Seeing the Divine

Sunday, November 11, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 12:38-44

Imagine what it was like in the temple centuries ago when the events in our gospel took place. It was noisy in the entryway to the temple that morning. There was quite a crowd. People coming and going, talking loudly, animals adding to the noise. People were tossing their money in the collection boxes as they passed. The sound of the brass coins made a lot of noise. It was hardly the kind of place you’d go to find a place to relax, to rest and take a break.

But it was the kind of place that you could blend in with the crowd. The kind of place that one could remain unnoticed – if you wanted to – especially if you were poor. And if you were a poor widow, well, maybe you didn’t want to be noticed, because you knew everyone would look down on you. They’d judge you because you were not only a woman, but were alone with no one to care for you, no job, no way to earn your way into a respectable place in society. You weren’t anyone special. One poor widow that day threw in two coins. The only two coins she had. Hardly anything compared to the coins everyone else was throwing in.

Jesus sat down across from the treasury, next to the places that people were throwing in their money and he watched them. He watched and he listened. All of a sudden, one thing grabbed his attention. What did He hear? What did He see? What was it that caused such a reaction? The disciples didn’t hear or see anything unusual. But Jesus did. Jesus not only heard it, He felt it. He felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. He felt the outpouring of faith and trust. He felt the faith of a poor widow who threw in all she had because she believed that it was God who gave her whatever little she had and it was God who would take care of her. It reminded him of the story in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Widow of Zarephath. When the prophet Elijah told her to make him something to eat and give him something to drink, despite the fact that she had only enough for one more meal for her and her son before they would starve to death, she showed hospitality to this stranger, and gave all she had. Jesus remembered that story, and it seemed to come to life for him that day. Because Jesus took notice that day, he saw faithfulness, trust, and complete reliance on God in that widow. He saw the Divine that day because he was aware. No one is invisible to God.

In the busy world we live in it’s just as easy today as it was back then to rush through life without taking the time to “smell the roses.” We can be so busy doing things, or thinking about things, that we don’t live in the present moment. And as a result we miss so much. Sometimes we can walk right by something and not even notice it’s there. If you’ve ever lost your keys only to find they were right in front of you, you know what I’m talking about. We can go about our daily lives without even noticing the people around us. The cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the hardware store, the person in front of us at the bank….all these people have a name and a story, but how often do we take the time to really get to know them? We’re busy, places to go and people to see, we’re on a mission, but is it a mission from God?

God’s mission is all about people. That’s why Jesus came to save all people. It’s not the amount that the woman gave that struck Jesus, it was her willingness to rely totally on God for everything she needed. Maybe like the widow of Zarephath she put in all she had because she thought that was her last day too. Others may not have noticed, but Jesus did, because faith is an active energy that changes things. It might not always change the situation we are in, but it changes the way we deal with that situation. It changes our hearts, and that is the first place that real change takes place. We have to be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want peace in the world, we first have to have peace in our hearts. If we pray for God to help the poor, we first have to see that we ourselves are poor in spirit, and that in order to help others we must first allow God to work in and through us. And we must see that God works in and through each person – like the poor widow – who was noticed by Jesus.

This story from our gospel is a reminder that we need to follow Jesus’ example and be more aware of the people around us. It’s easy to generalize people. Friday and Saturday – Nov. 9th & 10th –  were the anniversary dates of Kristellnacht – night of the broken glass –  when the Third Reich back in 1938 in Germany began their destruction and genocide of the Jewish people. They didn’t see them as individuals. They were invisible. It’s easy to say that group or those people are doing this or that. It’s easy to label people as good or bad. We hear it all the time in the news. There’s a lot of fear that’s being spread around about caravans of people coming. But do we really know what they are actually going through? Do we know their names? How is God working in their life? What is God saying to us through them?

Throughout history people have looked for God, yet God seemed invisible. Jesus came, yet the messiah still seemed invisible to so many. God is here with us today, yet God still seems invisible because we aren’t opening our eyes. God is all around us. Don’t let the distractions get in the way. Let God use you to be an offering. Let God use your voices, your hands, your all. Get to know people. Listen to their stories. Be kind. Be caring. Be Compassionate. Be generous. God is in our midst if we only stop long enough to see. Amen.

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday, November 4, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 11:32-44, Isaiah 25:6-9, Rev. 21:1-6a

 

Tears. All three of our readings this morning contain tears. Our gospel reading today contains perhaps the shortest sentence describing Jesus, yet it’s one of the most moving. “Jesus began to weep.” It catches us off guard because we don’t always think about Jesus’ deep humanity. Yet, here in this description of what happened when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus poured out his heart. Tears didn’t just roll down his face. Jesus wept.

