Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“Mom, dad, Johnny’s doing something that I don’t think he should be doing.” “Mrs. Smith, I just saw Cindy whispering to some of the classmates on the playground.” “Theresa, did you hear the story about that new couple in town?” Whether you’re a child or an adult gossip can get a real hold on you. And the more we participate in it the worse it gets. It forms clicks and alienates people. It builds walls to keep some people in and some people out. The problem with gossip is that once it starts it’s pretty hard to stop it. It becomes a habit and it just flows freely just like salt, and like salt in a wound in can be pretty painful.
When we focus so much on what others are or aren’t doing, it takes our focus off God and what God is doing. It throws us off balance and we forget who we are and who others are in the sight of God. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I never gossip” but we’ve all participated in it even if only for a moment. The important thing is to catch ourselves and get back in line, in balance where God wants us to be.
In our story today, Mark gives us a perfect example of how gossip begins. John goes to Jesus and lets him know that what he and the other disciples saw was someone else casting out demons in Jesus’ name. And the thing that bothered the disciples was that this person wasn’t in their group. This other person was doing things in Jesus’ name, casting out demons – something that was inflicting pain in a person – something that the disciples themselves weren’t always able to do. Maybe they were jealous. If they couldn’t do it, why should this other person. Maybe they were afraid. We talked about our fears last week and how fear leads us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Fear closes doors and builds walls between people. It’s not welcoming. And the disciples in this story are not being very welcoming. You would think they would be thrilled that great things are being done in Jesus’ name, but instead they were threatened. It was an “us against them” mentality – a scarcity mentality – that said there’s not enough to go around.
We do the same thing today. Fear of being left out, of losing our place, losing what we’ve worked for, fear of not being number one, drives us to treat people in ways that are far from loving. Instead of being happy and rejoicing in the successes of others we can easily find ourselves being led to feelings of jealousy and competition. We become – in the words of Jesus – a stumbling block to those around us. Whether we do it intentionally or unintentionally doesn’t matter, what does matter is that we take a deep look at ourselves and examine our motives to keep this sort of thing from continuing. What is the best way to keep ourselves in balance? Salt.
That was Jesus’ response when John when up to him saying “we tried to stop that person.” Jesus’ response was ‘do not stop him.” And further Jesus’ response pertains to salt. As are many of Jesus’ sayings it makes us think. He says “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? And he continues “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Salt seems to hold a significance – one that the people of Jesus’ time understood, and one that is important for us to understand. So let’s take a minute to look at salt.
Salt improves the flavor of food. It reduces bitterness. It helps bread to rise. It’s a critical ingredient in ice cream. And salt has medicinal implications as well. More and more studies are finding that a diet that is too low in salt is almost worse than a high salt diet. Salt allows the nerves in our body to send and receive electrical impulses. It makes our brain work. It supports every cell in our bodies and is needed for the healthy functioning of our heart, for strong muscles, for absorption of critical minerals. Salt is essential for life.
In the ancient Mediterranean world where Jesus lived salt was a precious commodity and it still is today. People understood the importance of salt. Living so close to the Dead Sea put them in touch with a great supply of it. The Dead Sea has a salinity of 33.7 per cent, which is almost 10 times saltier than ordinary seawater. Salt was used to flavor food and preserve it. It was used for medicinal purposed. It was used as “salary” because Roman soldiers were often paid in salt rations. It was that important. And salt was used to seal covenants with God and one another. Lev. 2:13 says, “You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Salt therefore was a purifying agent and made things clean and holy. Salt seals covenants.
As you can see, salt is pretty significant. When Jesus says to have salt in ourselves it’s a serious matter because what Jesus is saying is that we have within us what is essential for life. We have within us what it is that seals covenants. Covenants or oaths are significant. They define us. Yesterday I was privileged to give the invocation for the Boy Scout Eagle Ceremony held here. The Eagle Scout Award is the highest award earned by a Boy Scout. It’s a significant accomplishment and one that requires a lot of hard work to achieve. It defines them.
For Christians there’s an even higher covenant that defines us. It is our covenant with God. Today we welcome new members into our congregation. They will participate in a special ceremony because this day is important not only to them and us, but to the whole Christian Church. They and us will renew our baptismal vows where we were first sealed by this covenant with God – “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” It’s a covenant that is forever, a promise that will never end. It is an assurance of God’s unlimited love, forgiveness, and grace. Unlike the Eagle Scout Award however, we do not have to earn this great badge so to speak, it is given to us freely because Christ earned it for us. Christ did all the hard work. We are asked to simply accept this gift, to live lives of gratitude because of this gift, and to be salt in the world. Salt that flows freely with the love and peace of God.
Our Christianity is our identity and needs to define everything we say and do. Jesus is telling us to have salt in ourselves because if we don’t have salt in our bodies our electrolytes are disrupted and we are thrown off balance. If we don’t have the salt of the covenant we too are thrown off balance spiritually and can throw others off balance too. But the Good News is that through our baptism, through the covenant or oath that God has made between us and the Divine through Jesus we have this supply of Spiritual Salt that gives us life. It gives us purpose. It gives us the power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to Jesus Christ.
“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Jesus is telling us we need to be healing forces of life and peace. Within each one of us lies that salt that power. Let the love and light of Christ flow through us as freely as salt. We don’t have to fear that there won’t be enough, for our God is a God of abundance. The love of God is never ending.
Let us be forces that build up rather than tear down. We are all in this work of God’s Kingdom together and the Holy Spirit can and will and is working through each one of us. Salt does not lose its saltiness and the Kingdom of God cannot be defeated. Do not fear.
Salt the earth with the peace of God. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with each one of us. Amen!