“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.

The necessary risk of being prophetic. Learning Time for January 30, 2022 at Harrow United Church

Audio File of Learning Time

My sister is married to a trucker. We talked Wednesday night as the Freedom Convoy rolled towards Thunder Bay, on its way to Ottawa.

My brother-in-law hauls big loads of logs out from where they are cut, north and west of Thunder Bay. A look at the map told him the convoy would congest his route.

My brother-in-law works hard, puts in long hours, and is one of the people that literally keep the northern economy rolling. It’s no small irony that a protest about Freedom would interfere with him doing his job.

I’m pretty sure my brother-in-law and I don’t agree on everything. We probably don’t vote the same way, watch the same things on tv, or even have the same favourite foods.

But on important things, we are on the same page. His dad is 90, and my parents are in their 80’s, and we both get nervous when hospitals are clogged with COVID patients, and short-staffed because of illness. We worry about longer wait-times, or there being no available beds, when someone we love needs urgent care.

I hear stories these days about families who are divided, and can’t talk about COVID, or the vaccines, or about lockdowns and mandates.

How do we get along, and work together, despite the reality that as humans with history, and strong opinions, we are bound to have disagreements? There is a temptation to fall back on just being nice, and totally avoid the hard conversations.

For the last little while I have been learning about Autumn Peltier. She’s so young, and so committed to her work as a defender of water. She brings intelligence, perseverance, and composure to discussion of hard questions, such as why successive governments fail to protect the environment, and many First Nations communities have been without clean and safe water for decades.

Our bible readings over the last while remind us that living a faithful life means some times we must take a stand, and call people to account. The biblical name for someone who does that is prophet.

I think Autumn Peltier is a prophet. But is that because I agree with her?

There are probably some who see the Freedom Convoy organizers as prophets.

How do we get along with people with widely varying opinions? Do we have to try? Yes, the Bible even says so!  We heard scriptures read today from The Message. Eugene Peterson did a particularly good job. In his version of Jesus’ words we hear:

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

That’s beautiful and challenging. When someone gives us a hard time, we are to respond with the supple moves of prayer. I wish I could say I always do that, or even that I was that mature.

In my mid-twenties I lived in rural Georgia, as a volunteer on a communal Christian farm. It was founded just after World War 2 by people who resisted the racism of their culture, and has been active ever since in the ongoing struggle for civil rights.

Our house had bullet holes in the kitchen wall, from drive-by shootings. The folks on the farm back then didn’t call the police, because they knew the local sheriff had deputies that were in the KKK. That was decades before I lived there, but the holes were left as a sign the struggle was real and could be dangerous.

I met people who knew the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. When Dr. King used the word “Freedom”, it was in a very different context. The Civil Rights movement in the U.S. worked to end discrimination on the basis of skin colour, something none of us have a choice about.

When I worked and lived in the south, I learned that those who took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other historic marches were trained in non-violence, based on the ideas King learned from studying Mohandas Gandhi.

Gandhi was also a prophet, who helped lead the people of India to independence from the colonial powers that had claimed their country.

Gandhi taught that “Nonviolence” is more than promising that you won’t attack your enemy. Gandhi referred to his form of nonviolence as satyagraha,  (Sut-ya- gruh -ha ) meaning “truth-force” or “love-force.” It means a person should seek truth and love while refusing, through nonviolent resistance, to participate in something they believe is wrong. 

The Freedom Convoy organizers promised their protest would be non-violent, but I wonder how many of them have the training, the maturity, or the spiritual strength to live up to that commitment. It takes prayer, and practice, and the support of like-minded people.

I worry about all the fringe groups that have latched on, who bring their own issues and disruptive motives along for the ride, and who have not said whether they are committed to non-violence. Some appear to be aligned with groups that are antagonistic towards people of colour, non-Christians, and people who identify as LGBTQ+.

I have some biases, which I freely admit. I find it hard to see how people who militate for their own freedom of choice could agree to work with those who want to limit the freedom of others to simply be who they are.

It definitely takes prayer to love those who disagree with us, and who may be hard to like. This kind of prayer is not so much about asking God to give us strength, but opening ourselves to God’s presence, and becoming aware that God is the strength we need, the ultimate source of love. God is the love force that Gandhi taught about, and which empowered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement, which I see as a spirit-led movement for freedom.

Our reading from First Corinthians, also from The Message, points to what life looks like, when we are steeped in, deeply connected to the source of love:

Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

That’s the way we are called to make our way in the world. Amen