Most of us know what it means to weep- at one point in life – to cry so hard that you wonder if the tears will ever stop. You pour your heart out, and wonder if it will ever be the same. That’s how Mary and Martha felt at the site of the tomb of their brother. He was dead. Their hearts were broken. Their grief was painful, and when Jesus finally arrived after a several day delay their response was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Others added, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was getting bombarded from everyone with criticism. I can understand the remarks. Can’t you? Jesus and the disciples were out of town and when Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick he didn’t rush to get there. In fact, John’s gospel says that Jesus and his disciples stayed two extra days. Didn’t Jesus care? Certainly that’s what many wondered. They asked, “Where were you?”

It’s a question that’s still being asked today. When accidents happen, when illness strikes, when a loved one dies, when tragedy hits like the recent horrific shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the question arises, “Where was God?” There’s a tendency to believe that God is absent in these situations, but the reality is that God was there. God was weeping and God weeps right along with us. God weeps over the way God’s beloved creations treat each other. God weeps over injustice.  God weeps over the way anger turns into hatred, the way hatred turns into violence and death. God weeps over the sin of selfishness and greed that causes war and oppression and poverty to continue. God weeps.

And then, as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, God brings resurrection. Because of Jesus, death does not and will not have the final say. Evil will not win the day. There is hope. There is salvation. There is resurrection. And while God does not need us for the work of resurrection, God allows us the gift and honor to participate in resurrection. Just as Jesus told the people to unbind Lazarus, Jesus tells us to unbind others. He tells us to unbind them with God’s love. We unbind them with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. We unbind them by making sure that they are treated with justice. God resurrects, but we participate in that resurrection when we live not just to make our lives better, but to improve the lives of all. God changes the world through saints like us.

Saints are not just those special individuals the church holds up as models like St. Francis, or St. Bridget, or St. Nicholas. We are all saints –those living and those who have died in Christ – because we are God’s beloved creations. We are all saints together. Because of Jesus, our connection with each other and with God is never-ending. It is the reason why when we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember that we celebrate it with all the saints both here on earth and in heaven. When we say or sing the Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy – we join with all the saints triumphant in praising God. When we are here worshipping together as the body of Christ and receiving the Body of Christ all the saints are here as well. Those who have died as we hear in the readings from Isaiah and Revelation are celebrating with God in a great and victorious feast and we are celebrating in a foretaste of that feast to come. Right here as we gather around this table we gather with all the saints. It is a sacred space when the veil of heaven is thin and we and those we love are united. The Holy Spirit is here; feel this most sacred experience.

And through this sacred experience, this blessed sacrament, Christ comes and dwells within us and works in and through us. Christ unbinds us from our fear. He unbinds us from our worries. He unbinds us from our grief. Death no longer need terrify us and life no longer need terrify us. Yes, terrible things happen in life, but God is stronger than the evil in the world. Some of us are afraid to live again, afraid to experience joy again, afraid to be alive, but through Christ Jesus we are all made alive. He has overcome death and the grave. Jesus has overcome the enemy and removed all reason to fear. It is time to live again. It is time to live as the resurrection people we are called to be.

Jesus unbinds us through His forgiveness and grace and as disciples asks us to unbind those who need to be set free as well.  It is when we do this for one another that we reveal that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. Where is God in the midst of our pain? God is present through each one of us – saints of God. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight of sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” On this All Saints Day, look around, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Let us begin to live today in the joy of that promise! Amen!

This Is Reformation

Sunday, October 28, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 8:31-36

 

Today is a very special day in the life of the Church, not just for this congregation, but for the entire Christian Church. Not only is this Reformation Sunday, but Confirmation Sunday for three of our young members as well. Traditionally, this congregation has held confirmation on this day for a very particular reason. Both of these events involve change and transformation. They are a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout history.

Traditionally, Reformation Sunday is the day we celebrate how the Church has transformed over the centuries. While there were many reformers, it’s associated most with Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk in Germany, who in the 16th century, started the Protestant Reformation because of radical changes that needed to be made in the church. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis, or items for debate to the castle door in Wittenberg Germany back in the year 1517, he had no idea how that would forever change the course of history. He didn’t want to start a new denomination, but begin a process for conversation and reform. It turned out to be a reformation unlike any he had imagined. God’s grace had transformed him, and in turn he helped transform the world.

