SALT AND CAVIAR
"You are the salt of the earth."
Last weekend we had several visitors at Wellspring, our house on Volmoed. Some of them were unexpected, like the twenty-five men who drove up our driveway at speed, and swiftly strode towards our front gate led by a handsome young prophet suitably clad in a long black flowing robe. They were African Pentecostals from the Congo who had come to Volmoed for a weekend of prayer and fasting, but came to our house by mistake. Then on Saturday morning Anton and Serghay arrived to work with me in the workshop on a large teak table for an art gallery in Hermanus. Soon after a young German theologian from Mainz came to discuss his doctoral dissertation. We had just finished talking when Edwin Arrison, Vernon Welz of the Centre for Christian Spirituality, and the Anglican Bishop of Mauritius and his wife arrived. The bishop, who comes from the Church of South India, was particularly interested to see Volmoed, so I gave him the grand tour. Just after they all left another car arrived. It was Shirley, my travel agent from Cape Town, who had come to get my signature for some travel documents. And then, to crown it all, 8 month old Jadon, our actively crawling and handsome grand nephew, arrived with his parents Laura and Gideon, who were married two years ago in our chapel, came for the weekend. And we retired to Volmoed to enjoy its restful peace! I tell you all this, with tongue in cheek of course, not to impress on you how popular we are, but because it provides an introduction to my meditation on the "salt of the earth."
Week by week and year by year people come in their numbers to churches scattered around the globe. They come from different backgrounds, they come with different personalities, and while they may all come for the common purpose of worship, they also come for different reasons. Some because their faith is strong and may have leadership positions. Some come with problems, questions and doubts in mind, seeking some guidance for their lives. Some come to meet friends and have fellowship. And many come out of habit. Overall, they are ordinary folk, and yet, often as a result of coming, they do extraordinary things in making the world a better place. When that happens they become "the salt of the earth."
In his book Why not abandon the church?, Bernard Lord Manning, a lay theologian from an earlier generation, described the church in these rather unflattering words:
It is easy, you know...to get sentimental and rhetorical and rhapsodical about the Church when you think of it in general... You say you love Christ's Church. Well, here it is: Tom, Dick and Harry, and the rest; a funny lot of lame ducks, but they carry out the conditions we have laid down. They are not very good. They are not very nice. But they have, in their own odd ways, heard Christ's call.
Now I am not suggesting that our visitors to Volmoed, or those who go to church, or those of us gathered here this morning, are a "funny lot of lame ducks" who are neither good or nice. I think Bernard Lord Manning is exaggerating a bit to make his point that the church is made up of ordinary folk who are by no means perfect. When you belong to it and have survived the journey as a member over many years, as some of us have, you come to appreciate something of God’s humour in choosing this "funny lot of lame ducks." The truth is, the Church is God’s experiment in creating a new humanity out of a mixed bag of people from all cultures and backgrounds whose only commonality is their humanity in its brokenness, their sometimes faltering faith and shaky hope, and their connection to Christ As St. Paul once wrote, God did not choose the wise and the powerful to bear witness to Christ. And yet this apparently "funny bunch of lame ducks" when true to their calling, serve the needs of the world in many and remarkable ways. The Church has often frustrated and annoyed me, and like many others I have been tempted to abandon it. But I would not do so anymore than I would abandon my family. And, in any case, I would never leave it because some within might be petty, or abusive in their piety, or quarrelsome, or hypocrites -- aren't we all at times -- for that is by no means true of most. In fact among the dross I have often discovered diamonds, formed and fashioned by the Spirit of Christ, who add immense value to the life of the world. These are the salt of the earth.
I don't think Jesus knew that salt is sodium chloride, and that its melting point is 801C and its boiling point 1,413C! But he did know that salt preserves and brings out the flavour in food. If you don 't put salt into your Jungle Oats in the morning it tastes insipid! In calling his disciples the "salt of the earth" Jesus was not asking them to become the flavour of the month, an expensive sexy delicacy like caviar. But ordinary, down to earth, common and garden salt which, as long as it remains salty preserves and enhances the food we eat. We can live without caviar; we cannot live without salt. The world may exalt power and wealth, pomp and circumstance, but it cannot survive without salt.
But who are "the salt of the earth?" Jesus' words, according to Matthew's gospel, come right after the Beatitudes in which he talks about the truly blessed: the humble, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who yearn for justice and are often persecuted as a result. It is these, Jesus says, who are the "salt of the earth." In other words, they are not those for whom church membership is a formality, but those who seek to follow Jesus in their daily lives. And numbered among them are many who would not call themselves Christian, and some who, like Mahatma Ghandi, belong to another religious tradition. Indeed, we all know people who are not Christians but who we regard as the salt of the earth because they work tirelessly for peace, hunger for justice, live compassionate lives and humbly serve those in need. These are surely the salt of the earth. And like salt, they are often unnoticed for they dissolve into the life of the world without making a caviar-like fuss. They are just there doing what needs to be done. But their absence would soon be noticed. Yes, if we had to extract these ordinary folk who do extraordinary things from the life of the world they would soon be missed, and the world would eventually disintegrate beyond hope of redemption.
Imagine a world without ordinary folk who do extraordinary things. Imagine a world in which there were no people of faith who loved their neighbours as well as their enemies. Imagine a world in which there were no compassionate friends, no merciful judges, no wise counsellors, no dedicated nurses, doctors and teachers. Imagine a world in which there were no people who week by week join together to worship God, to pray for the needs of the world, people who are strengthened and equipped by God's Spirit, people who break bread together in order to go into the world to love and serve Christ in friend and stranger. Yes, we can imagine a world without caviar but not one without salt. It would surely be a world without much of a future.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 17 September 2015