhi picked up a lump of mud and salt and boiled it in seawater to make the commodity which no Indian could legally produce — salt. 

Gandhi and his followers did the simple human things they could do. They lived out their commitment and courage, and passion for the well-being of others.  They were arrested for the crime of making salt. Many were attacked and beaten by soldiers under the command of the Viceroy, who acted to uphold not only the salt law, but the authority the British had claimed to rule, and control every aspect of the lives of their subjects, who were not granted the same dignity, respect, or rights as British citizens.

Gandhi’s followers were trained in non-violent protest. They did not resist when arrested, and did not retaliate when attacked. Their non-violent response underlined the brutality and injustice of British rule, and shone a bright light on the poor treatment of the people of India, and ultimately, on the legitimacy of the cause of independence. People around the world paid attention. 

It is no small thing, to answer the call to be faithful, to do what is right, to do what you can, to make a difference in the world. To take a risk, to make a sacrifice, to go out of your way to help others. To give of yourself. 

We aren’t all leaders and prophets, and profound teachers like Gandhi, and Jesus. But without followers, no matter how amazing, wise and divine the messenger is, not much happens.

For us, the question is not so much can we be amazing, and do something huge. For us, the question is, what can we do, that we probably already know how to do, that will help another person, help our church, help our community.

It might be making a valentine for a lonely person. It might be telling me you’d be willing to make a few phone calls every week, to check in on folks from the congregation we have not seen for a while. It might be making an extra donation to the church, because it’s been a hard few years, and now we have to fix the broken water line going into the building, and we need help. It might be giving blood next time they set up at the Portuguese Club. It might be something else. 

Look around in your life, in your family, in this community. There is something that needs doing. You’ll find it, if you open your heart, your mind, your eyes, and take a look around. Anyone worth their salt, can find a way to help someone else. 

Jesus’ call to be the salt of the earth comes from a collection of his teachings about what it means to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others. In some translations, the word “happy” is used instead of the word. “blessed”. 

“Happy are those who are humble;  they will receive what God has promised!

“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!

“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!

In my message for the annual report I offered a quote from Frederick Buechner,  a Presbyterian minister and author who lived to be about 96. He wrote about calling, and how we can get a sense of what God is asking of us. He said, 

“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.

It’s good to be reminded of the great joy, and purpose, meaning and actual happiness that comes, when we set ourselves aside, and do for others.

What does God require of us? Learning Time for Jan 29, 2023 Harrow United Church

It’s that special time of the year again.  We received our first record of donations by mail the other day. Soon we will receive our T4 slips, and other statements of income. 

Tax season is upon us. I use a tax program to sort out and file our returns. It is so much easier than doing it all by hand. But whether I work at it with a calculator and a sharp pencil, or the software, the object of the exercise is to calculate what is owing. 

I am happy to pay my fair share. I am grateful for my life in Canada, in Ontario, in Essex County. I recognize that much of what it takes to live comfortably, to trust the water and food supply, and to feel safe when I venture outside my home, costs money.

I have the sense that not everyone sees things that way. There is an undercurrent in our society, a murmuring that encourages us to pay the least possible amount for anything, and do even that grudgingly. Some of our friends, family members and neighbours look upon earning and having money not as a gift or privilege, but as an undeniable right. I sometimes get the sense that some people would like all the rights, but without the responsibilities that are part of the package.

We are, in so many ways, consumers. We purchase products, and consume, or use them, mostly for ourselves, and those closest to us. It’s the same with services and experiences. If we have paid for it, we expect things to be done for us.

The consumer mindset has seeped into many of our relationships. Our posture in the world too easily becomes one of entitlement, and expectation, and demand. “What do I get?”  is a more common question than “what can I contribute, what can I do to help?”

If we are sick, we go to the doctor for a prescription, a literal magic pill to make us better. If the doctor says, hey, what you really need is to go for a walk every day, and cut back on snacks and desserts, we might ask, isn’t there an easier way? Can I see a specialist?

The same murmuring that tells us to get the maximum bang for our buck, to pay the least, and get the most possible, will also tell us that this is the power of the consumer. We can make demands, and ask for more, and bargain, and threaten to withhold payment, or even sue, until we get what we want.

That can feel like power. But it is also, if you really look at it, giving responsibility for our own happiness, well-being, satisfaction to someone else. We place someone else in charge of making us happy, because we have paid for it.

I am not suggesting we let people take advantage of us, or not deliver on what they have promised. Accountability is important. 

It’s also important to look carefully at ourselves, and our own priorities for life.

There is danger in the mindset that we can always buy, and demand what we need to be satisfied.  I believe it’s a danger that Jesus warned about.

We heard part of the Beatitudes read out loud today. I appreciate the version we heard today from The Message. Especially where it says,

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

It’s good to be reminded that we can’t actually buy happiness, or contentment, or meaning for our lives. That there is so much more to us, and to life than what can be bought or sold. 

That’s not saying life is easy, even though some preachers have tried to sell us faith in a kind of transactional way. If you sign up to follow Jesus, you have done your part, and God will do the rest. You will be blessed in many tangible ways. There is a brand of Christianity called the Prosperity Gospel, popular with the TV preachers, that doesn’t even beat around the bush. They actually say, pray this prayer, sign up with us, and you will have it made.

That may sound good, until it doesn’t. Life inevitably surprises us, and disappoints us, and hurts us. There is sickness and death, change and loss. Things do not always go as we hoped, and being a Jesus follower does not insulate or protect us from hard things happening- ask, well ask anybody in this room. We know that life can be hard. We may also have experience with our faith helping us, even when, maybe especially when life is hard.

I am pretty sure that’s not what Jesus was getting at. I don’t think he was trying to sell anybody on anything. 

The reading says, “When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.”

The passage is part of a talk he gave, not to a big crowd, but to the inner circle of the group of disciples he was gathering.

I think it was more like Jesus was offering them their job description. Follow me, and this is how it’s going to be. He was telling them about a life that was not passive, but active. He wasn’t reading them a consumer’s bill of rights. He was saying, “here is a way to live that will be hard, and in which you will feel alive, and part of something bigger than yourself.”

Jesus invited his closest friends, and each of us, to a life in which we are blessed, as we bless others. The blessing he was talking about was not just saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, but actually helping people, caring for their physical, emotional, spiritual needs. 

Jesus said:

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Amen