That’s what happens when God’s grace touches you. It sets you free. Lauren, Logan, and Will first received God’s grace in their baptism as infants. Through the water and God’s word they were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Today, they make public affirmation of their baptisms. They know now why they were baptized, and affirm the promises that were made for them so many years ago. They too have undergone many changes on their journey of faith. They’ve asked challenging questions and will continue to ask questions throughout their lives, but they know that God is with them through it all. The scripture verses they chose as their guide posts, and the faith statements they wrote about them are a testament to the Spirit working in each one of them. This is an important day for the entire Church not just this congregation here at Good Shepherd, because Lauren, Logan, and Will are part of an ongoing reformation. God is working through each of their unique skills and gifts to share God’s grace in the world.

It’s not always an easy message to share with others. Jesus’ words of truth are sometimes hard for people to hear, especially if it points out our own sinful behaviors. It’s hard to hear that we are by our human nature enslaved to sin. Jesus reminds us that “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That includes all of us. We are a slave because we can’t free ourselves from sin’s hold on us. Like a mouse lured into a trap who once in can’t get free, so we too can’t free ourselves. Someone else has to set us free, no matter how much we think we can do things on our own. Only Jesus can release us. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus has set us free from being trapped by sin and death.

Because of this truth, today we don’t just celebrate over 500 years of God’s grace in action; we celebrate an eternity of God’s grace in action. Since the beginning of creation God’s grace has always been active. Since the first humans decided to disobey God and brought sin into the world, God was working on a way to set them and us free. God made covenants or sacred promises to God’s people over and over again despite them breaking those covenants. We hear God’s covenant language throughout the Old Testament whenever we read, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God continued to be faithful to this covenant throughout the generations until God spoke this covenant into being through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. God’s covenant continued to be realized through reformers like Martin Luther who despite threats to his own life was compelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to make the truth of Christ’s saving power known to all people. God speaks these covenant words to us in our baptism, and speaks these covenant words to us when we affirm our baptism as Lauren, Logan, and Will are doing today through their confirmation. God says, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” This is God’s promise to us. This is reformation – being re-formed in Christ’s image.

God’s life-giving words of saving grace began from the moment God breathed life into us and that promise, that covenant, will remain forever. This is the gift we celebrate today. This is the truth we lift up each and every time we continue God’s grace in action through living lives of faith and commitment to the truth of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. This is Reformation! We have the gift and responsibility to carry on the work of the reformation – the work of God’s grace in action – every day of our lives. We do this when we hear Jesus’ truth, repent, allow him to change our hearts and set us free – free to live, and love like Jesus.

Today we celebrate not just a particular protestant reformation, but an ongoing reformation that begins with each one of us – in our hearts, where God’s covenant is written. One person’s voice and actions can make all the difference in the world. We saw that in the life of Martin Luther and many other reformers, and our best example is Jesus who has set us free! This ongoing reformation continues through Lauren, and Logan, and Will. Through their baptism, and ours, we are formed into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We are re-formed into his image. Every time we repent, every time we forgive, every time we show compassion and mercy, every time we choose patience over anger, faith over fear, love over hate, every time we walk the way of peace ….This is reformation! Amen!

 

 

What Really Matters

Sunday, October 21, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:35-45

What really matters in life? For James and John, two of the early disciples, they wanted a place of honor at Jesus’ side. They wanted to be his right and left hand man so to speak. Their priority was to be in positions of power. That’s what really mattered the most to them. And when the other disciples heard this they were understandably angry. Why did James and John think they deserved more than everyone else? Jesus and the disciples were heading to Jerusalem.  Jesus knew what he was getting into. He was heading in to a place where people were angry at him for upsetting the status quo. People wanted him dead. And in Jerusalem he knew that he would suffer and eventually be killed. Jesus had a lot on his mind. He was concerned about people hearing God’s word.  He wanted people to understand who God was and what their mission was before he was no longer with them. Jesus had matters of life and death on his mind, yet all the disciples had on their mind was who was going to be the greatest among them. You might shake your head and think, “How could they be that near-sighted?” Jesus was right there with them and that’s all they could think about? That’s what mattered the most to them?

Before we get too carried away, we have to take a look at ourselves. Jesus is still right here with us, and yet we all at one time or another do the same as the early disciples. We worry, and stress, and get angry over what seems to us like very important matters, but in the grand scheme of things are very insignificant. We do this in our personal lives when we worry about every little thing. We do it in our relationships. Sometimes individuals don’t talk to each other for long periods of time over things they don’t even remember why they are fighting. It happens in it our places of work when people try to be the greatest, more valuable than their coworkers. It happens slowly and in subtle ways. And it happens in congregations too, where individuals or groups of people are angry or fight about any number of things that are not going their way. Church members in congregations all over the country fight over any number of things from the color of carpets, to the correct way to light the candles, the placement of certain objects, a dislike of certain hymns, ….the list is endless. Individuals want their own desires granted just like James and John. We can easily forget who’s church this is – Christ’s, and why we gather together as a community – to worship God, to be refreshed and renewed by God’s presence, and to live lives of service like Jesus. When we forget that we push to have things our own way.  And when things don’t go according to the way we want them too we can get angry like the first disciples and treat others unkindly. It happens all the time.

