“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
“Have burning pain and sweet peace inside of you”
We stepped into the middle of a conversation in our Gospel lesson. It had started elsewhere and was going off in a different direction. Three different directions, actually. So we are going to consider this conversation in three parts. But at the same time, each part is, at bottom, about one thing—having burning pain (like salt) and sweet peace inside of yourself.
1.The burning pain of stress vs. sweet peace of fellowship
John had a competitive spirit. He saw another church worker doing something and he got a bit irritated. He says, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name. We stopped him because he does not belong to us.” John’s kind of protecting his turf, isn’t he. Now this man he refers to is a bit of a mystery. We don’t know anything about him. Except 1) he got to do something very few Christians are asked to do, namely, cast out demons, and 2) he was legit. We know that from Jesus’ answer. “Jesus said, ‘Do not try to stop him (see, he’s legit), because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to contradict my Word by a false teaching or by being a hypocrite.” That’s what it means when Jesus says, “can’t speak evil about me,” –contradict my Word by a false teaching or being a hypocrite.
In other words, this man was in fellowship with Jesus and the disciples. So John was not to feel like they were in competition with him. He was in fellowship with them. Like Bethel across town is in fellowship with us. And so Jesus adds, “Whoever is not against us (by teaching a false doctrine or being a hypocrite) is for us.” Don’t try to compete with them, with their church, their school, their youth program; rather, work together. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
But rubs can come, can’t they, when you try to work together with fellow Christians, in our sister church, in our own church. When it happens, Christ starts to salt us. He says, “Salt is good, but if it loses its flavor, how will you make it salty again? (that’s a warning to us; if you don’t want that to happen to you, then…)… “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.”
“Have salt in yourselves”—what does that mean? Johann Gerhard is, among those who read Lutheran theology, known as one of the great ones, he commented about this salt. He said, just like getting salt in your flesh can burn, so tensions with your fellow church members or at a sister church can make us burn with stress and hurt and anger. God is using that to burn out of us what remains of our own sinful pride and our own sinfully competitive spirit. Because the stress is not to make us bitter and resentful, but to make us cry out for God’s mercy.
“Have salt in yourselves.” And then, “…be at peace with each other.” How can you tell if this burning is reaching its goal? You are at peace. With God. Because the stress has made you cry out for his mercy. And he has said yes. You know he has said yes. He said yes already at your baptism when he adopted you into his family. He says yes every time you hear the Absolution from the pastor or even just think of the gospel. He says yes every time you receive his Supper, Christ’s true body and blood, the price of your redemption. Yes to having mercy. Yes to your salvation. Yes to forgiving your sin.
And the sin of your fellow church member, or the member at Bethel, that you have a rub with. Which is the starting point for being at peace with them. Not the whole ball of wax (things still have to be dealt with), but the essential starting point for being at peace with them. So, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.”
We sing v. 2 of our HOD, #192
2.The burning pain of trying to be important vs the sweet peace of truly important things
We stepped into the middle of a conversation in our Gospel lesson. It had started elsewhere and was going off in a different direction. Three different directions, actually. But at the same time, each part is, at bottom, about one thing—having burning pain (like salt) and sweet peace inside of yourself. Let’s consider the second part direction–the conversation now turns to the pain and stress of trying to be important.
Somebody once observed that most of the problems in your family, friends, work, school come because somebody was trying to be important. No wonder it causes so much trouble. It’s like Satan. Satan, before he fell, here he was, amidst the glories and pleasures and music of heaven, all he could think about was his own prestige. What a fool. And you and I play that same fool in part because you and I have a sinful nature that agrees with Satan. We, by nature, place too much emphasis on our own importance, is that not true. More precisely, on insisting that others recognize our importance. And then come arguments. “He’s such a jerk”, “She’s a witch.” The pain and stress of such things is to be like salt, burning in us, purging our own sinful preoccupation on our own importance.
