John 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.” But Jesus 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. 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.
“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.
“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.”
Prayer: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Lately, I’ve had a lot of reasons to think about a lot of stuff.
A lot of that finds its way into my sermons.[i]
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark is sort of obscure.
Mark wrote what he heard Peter, say about Jesus.
But sometimes Jesus wasn’t too clear.
Mark tells us that people had trouble figuring Jesus out.
Some of his relatives thought he was nuts.[ii]
People couldn’t figure Jesus out,
because they only herd what they wanted to hear.
People are still like that, today.
We hear what we want to hear.[iii]
Mark’s Gospel is a fast drama, with the cross as the climax!
And Mark’s Gospel is famous for his “problem passages.”[vi]
Mark can be hard to figure out.[vii]
But one thing is clear:
Mark saw Jesus as the Messiah, and the Son of God.
Unlike Mark, when Jesus died on the cross,
most folks saw him as just another Roman victim.
But when Jesus drew his last breath,
His people were scared to death.
If it could happen to him, it can happen to us![viii]
That’s why Jesus’ disciples hid in the Upper Room.
They were terrified they’d be next! [ix]
But even if he was scared,
Mark wanted everyone to know that Jesus’ died on the cross,
Not because he wasn’t the Messiah, but because he was!
Mark saw Jesus as the Messiah, because Jesus’ stood in our shoes.
Jesus has been where we are. He knows what real life is like.
Jesus was here and Jesus is still here.
Despite his pain, and fear and loneliness, Jesus carried through.
Jesus carried through to the end, just as we are called to do.
So Jesus’ death is the role model he left for us.
It’s not a metaphor. It’s a model of Christian living.
Take up your cross, and follow me, Jesus said.[x]
And he meant it!
But that’s a lot to ask.
I’m still trying to work it out. Feel free to walk with me.
Most of you know that I once studied to be a Catholic priest.
I felt called to serve Hispanic folks in the inner city.
But that whole celibacy thing didn’t work out!
God had other plans.
Many decades later, when I was sort of grown-up,–
God got the crazy idea of calling me back.
I was a busy partner in a biggish law firm.
I’d my fine wife, two daughters … and no spare time.
But the whole family said, “OK,” so the race was on!
I studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, 130 miles South, and
I studied at a Mennonite Biblical Seminary, 130 miles North.
That 260-mile round trip, twice-a-week, was plain nuts.
But even though I drove all those miles, for all those years,
at warp speed, I never got a ticket. God had my back!
And during all that driving, I had a lot of time … a lot!
I thought and I planned, and I worried, and I sweated.
God wouldn’t let me alone!
I listened to Greek lectures. And I argued with God.
I stayed the course. And here I am!
That’s my story. But we all have a story. We all have a path.
And whatever our path may be, it’s way easier,
with Jesus by your side.
Somewhere along the line, I learned to ask four questions. [xi]
Who am I?
Where am I?
What is the problem?
What is the answer?[xii]
Who am I?
You are – I am – we are all are– God’s specially created people.
No accidents. No mistakes.
We came out of the womb exactly as God intended us to be.
We are all custom made, according to God’s specifications,
To draw breath on this this fragile earth, our island home.
We are each fashioned in the image of God. The Imago Dei.[xiii]
While the world wants to fit us into box it designs for us,
Jesus sets us free from boxes, and gives us the freedom,
To live in loving service to his Father, and His Kingdom.
That’s live in the Imago Dei, is to freely choose,
to be all that God has called you to be.
And what is that?
If you, are you 16 years old … What are you called to be?
I you’re 46, or 66 or 106….What are you called to be?
Where am I?
To know where you are, you have to know where you’ve been.
I’ve lived in San Diego.
A land of shacks and beach view mansions.
I’ve lived with French hippies, in San Francisco.
We got by just fine. [xiv]
I’ve lived in a little cottage in Berkeley,
Surviving on coffee, cigarettes and a fine berry bush,
in my backyard.
I hung out in Montreal, Canada, and Lyon, France, and other cool
places, like Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Arkansas.
Dana and I have lived in California, Georgia, and Nebraska …
And now, Texas, the famous Lone Star State!
Lot of miles. But every place I’ve lived at was a good place to be.[xv]
But knowing Where you are is not about knowing your geography.
It’s about knowing where you are with Jesus.
It’s about knowing how close you are to Jesus,
Who’s always at your side.
Where am I? Me? I’m with you. In Killeen, Texas.
And I’m not alone because God is right by my side.
And God is right beside you, too.
In my journey, I’ve managed to find, again and again,
the twin gifts of joy and pain. I’ve learned that we need both.
To be fully formed human beings,
To live in the image of God and God’s Son,
we have to say “Yes.”
We have to say “Yes” to the bumps on the road!
“Yes” to the Father, who formed us and guides us,
And loves us. When we say, Yes, we are never alone.
What’s the problem?
What’s the problem?
Listening to the radio on the way to the office, I got a clue.
What’s the problem? Sin is the problem!
And what sin is that? The Sin that says, “Me first.”
That’s our world. Just look around.
Hasn’t bitter partisanship, replaced love and patience?
