Sunday, September 30, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 9:38-50 & Numbers 11:4-29
Our faith as Christians is not an individual endeavor, but one that is done in community. That’s why we all gather this morning to praise and worship God. We come together to hear God’s word for this journey of faith that we are on together as the body of Christ. Lutherans believe that God’s word is both law and gospel; it convicts us of those things for which we need to repent, and promises us God’s grace to begin anew. We start out as individuals, but through our baptism we are united with the entire Christian community around the world. Yet, we don’t always remember that. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of believing it’s only about us individually, or as an individual congregation, or even a select group. If left unchecked, God’s mission is quickly replaced by the congregation’s mission, or an individual’s mission or goal. It’s not something that happens just today, but since humans first started interacting with one another. Our Scripture readings from both the Old and New Testaments give us two such accounts.
In the reading from the book of Numbers we hear about Eldad and Medad, two men in the camp who unlike the other elders still prophesied through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Right away Joshua told Moses to stop them. Instead, Moses replied, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” God called Moses to care for the people of Israel, yet after a while it was too much for Moses to do all on his one. So when Moses prayed, God heard him and seventy elders were filled with God’s Holy Spirit for a particular situation. Yet Eldad and Medad were still prophesying God’s word to the people. Instead of being thankful, Moses called them out for being jealous.
Moses wasn’t the only one. When John told Jesus that he and the other disciples saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and said they tried to stop that person, Jesus also replied not to stop him. Jesus then went even further than Moses in calling them out. He said not to be a stumbling block to those on The Way, to those who believed. He even exaggerated to the point of saying if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, cut it out. Harsh words for sure. No one could ever accuse Jesus of being subtle, but he had no time to waste. He had to get them to cut it out, to cut that kind of thinking out of their minds and out of their hearts. He didn’t want them to lose sight of the mission – God’s mission – not theirs.
Instead of a stumbling block, Jesus wanted them – and us – to be a source of healing – a healing block, of salt to be precise. Salt is pretty significant in the ancient Mediterranean society where Jesus lived. It was a precious commodity. 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 sealed covenants. It was life-giving.
Today you can buy block of salt to cook on to improve the flavor of food. Salt reduces bitterness. It helps bread to rise. It’s a critical ingredient in ice cream. And salt has medicinal implications as well. Himalayan salt rocks give off positive ions in the air to improve emotional health and breathing. 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.
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. We have within us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We were sealed with that covenant from God in our baptism not for ourselves, but for the good of the whole people of God. Our journey of faith is not an individual one. We are called to carry the burdens of our neighbors, to really listen to each other, to believe them when they are hurting, to ease their pain if possible, and to lift them up not tear them down. Our journey of faith is not a race individually to the top, but a collective journey to grow and love along the way. God gave us all different gifts and by being our authentic selves we best show the wideness and vastness of God’s love and mercy.
Are we a stumbling block in the way of someone’s journey of faith, or are we a block of healing in The Way, following Jesus? May the God of grace and glory grant us wisdom and courage. And may the love and light of Christ will flow through each of us as freely as salt, and the mercy and compassion of Christ flavor the lives of each person we encounter. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Amen.