by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen

HinghamCongregational Church, United Church of Christ

Hingham, Massachusetts

Septembern 30, 2018


Mark 9:38-50

Wow! Graphic language from Jesus today. So salty.

My grandfather, Joe Allen, loved salt. I’m sure that you know and love people who salt just about everything, but Joe actually put salt on his bacon. He had bacon every morning of his adult life, and salted it every time he ate it… and he died of a heart attack at age 78. Not bad for a guy of his era, I suppose. Plus, he got to enjoy a lot of bacon.

Salt enhances the flavor of food. Before we had refrigeration, salt was one of the ways we preserved meat.

Salt is powerful.

During the days of the Roman empire, some people were paid in salt because it was such a valuable commodity.

You can make the most bland vegetable taste great with salt.

I would not eat popcorn without salt. In fact, popcorn is pretty much an excuse to eat butter and salt during movies. Right?

When your car is stuck in the snow, you can use salt to get yourself free. You can kill a slug with salt.

Salt is power. It’s full of energy.

When I was a teenager and a young adult, many of my school and summer camp friends used the word salty to describe people who spoke in ways that sounded annoyed or aggressive or sarcastic or sharp.

If you cursed a lot, you were salty.

If you made a strong impression by being intimidating, you were salty. If you didn’t accept the status quo, rejecting the accepted way of interacting with others, you were salty.

If you were a woman who wanted something more than the world your mother and grandmother had to live in, you were salty.

As a white guy who grew up in a very white town and has lived in what I would describe as very white communities for most of my life, I am extremely grateful to have had a few very salty black friends.

I encountered these men and women in college, in graduate school, and at summer camp, and they’ve taught me a lot.

My suggestion to all of you is to put yourself in situations where you will be challenged by salty individuals, no matter what their gender, age,  or ethnicity. I’ve learned a lot from them and you can, too.

In our reading for this morning, Jesus and his disciples are having a conversation about a person who is not in their inner circle. A person who is different from them. He is doing good things, but he is apparently not a Jesus person.

The author of Mark doesn’t say whether he is Jewish or something else, just that he is “not following us.”

In today’s world, we have a lot of similar conversations. We see or hear someone who is of a different race or religion or political party and we immediately question whether we can even have a conversation with her or him.

Jesus says to have salt in ourselves and be at peace with one another.

The question I am asking in today’s sermon is what a salty person who also wants to be at peace with others would act like today.

If being salty is what Jesus wants us to be… If being salty means taking risks and being unconventional and challenging others and crossing boundaries — in a good way, in a peaceful way, then what does it mean to be salty today?

Probably more than just cursing. More than just being provocative.

This morning, I would suggest that being salty and peaceful means having the courage to talk with someone who is in a different political party from yours. Talking with someone of a different race. Someone who is Muslim or Jewish. Asking good questions. And Listening.

Salt is powerful, but peacefulness also powerful.

Recently, I got into a conversation online about racism with an old friend of mine from childhood. I admit that I simply could not sustain the exchange. I said things that I probably shouldn’t have that made him feel bad and he did the same to me.

I felt and still feel like a terrible hypocrite. Here I am, preaching about being salty and peaceful. It sounds great, but I failed in real time. Hopefully, there will be other interactions that I will handle better.

Saltiness, though, is not just about debating politics and race.

This past week, we saw saltiness during the senate conformation hearings. Saltiness in the form of courage, in the form of anger.

What kind of saltiness can you demonstrate in your daily life?

We celebrated Helen Gudmand’s life here in this sanctuary yesterday. Helen was not salty in the common understanding of that word. She was not abrasive or aggressive or rude. She showed her saltiness in the form of courage. Over the years, she lost two husbands. More recently, she struggled mightily with cancer.

Her saltiness was in her inner strength.

I met someone at Helen’s service. Her granddaughter’s husband. He is an African American man who married into a white family. If that isn’t salty enough, hear this.

On Friday night, he was driving along I 93 and saw a car flip over three times. He, along with many others, pulled over. As he got out of his car, he saw many people pulling their phones out of their pockets. He assumed that they were calling 911, but instead, he saw flashes. They were taking photos of the wrecked vehicle.

As they rest of the onlookers snapped pictures, he broke through the window of the upturned car with his hand, injuring himself, and helped the man out.

Salty as hell.

How might we prove that we are worth our salt, as the old saying goes?

It’s easy to swear. It’s easy to be irritable. That’s cheap saltiness.

Saltiness in the spirit of Christ is something else. Something more.

Let’s move into a new time together, a time when we have the courage to face terrible things like sexual assault with compassion and honesty and integrity. A time when we witness disaster and take action rather than taking photos. A time when we support each other as we speak truth to power.

Jesus spoke up. He acted.

And he did so out of his faith in God, his faith in the future, and with a true saltiness that he never apologized for. A saltiness that changed the hearts of others, that is changing my life and yours, that changed and is changing the world.