Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
Have you ever seen a Salt Life bumper sticker on someone’s car? Maybe you have one on yours, I don’t know. I didn’t grow up near a beach, so I hadn’t seen many in the past. Honestly, I thought the Salt Life bumper sticker was a poor attempt at Christian marketing. I grew up outside Nashville, Tennessee, which if it’s not the actual buckle of the Bible Belt, it was at least the center of the Southern Baptist world. Growing up, I was flooded with bad Christian marketing from the bad-breath-relieving Testa-mints to actual New Testaments with covers that looked like Teen Vogue. They made t-shirts, too.
So many t-shirts.
Like these! Here are a few that appealed to me. <T-Shirts Shown.> But the real gem of these shirts were the promised product features. Included with this 100% Cotton T-Shirt is “a Powerful Christian Message” and, I’m not joking, “His promise of everlasting life.” Satisfaction guaranteed.
But Salt Life is so much more than a bad marketing scheme. And it has nothing to do with the Bible. It’s what’s called a “lifestyle brand.” A “lifestyle brand” is, I guess, what Christian marketers were trying to get at with those t-shirts, magazine Bibles, and stylish breath mints. Because a “lifestyle brand” doesn’t actually sell anything you need – they sell you a lifestyle. They sell you things like *inspiration*, *affirmation*, *aspiration*, or *motivation*. Anything that rhymes with affiliation, because that’s exactly what they’re selling: affiliation, belonging. A lifestyle brand sells affiliation with a particular group of people, belonging with a certain group. Salt Life products affiliate you with the ocean or with surfers, divers, jet skiers, or general beach dwellers. Never mind if you’re afraid of water, can’t swim to save your life, or can’t stand up steady on a surfboard, you can still have the Salt Life. Salt Life doesn’t sell products – not really – they sell a lifestyle, a certain kind of belonging.
If we remember from Lauren’s sermon last week, that’s kind of what Jesus was pitching in the Sermon on the Mount – minus the cheesy t-shirts. Jesus was offering a kind of belonging. Lauren reminded us that the Sermon on the Mount represents a Constitution – a Constitution not unlike the one we house in our nation’s Capitol. The Sermon on the Mount is a Constitution of a people called Christians, a people called to follow Jesus. Jesus is offering belonging in the Sermon on the Mount.
The thing is, though, a Salt Life bumper sticker and the lifestyle that comes with it seems a whole lot more appealing than what it takes to be salt of the earth.
What does it mean to be the “salt of the earth”? The phrase is pretty innocent, pretty innocuous now. Here in the South, when we say, “Oh, he’s the salt of the earth” or “Yes, yes, she’s salt of the earth,” we don’t mean what Jesus meant. We mean he or she is “good people.” We mean they’re ordinary, hard-working folks, “salt of the earth.” Real Americans. When we say “salt of the earth,” we mean the everyday sort of good people. But that’s not what Jesus meant.
So, what did Jesus mean when he said we are “the salt of the earth”? Salt was very valuable to the kinds of people Jesus was talking to. Salt was used as currency in some ancient civilization, it was a weapon in others because salting the earth could prevent crops from growing back, and the transportation of salt led to the growth of the world’s first cities. We know salt is useful for flavoring meals, too, though we use far too much of it nowadays. But in Jesus’ time the most important use for salt was actually preservation.
This doesn’t happen as much now since most of us have freezers and refrigerators, but in the ancient world, salt was used daily to preserve meats and other foods. Salt preserves. Salt wards off the corruption moisture can cause in our foods and keep out bacteria and micro-organisms that are salt-phobic. Salt forms a protective layer on food to prevent it from spoiling. Salt holds off decay. Salt fends off the rot of the world. Salt stands in the way of destruction, a bulwark against the corrosive forces of the world. Salt protects; salt preserves.
It’s easy to make the connection here. If we are to be salt as Christians, it means we should protect and preserve the world. We should be in the middle, between the world and corruption. As Christians, we should form a protective layer to prevent the world from spoiling. We should be standing in the gap to ward off decay. We should be fending off the rot of the world. We should be standing in the way of destruction, a bulwark against the corrosive forces of the world. Christians should protect; Christians should preserve.
So, when forces of evil in the world come for God’s children (or God’s earth, God’s good creation!), it is Christian duty to oppose them. When forces of evil come to dehumanize, to starve, to imprison, to deprive, and to kill, it’s Christians who should be standing in the way. As salt of the earth, we must be obstacles in the path of death.