Don’t we stay home, glued to our phones and our TV’s,
and our bitter debates about Covid,
and our rights and the illusion of our prosperity ….
Don’t we forget about how blessed we are?
Haven’t we forgotten that we are a gifted people,
called to do great things, In God’s Kingdom?
So, what’s the problem?
We’ve made the mistake of focusing on ourselves, first.
Selfishness. We’ve remade Creation so that it’s all about us,
and not all about the others,
and God and God’s Kingdom.
What’s the Answer?
The Answer is simply this:
Listen to God’s call to serve God’s Kingdom.
Because they’ll know we are Christian’s by our love.[xvi]
To hear God’s call, we must open our hearts, and
we must turn down the chatter, and worldly noise.
God has made each of us uniquely wonderful and beloved.
We are God’s people…
but government and corporations are not.
I’m called… you’re called … we’re all called, to serve God’s Kingdom.
We must listen to Jesus’ voice, and having heard it,
we must act.
We’re all called, to serve the people God places in our path.
Whoever they may be. Whatever they may look like.
That’s the Answer.
Years ago I was reminded that whatever I have is not really mine.
It’s on loan from God.
And I’m supposed to return that loan balance, with interest.
That’s God’s challenge. And that’s the Answer.
It’ll take all of us to do that. One church. One family. One people.
Let’s go to work.
[i] And you’ve all heard me preach. At least 120 times! Is there anything more to say?
[ii] Mark 3:21.
[iii] For example, what did the take-away from “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better … if a … millstone was hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea.” Who was Jesus talking to? Who are the “little ones”?
”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.” Jesus believed in damnation and in paradise, although both concepts were the subject of much discussion and disagreement in his era.
Finally, “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.” What is that about? This is an independent saying (compared to Lev.2:13), conversational style of speaking, casually tying various ideas to one another. Notably, a Jewish sacrifice was then accompanied by salt, as a purifying force. Sometimes this was tied to actual fire, and is implied in the references to “the fires of trials and persecutions”. Overall though, as some scholars suggest, “here we have one of the New Testament passages that defy interpretation”, especially where the thematic association of the phrases and images are not always overtly obvious! See, http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/studyn/sunday26bgn.html
It is not easy for saltless believer to become salty again. This independent saying is linked to the previous one by the key word “salt”. A salty believer is a believer who is at peace with their brothers and sisters. Mark’s thematic context serves to define this peace in the sense of being accepting / welcoming / including a brother and sister, as opposed to practicing partiality. A believer who becomes saltless will not easily become salty again. Matthew adds “it is good for nothing but to be thrown away and trodden underfoot”, Matt.5:13b. Mark doesn’t push the image that far, rather, he leaves it up in the air – how do we make a saltless believer salty again? Not easy!
kalon adj. “good” – [salt is] beautiful, good. “salt is indeed a useful thing”, Cassirer.
“if” – if [the salt]. Introducing a conditional clause third. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true;
“loses its saltiness” – becomes saltless… a useless chemical residue). “weak and tasteless”, Junkins.
“by what” will you season it? The preposition here is obviously instrumental, expressing means; “by what means will you season it?” = “how will you return it to its natural condition of being salt?” = “with what can you give it back its flavor?”, Barclay.
Saying #7; Be a salty believer, The exhortation “have salt” encourages the fostering of attributes such as wisdom, purity, graciousness, …. which promote peace (“good relationships”) in the brotherhood. Beyond the exhortation “be at peace with each other” little more can be gleaned, although speculation is rife, e.g., “take care to maintain in yourselves that which is the saltness of the salt, namely the gospel, the word of God”, Cranfield.
“Be at peace” is consequential to “be salty” and so “preserve the peace”, Peterson. We are to have salt with ourselves and be at peace with each other, i.e.., Jesus “implies a profound connection between internal substance (what the Bible calls “wisdom”) and external harmony”.
[iv] St. Augustine saw Mark’s roughly written Gospel as an abbreviation of Matthew and Luke. See, https://bibleproject.com/blog/mark-gospel-servant-messiah/. Others see Mark as having written down much of what he recalled Peter saying, but not in order. Mark is about Jesus inaugurating God’s Kingdom, reign and rule. The cross is key to this work and its casts a shadow over al of Mark’s Gospel. Introducing the New Testament, Achtemeier, et al Eerdmansm Publishing, (2001)
[v] New Testament Introduction, Guthrie, Donald, Intervarsity Press (1990)
[vi] Mark’s Greek is rough, compared to Paul’s letters, and Luke’s Gospel. Mark lacks Matthew and Luke’s finesse.
[vii] See, mark 4:13, and 6:52, 8:17, 21 and 9:10,32. Guthrie.
[viii] It seemed like the Evil Empire had won again. It seemed like Yahweh was still holding out, and they were left twisting in the wind.
[ix] And, in the end, a great many did fall to Roman “justice.”
[x] Supra, and Mark 8:34.
[xi] I think that St. Mark asked the same questions.
[xii] These days anyone who isn’t asking, simply isn’t paying attention.
[xiv] When the lights go down in the City, it’s still very expensive!
[xv] God’s plan.
[xvi] Can we talk? Yes, but only when we stop yelling.