That’s why Jesus asked his disciples the same one he asks us today, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Are you able to be truly awake and engaged in life? Are you able and willing to focus on what really matters in God’s kingdom? The things that we so often think are so important, those things we worry about as if they are life and death are in reality only distractions from what life is really about. Ask anyone who is going through cancer treatments – like several of our members – or ask someone going through some other life-threatening illness, or someone who has experienced the great loss of someone they love, and they will tell you that their priorities in life are different now. They have a new clarity on what is important. When these kind of things happen you realize what really matters in life, and it’s not the small things we so often get distracted by. What matters is our relationship with God and with one another. What matters is not how much we get, but how much we give. What matters is not individual gain, but collective kindness and love.

There are thousands of people right now in Florida and other places in the south that are devastated by losing their homes from hurricane Michael. Many lost their lives too. And there are the families of those who died in the recent limousine accident in Schoharie. There are families fleeing for their lives from war-torn countries; I’ve known some of them personally. There are families who are separated from those they love. The list is endless, and yet, so often like the first disciples James and John, we focus on the wrong things. We focus on ourselves instead of the immense problems that are going on around us. Life is too short to focus on whether or not things go our way all the time. Life is too short to let the small things in life tear us apart. Jesus came, and suffered, and died, and rose from the dead so that we would have life and have it abundantly.

What Jesus offers to us is the cup of life overflowing with God’s forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. In God’s eyes we are all equal. We drink this cup together in community with one another not for our own personal gain, but in gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus. We drink this cup of life so that filled with God’s grace we can then share that grace in service with and for one another. We drink this cup so that others can experience God too. Isn’t that what really matters? Amen.

God’s Grace Is Sufficient

Sunday, October 14, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:17-31

Did you ever feel like you forgot something when you left the house to go someplace? You walked out of the house and said to yourself, “I just feel like I forgot something, but I don’t know what it is.”  Or maybe you were packing to go on a vacation, and you felt the same way, like you forgot something. Hopefully, not your child like in the movie Home Alone! It might even be when you’ve tried to solve a problem that’s been troubling you, and you felt like you were just missing that one piece that would help you. There are times when I think we’ve all had that experience that we were just missing something.

In the gospel lesson today, Jesus is setting out on a journey only he is not the one missing something. A certain man ran up to Jesus who apparently had been thinking for some time about eternal life. He wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit it. He felt that he had followed all the commandments, but still felt that he was somehow missing something. What more could he do? Jesus looked at him with love in his heart, and spoke the truth in love. Jesus’ answer made him stop in his tracks. He told the man that he needed sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The man went away grieving because he had so many possessions. Jesus continued to explain to the disciples how hard it is for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God. He said it would be harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. Then the disciples wondered, “Well, then who can be saved?”  Jesus told all these individuals what they were lacking, what they were missing, but it was really hard for them to hear that. Even Peter said, “Look, Jesus, we’ve left everything and followed you!” Basically what he was asking was, “What more do you want from us?” Jesus’ answer was everything.

That answer leaves us all shocked, and grieving, and a bit angry just like Peter. This encounter is more than just money – although that is certainly part of it.  We can be obsessed with focusing on how much money we don’t have as much as how much we do.  It’s about knowing what we are lacking that is keeping us from a close relationship with God. Jesus looks into each one of our hearts and knows exactly what is lacking. We can fool ourselves, but we can’t fool him. The letter from Hebrews says, “Before him no creature is hidden.” Jesus knows what is possessing us. He knows if it is the Spirit of God or if it is other things that are taking top priority. Money is a gift from God, but if that’s what we think about the most, then money has become our God. The need to be in control, to get our own way can also keep us from God. We can also fill ourselves up with anger or resentment. All of these things can possess us and keep us from focusing on what really matters – our relationship with God.

Like the man who came up to Jesus, we may say we are following all the commandments, but none of us do that. We all fall short. It’s not what we do that enables us to inherit the kingdom of God. An inheritance, by its very definition, means that it is a gift left to us when someone dies. Jesus has already died in order for us to have eternal life. What Jesus is asking all of us is now that we already have this inheritance, what is lacking or getting in the way of using this inheritance? How are we sharing this inheritance of eternal life that we have been given?