And we shouldn’t do that just for ourselves. Christians, for many years, have been very insistent about defending themselves from what they believe are encroachments on their freedoms and their territory. What we have not been known as much for is defending others – but that’s exactly what Jesus is calling us to do. We are “the salt of the earth” not just our little corner of it. One ancient Christian preacher named John Chrysostom put it like this:
Why must you be salt? Jesus tells us, “You are accountable not only for your own life but also for the entire world. I am sending you not to one or two cities, nor to ten or twenty, nor even to one nation, as I sent the prophets. No! I am sending you to the whole earth, across the seas, to the whole world, to a world fallen into evil.”
“You are salt, yes, but for the earth, not for yourselves.”
This kind of care for others, what we might call solidarity, has been absent among many Christians for many years. In reality, this care for others, this solidarity, should characterize all our decisions as Christians. How we spend our time, how we spend our money, and even our political opinions should be characterized by Christian solidarity with others, Christian care for those other than ourselves. Then, we will be salt of the earth. We will be salt of the earth, not just a flavorful seasoning for our own selves.
In the late 1930s, when much of Europe was already beginning to fold before Hitler and Nazi Germany, there was a small town of French Christians greatly disturbed by what was happening. In the town of Le Chambon, a village of only about 5,000 people in rural France, a church decided to do something about the Nazis. André and Magda Trocmé, ministers at a local church, mobilized their small community to act as a rescue route for Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. Convicted that God called them to resist the Nazi government that soon came to occupy their region of France, the people of Le Chambon harbored refugees from Germany.
They used coded letters to one another to relay Jewish refugees from house to house, promising the delivery of “Old Testaments” to throw off Nazi officials. When they knew a raid was coming, they moved Jewish refugees out onto their outlying farms where the Nazis were less likely to go. They provided food, clothing, shelter, false identification, and even education and places for worship to the Jewish people. All of this, mind you, was illegal. When the Nazis demanded they ring their church bells to honor the government and salute their flags, the people of Le Chambon refused. One of the refugees who survived the Holocaust because of these villagers recalls that “Nobody asked who was Jewish and who was not. Nobody asked where you were from. Nobody asked who your father was or if you could pay. They just accepted each of us, taking us in with warmth, sheltering children, often without their parents – children who cried in the night from nightmares.” And they did all of this at great risk to themselves, their friends, and their families.
When asked in the decades following the war why they resisted in this way, the people of Le Chambon were confused. They did not understand the question. “What choice did we have?” they said. Their faith compelled them and they saw no other choice. If they refused to harbor the Jewish refugees and resist the Nazi regime, they would no longer be Christians. To deny others aid was to deny the heart of their faith.
John Chrysostom, that preacher I mentioned earlier, said of our Scripture today that “Anyone known for humility, gentleness, mercy and righteousness does not build a fence around good deeds. Rather, they ensure that such good fountains overflow for the benefit of others. One who is pure in heart and a peacemaker, even when persecuted for the sake of truth, orders their way of life for the common good.” As Christians, we are committed to a higher good than our own desires, wants, and even our own needs. If we fail, Jesus had harsh words for us in our passage for today: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
That kind of commitment means that Christianity is more than a “lifestyle brand.”
It’s more than slogans on t-shirts.
The “Salt Life” Jesus proposes is not an affiliation that can be bought and sold – or stuck to the back of your car.
Our faith requires real, genuine works, not just wishful thinking or kind hearts. Our actions and our commitments must reflect God’s intentions for the world. And God does not intend evil for our world and does not expect us to condone destruction or corruption. God intends for us to stand and say loudly “No!” when people’s lives are at stake. Our faith requires us to defend the world from evil and to do so boldly and publicly.
That’s what Jesus meant when he went on to say, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid.” We are not, as Christians, called to be good only to each other. We are called to the defense of the whole world. We are called to push back the darkness hand-in-hand with all who oppose evil in this world. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” The good works that Christians are called to, the resistance to evil that Jesus demands of us, these things do not discriminate. We do not pick and choose who we would like to protect and who we would like to serve. We do not get to pick the evil we would like to oppose no matter how unsettling it is to us individually.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Bumper stickers, whether it’s a Salt Life sticker or some other kind of “lifestyle brand”, a political sticker for Republicans or Democrats, or a sticker for whatever cause or product you want to promote, these stickers are insufficient when it comes to God’s demand on our lives. The Sermon on the Mount does not allow us the excuses of pragmatism or convenience. The Sermon on the Mount does not allow us the lenient commitment of a sticker or a Facebook post or a tweet. The Sermon demands our whole lives given to God, just like the people of Le Chambon.
Our faith, if it’s worth its salt, so to speak, is more than a lifestyle brand and more than a bumper sticker. It should radically change our lives, and the lives of our neighbors, for the better. Only then can what Jesus said of us be true: “You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world.” Amen.
 John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Commentary on Matthew, 92.
 Douglas Hare, Interpretation Commentary: Matthew, 44.
 You can find this quote and more of the story of Le Chambon at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007518.
 Chrysostom, ACC, 93.