Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proper 21 of Series B (Mark 9:38-50)

“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, you are salt. That is your identity, who you are. Salt isn’t what you can become if you try hard enough; it isn’t some goal to achieve. You are salt. Christ Himself has made you salt. He made you salt when He baptized you into His Name, when He claimed you as His own beloved child. It was to make you salt that led Him to the cross. He didn’t endure the suffering, the pain, the death of the cross so that people might be able to make themselves salt; He did all of that so that He could come to you and make you salt Himself. It is His work, His task, which He delights in. He delights to take rotten, spoiled, sinful people and make them salt by grace. He seasons that old sinful Adam, making that disgusting figure a savory, fragrant offering to His Father. Old Testament sacrifices were salted to make them acceptable to the Lord. An unsalted person offered to God will find only destruction, but one who is salted by Christ will find favor and grace, reconciliation with their Creator. Being salt is nothing else than being forgiven. Being salt is nothing else than having the promise of eternal life. You are forgiven, you will live because Jesus lives! His death, His resurrection, are all for you—your Baptism proves it! You are salt.

What is salt like? Salt purifies, it preserves, it adds flavor. Salt always has an effect on whatever it touches. It can’t help it. Salt is salty. You can have uncaffinated coffee, you can have non-alcoholic wine, but there is no such thing as unsalty salt, as Jesus declares: “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” Salt does what salt does, or else it isn’t salt at all.

And salt is salty. The salty one places his mind into submission, refusing to give into pride. But the Christian who acts in jealousy, who allows his pride to take hold of him, is as ridiculous as unsalty salt. “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” Unsalty salt is concerned for its own position; it’s envious or jealous of those who are not a part of its group. Its concern isn’t for the wider mission of the Church, but for its own position and honor. Unsalty salt hasn’t seasoned the corruption of the old Adam, who always seeks his own way. Instead, the tired old question continues to be asked, “Who is the greatest?”

But those made salt by grace season their thoughts, placing them in submission under Christ. “But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.’” Do not hinder the one who serves Christ! Be concerned that the work of the church goes forward, not whether you get credit for it! Rejoice that your fellow congregation members are serving the work of the church, even if they are not doing so in the way that you would. Rejoice also that your fellow Christians throughout the world are doing wonderful works of witness and mercy, even as we acknowledge our very real differences. “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Anything done in the name of Christ, even the smallest act of mercy, is done because that person is salt.

And salt is salty. The salty one protects the little ones, leading them away from sin. But the Christian who leads the little ones into sin, who causes them to stumble or even fall from the faith, is as ridiculous, as dangerous, as unsalty salt. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Unsalty salt lives with no concern of the witness its life makes before the world, especially before Christ’s little ones. Unsalty salt pays no attention to how it teaches God’s Word, at home, in the classroom, or from the pulpit. It lives recklessly, thinking only of itself.

But those made salt by grace seek to protect the little ones, to lead them out of sin and not into it. St. James writes in our Epistle lesson, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Don’t scandalize Christ’s little ones! Watch over your words and actions so that they will not lead the weak and vulnerable into sin or even unbelief. Know the Scriptures, so that you can guide the little ones in the ways they should go. Strive to live as an example for your children, your grandchildren, and all the little ones around you. Season the lives of those around you, for you are salt.

And salt is salty. The salty one places his body into submission, refusing to let his members lead him into sin. But the Christian who is controlled by his members, who allows his body to lead him into sin or even unbelief, is as ridiculous, as foolish, as unsalty salt. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” Unsalty salt lets its members take it wherever they want to go. The hands, the feet, the eyes call the shots, they control the action, and what they want is to rebel against God. Hands reach for that which doesn’t belong to them, feet walk into places they shouldn’t be, eyes look in lust or coveting, and unsalty salt simply follows their lead.

But those made salt by grace seek to place their members into submission, tightly controlling them so that they do not lead into sin or unbelief. If your hand reaches for what is not yours, place it into submission! If your feet are walking into bad situations, control them! If your eyes are inspiring sinful thoughts, don’t look twice! Don’t allow your sinful, corrupted members to lead you into sin, but season them so that they serve Christ. Let your hand be ready in service toward your neighbor, let your feet carry you to worship, and let your eye be searching for someone in need. Press your members into service of Christ, not of sin, for you have been made salt by Christ.

This isn’t easy; our minds and bodies don’t want to be placed into submission, they want no part of being salted. This is why Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted by fire.” You are salted by fire; your purification happens only through the painful work of fire. This is first of all the fire of tribulation. Our members rebel against every attempt to place them under submission, they make life miserable for us unless we let them indulge in the sin they wish to wallow in. Sin causes the fires of tribulation in our lives, for the sin of this world is the cause of all suffering and difficulty in this life. And Christ uses those fires to burn away our sin, because when we suffer due to our sin or the sin of the world, we yearn to be rid of it, we desire more and more to place our members into submission.

That is when Christ uses another fire, the fire of God’s Word. Christ wields His Word as a purifying fire to burn away all corruption. His Law calls our sin what it is: rebellion against our Creator deserving the very wrath of God forever in hell. You heard Jesus proclaim the Law in all of its severity this very day. That Law should put to fiery death our sin. He salts us with this fire to prevent rot and decay, to keep our sinful nature from reasserting itself. How does this happen? The Law shows us our sin, and the Holy Spirit works repentance within us. Only through His work within us can we confess, pleading for sin’s destruction within us. His Law then guides us to live under His rule and leading, to day by day burn away the corruption of our flesh. Without daily being salted by the fire of God’s Word, the worms will return, and decay will continue.

But the fire of Christ’s Word doesn’t just halt decay, it destroys it forever. Having called our sin exactly what it is by the Law, Christ’s Word removes its penalty by the Gospel. The Law speaks the truth, and so does the Gospel: you are salt! Despite your corruption and sin, Christ comes to you and makes you salt. His Law can only put to death; His Gospel is given to make alive. His Gospel makes you salt! The Law put Christ to death in your place, as He died the death that your corruption deserved. He died to defeat that corruption forever, for it has been paid for; it cannot condemn you any longer. His mercy, His love was extended toward you, and when He left His tomb empty, He went forth to make you salt. Salt is your identity by grace; you are salt because Jesus died for you, because He rose for you. You are salt because you are forgiven, because you are the savory, fragrant offering that Christ is not ashamed to bring to His Father.

Salt is your identity forever. Today you are continually being salted by fire, as your mind and your members are placed under submission and salted by the fires of tribulation and God’s Word. But on the Last Day, you will pass through the fire and all of that corruption will finally be completely burned away. Christ’s redemption through the cross and empty tomb will be brought to its full completion when He returns in glory. Until that day, you are salt; salt by grace, salt in a decidedly unsalty world. Through your words, through your actions, you salt those around you, as the Church salts this entire world. You are made salt by grace, and you remain salt by grace; Christ’s Law burns away your corruption, Christ’s Gospel forgives it, declaring once again this day that you are salt, and will be salt for eternity, not by your efforts, but only through His grace. In the Name of Jesus, who makes and keeps us as His salt in this unsalty world, Amen.

No comments: