Sunday 9 February 2020
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot’. (Matt 5.13)
Many of you are aware that my mother died in September last year, just a couple of months before her 94th birthday. In the later years of her life, one of the high points for her each week was lunch at the Southern Cross Club at Upper Mt Gravatt.
Her usual fare at the club was battered flathead, chips and salad. In the last couple of years, it had become very apparent to my siblings and I that she had lost much of her sense of taste, never more evident than when she piled salt onto her fish and chips at those lunches. There was a time when we might finish off her chips because she could rarely finish the meal, but this became impossible because of the amount of salt she used.
It certainly wasn’t the salt that had lost its taste. It was my mother whose taste had gone. In fact, sodium chloride, common salt, is a very stable compound according to the scientists and it does not break down naturally like other less stable materials. It is therefore not a compound that loses its taste easily.
While my mother was after the taste of salt to give her some flavour sensation, it is not really the purpose of salt to provide a salty taste to our food. If our food tastes salty, we have over-salted it!
The renowned chefs of the world would point out to us that the purpose of salt is to act as seasoning. By that, they mean that salt is not meant to add flavour, but rather its purpose is to draw hidden and subtle flavours out of the ingredients.
If you ever go into an expensive restaurant, you won’t find a salt cellar on the table. The chef has already added the right amount of salt to optimise the flavour of the dish in the process of cooking it.
So, this seasoning characteristic of salt provides us with another way to reflect upon Jesus’ image. Seasoning is about bringing something good out of something else. Suppose we apply this concept to discipleship. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to bring the good out in others.
The implication of the image in the gospel is then, that disciples who can’t bring the good, the positive, out of others are not much use as disciples.
We can consider some circumstances where people bring out the best in others. Coaches in sport are a pretty obvious example. And as soon as we consider sporting coaches as good ‘seasoners”, something jumps out at me straight away.
In the vast majority of cases in elite level sport, the coach is not of the same calibre as the sportsperson they coach. So, for example, Doug Frost was Ian Thorpe’s swimming coach for ten years, but he had never gained anything like the success that he was able to prepare Ian Thorpe to attain. We would no doubt think of other examples from the other fields of endeavour.
So, we don’t have to be perfect in order to have this “seasoning” effect with others. However, the more we try to be like the Jesus whom we call our Lord and teacher, the more confident we can be in the way that we purposely try to bring out the best in others.
Wouldn’t it be a challenge if we each took upon ourselves the task of bringing out the best in others as a core commitment in our lives. Not in the obvious fashion that a sports coach might do it, but in the subtle way that salt brings out the flavours in ingredients.
Let’s consider a few things that we could do to be these agents for good in the lives of others.
The American leadership guru, Dale Carnegie developed a whole list of things that would enable us to optimise the quality of the response that we received from others.
1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
2. Give honest, sincere appreciation
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
4 Become genuinely interested in other people.
6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
9. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
It’s funny that when you look at those principles, they don’t exactly look like rocket science. They look like things that we could learn to put into practice with a little effort.
The more that we practice the art of “seasoning”, the art of bringing the best out in others, the more we are preparing the ground for evangelism. The more that an individual sees themselves blossoming as a person, the more they are going to be open to learning what it is about the individual who has helped them do that. The opportunity will present itself to give an account of the hope that is in you. In other words, being like salt, a “seasoning agent” is a critical skill of the disciple of Jesus. Like all skills, it takes work to be proficient at it. But if we give up on it altogether, Jesus strong language is that we are like salt that has lost its taste – “It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” That suggests that we ought to give it a try doesn’t it?
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen