Have salt in yourself

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Heavenly Father, We ask that you be with me in the preaching and with all gathered in the hearing – May only your word, Lord, be proclaimed and only your word heard. Amen

What a wonderful passage of scripture we have from our Gospel reading of St Mark today…

What a joy filled message – so perfectly suited for a feel good service like the baptism service that we have today

            Let’s review some of the special thoughts that Jesus shares with his disciples


“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. 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. 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. 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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Well I don’t know about you – but that does not seem like the best advertisement for Christianity

Baptism, being among many things – the initiation into God’s family

It is certainly difficult stuff for the literal interpreter of the Bible

And I am sure that this passage of scripture will never appear on any Hallmark greeting card,… even a religious one

                        What is happening here

Better still why are we even hearing this scripture - and today of all days – when we have part of our service devoted to baptism

I will answer that in a few ways

First – it is the scripture assigned for today if one follows the lectionary – which I do – I believe in that discipline

            Why do I follow it when I don’t have a bishop or a presbytery to answer to?

The main reason is that is brings us through a three year cycle that covers a great deal of the bible – Old, New, Psalms and Gospel – we get a lot of the bible this way

And that brings me, as the preacher, through the discipline of working through a healthy variety – some of it easy and some of it harder

So you won’t hear my pet subjects with my selection of readings to support what I think – no you get a vast swath of scripture and I am faced with the discipline of dealing with it

But I have to tell you that this was a particularly difficult one to address – but address it I must

            Now I may have said this before – if I haven’t, you will hear this again, I’m sure

In Seminary, in one of my preaching courses the professor had two pieces of advice that have stuck with me

The first is that if something is controversial – something is a dramatic message in the readings of the day – you simply can not leave it hanging out there – you can’t let a difficult message be proclaimed and then not address it

The second is – if something is bothering you, the preacher, about the text, than you can bet that the something will be bothering others

or it is a message that God is prompting you to deal with

This week – I think our gospel lesson hits all those hot buttons

I can tell you that this week I spent more time doing my background work than I have ever done before – except maybe my first sermon preached in seminary in front of my whole school – professors and all

            This passage today warranted careful attention

The next reason that we have this scripture for today’s service, when I could have changed it if I wanted to, is because it tells some very important messages, a message directly from the mouth of Jesus

            Here we don’t have candy-coated message of rainbows and butterflies

                        A domesticated Jesus that walks the lands tells beautiful messages of peace

                                    Like some spaced-out hippie from the 60’s

That all your life, once you follow Jesus will be running through the daisies on a summer day

No we get a real message - a full message – a message of the cost of discipleship and the pitfalls of those that try to obscure our Lord’s word for their own selfish desires

                        This not the message of ‘pie in the sky when you die’

                                    But be aware of those that are under your influence

Be aware that as followers of Christ – Christians, you are Christ’s representatives

So now that you have heard all about why we have this scripture today, let’s dig into what it has for us

            In order to do that we must appreciate a few things

–        one is context

–        another is Aramaic hyperbole

–        another still God’s passion of all His followers

–        and finally God desire for our participation in His plans

First Context

By itself, the passage of scripture that I re-read to you at the beginning of this sermon might be six verses of scripture that one would like to remove, cut out of the bible, those graphic and difficult images

            But just like cliché “no man is an island unto themselves”

                        No scripture stands alone from its context

What happens immediately before, and then more generally before and after are vital to understanding these six verses

            Prior to this, within our reading today, – the apostle John (the beloved disciple) said to Jesus

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

                                    Jesus would have none of this and said

“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.

                        Quickly, a couple of key details that need to be drawn out

John said “someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us

Jesus who has lead His disciples into some pretty dicey situations with the religious elite – particularly the Pharisees – in which Jesus charges them with hypocrisy and leaves His toughest criticisms for them

The Pharisees who have taken following the “law” to the highest degree - only to lose sight of the message behind the law

And the disciples have seen Jesus’ many challenges of their pharisaic religious ways – of their creation of an inner group of followers

            How they have left the people outside that group of ‘super pure Jews’

The disciples have watched time and time again Jesus breaking down all the structures that make people outside God’s grace

Time and time again Jesus has broken the traditional ultra-pure ways and sat and ate with sinners, outcasts, the unclean, the marginalized of the day – prostitutes, tax collectors, leapers

The disciples have been there the whole time

And yet when faced with one that is outside their inner circle that is casting out demons in the name of Jesus, they close ranks and try to stop him

            In Jesus’ name – yet not following us

                        What is happening here?

To modern ears this might seem like a side battle within a religious denomination that is trying to protect it’s turf – it’s property (and not seeing it as the Lord’s – and the Lord’s ministry)

            In another setting it could seem like copy write laws

                        The disciples had rights on healing in the name of Jesus

                                    Not any Joe Shmo who comes along

It might also be jealousy

The disciples’ objections to someone beyond their circle casting out demons, that they themselves were not successful in this same effort back a verses ago in Mark 9:14-29.

