Posted on Sat, Oct 3, 2015
September 25, 2015
18th Sunday in Pentecost
Gospel Text: Mark 9:38-50 “Faith is Never Bland!”
38 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ 39 But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Temptations to Sin
42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’
In Matthew 5:3 Jesus says to a crowd of people, “You are the salt of the earth.” What does that mean? If they are “salty” does that mean they are a people of good taste? People who speak like a sailor with ‘salty’ language? If something is “salty,” how do you remove the salty taste? In today’s text, Jesus says, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” Jesus, like everyone in the text knew, you can’t remove the flavor from salt. Salt is salt, and salt will always remain salty. Of course you can dilute it with water for example, and the flavor will become dull, but if you let the water evaporate, the saltiness and its flavor will return. You can do this over and over again, and the amount of salt will never change. What therefore, is Jesus referring to when he is talking about the “salt in ourselves?” What “is” salt in the life of a person of faith?
Question, did you notice the strange question Jesus had about salt? Or, were distracted with the image of yourself being thrown into the sea with your neck tied to a millstone, or being discovered to have mischievous hands and feet and having them sliced off in public? Or the very terrifying image of someone plucking out your eyes and throwing them into the place were worms never die and the fire is never quenched? Were you distracted by this vivid imagery because you pictured yourself as the poor soul receiving this “correction” as a result of our periodic poor judgment?
In my career, this text has terrified more people because they figured it must be all about them! “Oh Lord, Jesus MUST be speaking about me! The millstone is for me, come and lop off my hands and feet, and say good-bye to one of my eyes… at least I can get along with one eye!” We seem to have a tendency to think everything is about us… so when there is some kind of description of judgment for bad behavior, we assume somebody is talking about us personally… Whenever I went to Israel, somebody in the group would always want to see a millstone from Jesus’ day… the bigger the better! I always wondered what they might have been hiding…
When we personalize the message this text becomes anything but a message of Good News and more like a message of judgment and condemnation.
But we can break the text up into three main parts. First, the disciples are upset that someone NOT IN THEIR GROUP was doing the same great deeds in the same way that Jesus had blessed people all along his journey… but the person wasn’t in their group!! They sound like tattling kids on a playground… John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us, he doesn’t know our secret handshake!’ MAKE THEM STOP! This is our game! Or, I’ll tell you dad!
The question becomes, when does doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God become an activity only allowed to one exclusive group? With all the hurting people Jesus and the disciples met, you would think any means of sharing God’s mercy, even if it was only sharing a cup of water, would be an act of God, and act of hope and mercy, for everyone to see on this earth.
Then Jesus goes into the vivid teaching about removing anything that would draw us away from God. He uses the hand, foot, and eye to get our attention, and he makes the point. But the question for us is, “what are those things, thoughts, activities, or temptations that draw us away from doing what Jesus would do?” The disciples seemed to be more interested in the credentials of those doing work LIKE Jesus did, than the work that was actually being done. If Jesus was in the sandals of the ‘other exorcist,’ Jesus would have cast out demons in the very same way and no one would have questioned Him. The very act of sharing God’s mercy is an open act of faith that again, shows what God does THROUGH OUR FAITH, not just our group affiliations or credentials.
God IS love, God IS mercy, God IS justice, and WHEN WE ALLOW our faith to move us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God then our words and actions become the “salt of the earth!” This means, there are times we allow distractions, doubts, fears, egos, pride, social stratification from allowing us to do the hard work that Jesus demands in order to make Christ’s Light, or saltiness, known in the world.
So that lets us know a little bit about the meaning of salt, in Jesus’ context. As we know salt was very costly and necessary for life in Jesus’ day, I believe that the salt that Jesus is talking about is the faith that God gives to us and is bestowed upon each and everyone, especially demonstrated in our baptism.
When we are baptized the seed of faith is planted in our heart, and whenever we hear the Gospel that seed is nurtured! I like what Bishop Finck said yesterday at the Hukilau Assembly when he said, “Listening can almost be considered a sacrament, as it is through HEARING the Gospel that faith becomes real in our lives.” And the faith we receive as a child or as an adult is the same faith for all, and it cannot be reduced or subtracted… it can only become diluted or covered up with the junk, and distractions we allow into our lives. As we allow more and more distractions that lead us away from our walk with Jesus, we loose touch with our faith to the point we may, tragically, believe that there is no faith in our lives… when the truth is that the faith we actually do have is as much faith as was bestowed upon any of the disciples.
Therefore, notice that we begin every worship with the confession of sin. As a Body of Christ, we acknowledge that we have allowed junk to come into our lives and dilute and even cover the gift of faith that God has so faithfully planted in our hearts. When we really pay attention to the words of our coonnfession, the words of Absolution, or Forgivenss, becomes a cleansing of our heart, mind and soul and we are made free! I’ve told you this before, but my week ends with the confession, and the next week begins with the cleansing and RE-FOCUSING bestowed on us through the Absolution!
What causes us to loose our ability to taste the luscious flavor of faith? Doubt, cynicism, fear, greed, pride, selfishness and the stubborn belief that we think we know all the answers… these are the things that need to be cut from our heart, mind and soul so that we can be cleansed to the point we can taste that faith, and allow its saltiness be seen in the world through our acts of justice, loving mercy and walking HUMBLY with our God.
Fear is the cancer that can discourage a church, and cause us to only look at ourselves and focus on what we think we don’t have, rather than sticking with the PROMISE OF GOD’S PRESENSE and the Great Commission of Christ pointing us outward to reaching out to the lost, lonely, hopeless, friendless, etc. Again, look at the words of our confession when we actually ask God to remove our blindness to the hurting, our deafness to the cries of the powerless, and our inaction because we constantly place our needs before the needs of others. Cast out fear and Faith, God’s saltiness, will remain.
The part I like best is the fact that Jesus says faith is like salt. Once the seed of faith is planted, it will remain in your heart, mind and soul forever. The issue is to keep being aware of all the junk that creeps into our mind, covering our heart, and making it more difficult to taste that wonderful treat of a salty-faith AND THEN CUTTING IT OUT OF OUR HEART, MIND, SOUL AND DAILY ROUTINE!!
Faith is never meant to be bland! It may be quiet and rich, but faith is never bland! Let the Spirit of Truth and Forgiveness remove all that separates us from the love of God, allowing the true joy, hope and love of doing mercy and justice fill our hearts; and then let our voices rejoice, let us dance like our children, and let our service be filled with kindness and hope like some salty wonderful treat the earth really needs! Amen.
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