The answer is we follow Jesus and give away the love and grace that he so freely gives us. Give away compassion and mercy. Give away forgiveness and reconciliation. Give away kind words and actions. Give the best of ourselves knowing that God’s grace continually fills us up to overflowing, and with God’s grace we lack nothing.

What is keeping you from truly following Jesus? Whatever is holding you back, let it go. With God all things are possible. God’s grace is sufficient. Amen.

God Persists

Sunday, October 7, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 10:2-16

“Hitting the wall” is an expression just about everyone is familiar with. Every runner, every person who’s struggled to lose weight, every person who’s tried to achieve something and has been working on it a long time comes to a part when they “hit the wall.” Progress is no longer happening and they have come to a complete stand still. It’s during this time that it feels like all hope is lost. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to go any further. And you may ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?” The temptation is to just give up.

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus yet again, hits another wall. The Pharisees are testing him trying get him to say something that will give them another excuse to get rid of him. Jesus came to show us who God is. He came to show us who we are – God’s beloved children made in the image of God – and how we can live as the best reflections of God’s image. Yet time and again we read in the gospels how Jesus himself “hit a wall” with the people he was communicating with. They didn’t want to hear new things that challenged their traditional ways of doing things. Many wanted to stop Jesus – even his disciples – when they felt he had gone too far. Jesus at times felt like giving up, yet he persisted in following God’s mission.

Jesus wasn’t the only one who felt like he had hit the wall. The issue of divorce that was brought to Jesus was a painful one – just as it is today – but especially for the women of that time in history. Women were not allowed to divorce men. In fact, they had no rights at all. A man could mistreat her, abuse her, or violate her in any way and she had no recourse. If divorced – which was simply a slip of paper he wrote – she was left homeless without money or any way to earn an income and provide for small children. Basically without someone to care for her she was left to die. It was a hopeless situation for women and children. They too felt like they had hit the wall with no means for life to ever improve.

When Jesus answered the question of divorce he spoke of women who divorce their husbands, which at the time was not even a possibility. Why would he say that? It seems Jesus was trying to level the playing field. Jesus’ response to the question of divorce was not one of judgement, but one that spoke to the reality of the pain that divorce creates, particularly for women and children at that time. When relationships end the pain is deep.

When the disciples spoke sternly to those who were trying to let the children go to Jesus, he stopped them. He wanted the children to come. He wanted to bless them. At first it might seem like there is a disconnect with the divorce question and the children, but they are one in the same. They were both questions of relationships and putting up barriers or walls to separate people. Jesus’ response was to tear down the walls that divide and reach out with love and compassion.

Earlier this week, a local pastor who is part of our weekly clergy study group about her recent eight day trip to Mexico with a group to learn about the situation at the border. Those in the group spoke with those at the border and witnessed first-hand the wall between Mexico and the United States. She shared with us overwhelming and painful stories. She also told us about a section of the solid wall that has been cut out and bars put in that look like small squares. Every Sunday for two hours that area is exposed to allow people with families on each side to see each other. While hundreds may come from each side, only ten people are allowed. They stand there, face to face, not able to embrace each other. It is heartbreaking. They – like the children in Jesus’ time – long for a loving and healing touch. Yet, all they can do is to slip a finger between these small squares and touch fingers. The wall of separation is painful.

The wall of separation is not just a physical wall. It’s built by angry and hateful words spoken or written. It’s built by an unwillingness to listen. It’s built by a determination to win one’s own case by whatever means necessary. It’s built by hard hearts not willing to let go of old hurts. It’s built by separating people into us and them. It’s built brick by brick, wire upon wire, higher and higher until all that can be seen is the wall, until we no longer see human beings who as we read in Hebrews are “made a little lower than the angels.”

God created a beautiful perfect world. God created humans to be in relationship with each other and with God, but human sinfulness built a wall that separated God and humans. Yet, out of God’s great love, Jesus came to tear that wall down and connect us once again with our Creator. Jesus tried again and again to show us by his example, to teach us through his words of divine wisdom how to live as God’s Beloved Community and out of the hardness of our hearts, Jesus hit the wall of the cross. It seemed all hope was lost. It seemed like evil had won. But on the third day God raised him from the dead. God persisted, and God will always persist in finding a way when we hit the wall and all hope seems lost.

As Christians we are called to live each day as people transformed by the resurrection, healed with the touch of God’s grace, and empowered to persist with hope in the face of adversity for the sake of the Gospel. On this World Communion Sunday as Christians from diverse denominations join together at God’s table, may the Holy Spirit stir up within us all the compassion, love, and courage to carry out God’s mission of unity and peace in all we do.  Amen.

A Block On The Way

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.