Rev. David Bartholomew (our Interim Moderator)

Dear Friends,

The man who invented potato crisps sold only a few packets a week until he thought of putting salt on them. At first inventor Frank Smith fried thin slices of potato and peddled them on a very small basis. Then he tucked a little pinch of salt wrapped in blue paper into each package. His business boomed to the point where he had to purchase a huge farm to grow his potatoes. In Britain alone over 100 million packets of crisps are now sold every week and the crisp business has spread all over the world. But without salt it would have died in Britain a couple of generations ago.

Salt has many uses and it is likely that its value as a flavour enhancer was in Jesus’ mind when he said to his disciples in Matthew 5, ‘You are the salt of the earth’. We are called to be like salt bringing out the best in people – by our courage, our hope, our cheerfulness and our kindness bringing new flavour and inspiration to the lives of those around us.

Often preachers also focus on salt’s value as a preservative as they try and unpack the meaning of that phrase. But if we look instead at Jesus’ equivalent words in Luke 14: 34 we find that he is focussing instead on the value it was recognised to have as a fertiliser. Jesus says, ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It is no good for the soil or for the manure heap; it is thrown away.’ You might wonder how salt can lose its saltiness. But the salt in Palestine was unrefined salt from the Dead Sea or other local salt deposits. Rainwater could dissolve the salt component away and leave a crumbly residue of impurities that had been in the salt and were no good for anything. While salt in large amounts is harmful to life, its value in smaller quantities in encouraging the release of nutrients has been recognised from earliest times.

Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand. God’s rule was breaking through into history and there was therefore hope – hope of growth – and Jesus told parables about sprouting seeds and expanding leaven. New wineskins for new wine.

He is saying to his disciples, ‘You are Kingdom people. You are to find new shoots of kingdom life and fertilise them, helping them to grow. Salt in lumps doesn’t help the soil, and they are not to stay in cosy cliques but get out into the world. The disciples, as God’s fertilising salt, were to help goodness grow. Their calling was not a negative calling, to act as a preservative stopping a bad world from getting worse; but profoundly positive, to bring into the world God’s Kingdom values, bringing life and a truer justice. What if, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, they loved their enemies? What if, unlike the Romans, they worked for God’s Kingdom rather than their own little empires? 

Where do we fit into all of this? Our tendency as Christians is to see the world as bad and getting worse. Our calling as salt is to stop the rot and preserve what we can of the good of the past. We are to prop up the structures of society, work hard and do our duty. These are all good things to do, but is there not a better way? Is it true there has ever really been a Christian society we are trying to preserve? This is not a time for rear-guard action, but for mission. God calls us to be as fertiliser in society, to engage in new thinking, to be open to change, to recognise that God is doing new things in society and to be there encouraging that new growth. We are to find the shoots of new life and help them grow. We are to be people of hope and vision, not compromising and allowing the world to squeeze us into its mould, but loving even those who dislike us and courageously standing for God and his Kingdom regardless of the opposition we encounter. We are to be like salt for the soil, fertilising new shoots of goodness and helping them to grow in the soil of the world. 

With all good wishes.

David Bartholomew
Interim Moderator