There they try to cast out a demon from a boy, but are unable to do so because they forget one little detail: they forget to pray first

Before we beat up on the disciples too much – consider your own life – when someone has come along and been successful in something that you thought you had worked hard for

I remember back in high school, grade nine English, we were assigned the task of writing our first proper essay

We had had two weeks of instruction, we had been given samples of well structured essays – we had been given samples of essays that were well argued – and samples that were clearly written

Most of us, if I remember correctly, worked hard and worried a lot over the two weeks, as this essay was to be a large portion of our final mark

But one friend of mine, didn’t come to every class, and when he was there, he didn’t work that hard in trying to learn all the right components of good essay,

He didn’t bring homework home doing sections of it each night, as most of the rest of us did

No, he left all of it to the end – wrote it the night before it was due, and in only a few hours – and you guess it, he got the highest mark in the class

            We were jealous – we were frustrated

                        And somehow it just didn’t seem fair

We were just like the disciples who had been with Jesus the whole time and then along comes this upstart gifted in an area that we were not

I sure that we all can remember a time when hard work and being on the inside track didn’t yield as one would expect

Further context, after the failed attempt to heal the boy, St. Mark writes that the disciples became embroiled in an argument over who is the greatest among them (9:33-37)

True, when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about, they were embarrassed about the discussion

Nevertheless their focus as the inside group of Jesus’ followers, was not on the world around them – the people outside their circle,

But who was the greatest, who would have the sit closest to Jesus in Heaven

And immediately following this someone else outside their group is successful in healing ministry – in casting out demons, when these so called ‘great ones’ were not

And the disciples then take a step beyond allowing their self-centeredness to impede their own ministry. They have progressed to impeding the ministry of someone else.

Here is where we meet up with Aramaic hyperbole

            Here is where Jesus has had enough, and to use a more modern term – he goes on a ‘rant’

                        To be truly effective Jesus does not speak in subtleties any longer

Jesus goes on a ‘rant’ and he really drives his message home in the most dramatic and graphic terms he can use

Jesus knows that they have truly missed the point the last little while and it is time to drive the message home with no uncertain terms

If you get in the way of even the little ones – one can see this as young or as young in the faith

If you get in the way, create a stumbling block which an immature follower falls over – it would be better that you were dead – drown in the sea, with cement shoes

If your hands…feet… eyes… cause you to stumble – it would be better to be maimed, disfigured, without those body parts entering heaven than sentenced to hell - body intact

            Simply put, don’t put your agenda above God’s

                        Don’t do it selfishly to others – and don’t do it to yourself

God is passionate for His followers

Jesus cares so much for His disciples that - He is willing to be misunderstood by the literalist of the world - and willing to shock the Disciples (and us) into understanding

Aramaic hyperbole – to us a ‘rant’ – is a technique of winning an argument by over-dramatising a point - to make sure the point is heard

            If Jesus had stopped at merely saying

“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.

The Disciples might have got the point to not stop the outside healer

But they would have likely not understood the ongoing role that they (and we) are to play

Jesus needed to speak graphically to reveal His passion for his people

                        Our Lord, in that ‘rant’ claimed all people

Our Lord called to attention those that are influenced by Christians

                        Our Lord made a major claim for the young and the young in faith

                        Our Lord said – it is not the inside group that matters alone

                                    Like following long enough, working hard enough, and then you will be in

                        No Our Lord passionately spoke out for all that our outside and need to be brought in

Jesus set a task before His closest followers, His disciples - And us modern disciples - Christians

And the task was that we are not only to guard ourselves against being a stumbling block but that we are to be - salt

For everyone will be salted with fire. 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.”

Salt is an active agent of change, today, but for people 200 years ago, that were so much more connected to the physical aspects of life – salt was a powerful illustration to use

1. Salt was a symbol of value in the days of Jesus - element of transaction and commerce. People were paid wages in salt

2. It was an element of therapy and healing - used as a means of medication and as a means of healing diseases and infirmities.

3. Salt has also been used as a substance of preservative through the ages

4. Salt has also been used to melt snow and make an icy path safe – we Canadians can understand this agent of transformation

5. It brings flavor and taste.

6. It is used as preventive diet.

7. It is used in making soap and chlorine. And so many more processes and products

Simply put - Salt is an catalyst of change

            And we are called to be just such an element of change

                        Jesus warns us against diluting His message and losing our saltiness

                                    Can pure salt ever lose its saltiness – unadulterated …no!

But when mixed with too much dirt or corrupted by too many outside elements, it can lose its effectiveness

And so too is the caution for us

If we lose our purity – that is Jesus Christ

If we stray too far from the good news message that Jesus Christ saves –

we lose our effectiveness

If the church, meaning the people of God, becomes a people that causes others to stumble instead of pointing to and accepting the joy of God’s grace – we can lose our saltiness

Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


But one last word of good news and comfort…

We can rejoice because we are not worried about how good we are, but about how good Jesus is.

And if something good is being done in Jesus’ name, rest assured Our Lord has made it very clear and drove it home by His rant

Something good done in the name of Jesus – then they are for Jesus, not against him.

Father, in the name of Jesus, we ask your almighty presence in every home, every church, and every individual to bless, to transform, and to renew our life so that we can be salty agents in the world, so that we can be influential and to impact our neighbors in love and in your transforming power for your glory and honor. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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