Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus took His disciples out of the bustling city. A congregation of those treasured followers went with him high into a mountain- symbolically “out of the world.” Considering He would soon have to leave them, and leave His Church to be led by His trusted friends, the Saviour gave them a special mandate: “I give unto you to be the salt of the earth… I give unto you to be the light of the world… therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” In Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord expounds, “they were to be a light unto the world,” and though there is only one saviour of the world, Christ shared His stewardship with them and called them “to be the saviours of men; and inasmuch as they were not the saviours of men, they were as salt that has lost its savour” (D&C 103:9-10).
The theme of our ward conference today is likewise a call to remembrance that you and I are a part of this great mandate. We too, are counted amongst those friends of the Saviour, to whom is given the responsibility to influence and savour the world. Peter called us “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people that [we should represent] him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,
“Those who are baptised in the Church of Jesus Christ make covenants… and are accounted as the salt of the earth. To perform our covenant duty as the salt of the earth, we must be different from those around us… This requires us to change all elements of our behaviour that are in conflict with gospel commandments, covenants and culture.”
We live in a challenging time in the world’s history. Wickedness and corruption abound; evil has become something seen in plain sight at the flick of a switch- it’s available in our homes, in our pockets even! And considering the darkness of the world at every turn, we are challenged by the saviour to become something new- to become the salt of the earth– something designed not to stand alone, but to be immersed in something else. The saviour taught the principle of being in the world, but not of the world. Elder Ballard has said,
“The Lord does not need a society that hides and isolates itself from the world. Rather, he needs stalwart individuals and families who live exemplary lives in the world and demonstrate that joy and fulfilment that come not of the world but through the spirit and doctrine of Jesus Christ.”
Here are a few ways the Saviour’s example of salt is a perfect simile for us in today’s world.
Salt is used to enhance flavour; it never replaces the flavour of food, it enhances the flavour. Like a meal is never designed to consist mainly of salt (unless my Dad’s cooking), so the Lord never expected the number of his covenant disciples to be many in the latter-days. If we are to be like salt, we are to be different from those around us: “if disciples offer the same flavour provided by the world, they are not enhancing the world” (Matthew O. Richardson). The problem with salt, is that it’s possible to become corrupted when it’s ground into strong influences around it- and when it’s lost its savour in this way, it’s use as an enhancement is lost. President Ezra Taft Benson said,
“We are in the world, and I fear some of us are getting too much like the world. Rather than continue a peculiar people, some are priding themselves on how much they are like everybody else.”
Elder Asay suggests,
“We must fight daily to retain our savour, our purity. We must press forward, clinging to our standards of holiness, remembering all the while that we are called to be the savour of men.”
As we make covenants, we are gifted with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who in turn enhances our spiritual capabilities. Though we may be few in number, our ability to change the flavour of the world is almost chemically inevitable.
Salt is used to purify an offering. Anciently salt was symbolic of purity, and was used to sweeten meats that were used as an offering to God. Today, we make offerings to God in a different way; but still with purity and sweetness. We sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We give of our time and our talents without seeking the praise and approval of the world. Our purity and humility is the sweet savour that was anciently represented in the use of salt.
Salt is a preservative. In Genesis (18) we read of the wickedness of the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah. So reckless were its people that God, in His wrath, reveals to Abraham that He would destroy the land and its inhabitants. Considering the magnitude of this prospect, Abraham treads carefully, and inquires of the Lord, “wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham considers and bargains with the Lord, “if I can find fifty righteous people, living undercover righteous lives in this wicked land- then will you call off your fire and your brimstone?” To this, the Lord says, “Deal!” Abraham quickly reconsiders: he wasn’t certain he would be able to find fifty righteous people in the land. “What about forty-five righteous men and women? Do we still have a deal?” The Lord, all-knowing, responds “I will spare all the place for the sakes of the righteous forty-five.” Abraham considers the people- the iniquity and the rife sin. Cheekily, he barters with the Lord, “what about thirty- no wait-twenty…? I’ll find fifteen righteous- ten. What about ten?” Still, the Lord agreed- find me just ten righteous in all of this land, and I will preserve the people.
Unable to count just ten covenant-keepers amongst the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, those few that were counted in favour were swiftly removed, and the rest of the people were annihilated.
Similarly, Alma explains to the people of Ammonihah- “if it were not for the prayers of the righteous who are now in the land… ye would even now be visited with utter destruction… If ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand.” And as we know, the people of Ammonihah were still negligent- they did not repent, they cast out the righteous, and in their absence the entire city was destroyed.
The point here, is that God was willing to preserve the entire land if he could count just a few righteous in it. See what worth and what potential he affords those who please Him?
President Gordon B. Hinckley reflected,
“I think we stand in this dispensation like the righteous in the days of [Sodom and Gomorrah] when perhaps the Lord might spare the wicked, some of them, because of the righteous. That places upon us a great and significant burden. That’s why we are here, to make of ourselves more effective instruments, truer warriors under the direction of the Almighty to save His sons and daughters from those things which will destroy them in time and for eternity unless they turn their lives around.”
Our charge, as the salt of the earth, is to be as Alma entreated: “humble… submissive and gentle… full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:23-24).
We may think of the odds of just a pinch of salt in a great boiling stew- how can just a handful of us make such a great difference?
Let me share with you an example of the great power we have when we engage with others and take hold of the tools and gifts given to us by loving Heavenly Parents.
In the last three months, sisters in our Relief Society have participated in a challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 85 days together- to strengthen one another, and our own testimonies of the gospel. Daily, our sisters read and reflected on the scriptures. On social media they wrote summaries of their reading and highlighted special scriptures from the reading assignments. Most of us fell a little short and didn’t read perfectly. Some of us scrambled to write summaries for the group, and did so wondering if it was really making a difference at all. Was anyone even reading what they wrote? At the end of the challenge I received an email from another Relief Society president serving in Florida. She told me that the leaders in her ward had been struggling with their congregation. The spirit wasn’t amongst them. Their struggles weren’t limited to unemployment, illegal immigration, adultery amongst its families and contention. When this Relief Society president stumbled across our Book of Mormon challenge on the internet, she jumped on the opportunity to share it with her sisters. Every day she translated testimonies and words written by our Relief society sisters into Spanish, so that her sisters could read alongside ours. She said,
“We have had so many sisters share wonderful experiences about how much this challenge has helped them… They have felt strength from the scriptures, and I have seen the miracles of reading the Book of Mormon… The spirit has re-joined our ward. Couples have been studying the book together when just months ago they were ready to divorce. Members have been re-activated. I could sit here and write all night about the help this has been to us- we thank your sisters- from our Relief Society to yours, we love your sisters!”
Truly, the influence of our Britannia sisters was felt across the world.
Alma reminds us that “the good shepherd doth call you; yea and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ… And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye?” (Alma 5:38-39). I testify that this call is a privilege and blessing; it reveals more to us about the nature of God than I think we can fully comprehend. When Christ offered his intercessory prayer, He didn’t pray that His disciples would be removed from the world; but that they, immersed in it, would overcome it, as He had. Do we see how much He trusts us to lead His flock? Do we stand boldly as His ambassadors in whatever place we may be in, peculiar as we may seem? Do we take seriously the calling to be saviours of men? Do we consider the enabling power of covenant-keeping in our lives?
I testify that when we act in His name, we partake in his Godly nature, and our influence on the world is greater, more powerful and more enlightening than all of the adversary’s efforts combined.
Title credit: CP (great job, CP).