So that Jesus can replace it with real importance, and peace. Jesus and the disciples had just gotten done talking about casting out demons—talk about important work! Few Christians have ever been asked by our Lord to perform such a great and powerful work. But lest the Disciples, and we, misunderstand about what “important work” means, Jesus adds, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
Handing a fellow Christian a bottle of water? That’s important? Well, Jesus has this habit of taking things that everyone else hardly notices or thinks is important and he raises them up for praise. Like when Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat!” (We might say, “But Jesus, all I did was poured Cheerios into the bowl for my child,” and he just smiles and says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.”) Jesus has the consistent habit of taking things that everyone else hardly notices or thinks is important and he raises them up for praise.
That’s what he is doing here, too. “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” The point is that we are never to think of anything we do for others as unimportant or insignificant when they are done as a result of our connection to Christ and his Word.
So important it is that he even promises a reward. Not a “now God owes me” kind of reward. No, God never owes us. And certainly he is it not saying we can get heaven as a reward—because heaven is a gift, not a reward, that God gives to the undeserving sinner who repents and clings to his mercy found in Christ.
No, what he is talking about is a “reward of grace.” What I mean is, it’s like when you see someone accidentally drop a nickel and as they walk away, you quickly pick up the nickel and say, “Hey, you dropped this nickel.” And they turn around and give you a million dollars for your trouble. They did not owe you a million dollars, didn’t owe you even 1 dollar. Just like our Lord–you give a bottle of water to one of your fellow believers, God does not owe you anything. But he loves blessing you as you serve others.
Loves it. In fact, Jesus uses a word for himself in this passage that he almost never, ever used. It’s a word that is his formal title, an exalted title—Christ. “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” Christ means “the anointed one”—the one anointed to be our prophet, priest, and king. He uses this term because he’s telling us something about the reward he has in mind. If the Christ, not simply “Jesus”, but THE CHRIST, the exalted, glorious anointed one is promising a reward, it must be a pretty good reward!
What kind of reward will it be? He doesn’t specify. Might be something that happens tomorrow. Might be something that happens 10 years from now. He doesn’t specify because he wants us to trust him, just trust him.
And what effect will our willing service to our fellow believers have? It will make peace happen between us. As Jesus said, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.”
We sing v. 3 of our HOD, #192
3.The burning pain of saying “no” to sinful desires and sinful aches and sinful appetites and sinful habits vs. the sweet peace of total commitment
We stepped into the middle of a conversation. It had started elsewhere and was going off in a different direction. Three different directions, actually. But at the same time, each part is, at bottom, about one thing—having burning pain (like salt) and sweet peace inside of yourself. Let’s consider the third direction—the burning pain of saying “no” to our sinful desires and the sweet peace of total commitment.
Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck.” How can a person cause a child to sin? Mostly by showing by your example a neglectful attitude towards God’s Word and worship, maybe by not staying for SS/BC or coming to worship once every few weeks instead of regularly. This sin is especially hateful to Christ. Because he doesn’t simply say, “If you cause a child to sin you are sinning.” He gets graphic, “it would be better if he were thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around his neck.” That’s like someone, instead of saying, “I upset with you,” instead he says, “I’m going to knock you into next week.” That’s what Jesus is saying here.
Then he says, “If you hand causes you to sin cut it off.” Have you used your hand to do something sinful? Of course you have, so have I, so why do I see so many with both hands here? Don’t you take your Christianity seriously? Then he said, “If your foot causes you fall into sin, cut it off.” Have your feet taken you to places that, like Garth Brookes sang, “…that (you) never should have been. And the thunder rolls…” (any place we should not have been)? Of course you have, so have I, so why do I see so many with both feet? Don’t you take your Christianity seriously? Then he said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Have your eyes ever looked at things you should not have? Of course they have, so have I, so why do I see so many eyes looking back at me? Don’t you take your Christianity seriously?
Because Christ does. You can hear it in his description of hell. He doesn’t just say, “Then you will be in hell.” He says, “”It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands or two feet or two eyes and go to hell, in the unquenchable fire.” Burn victims say that the pain of being burned is like nothing you can imagine. That’s how hell feels on the outside of your body. On the inside of your body it feels like worms, as Jesus says, “…where their worm does not die.”
Now, you are waiting for me to say, “But not to worry, Jesus has forgiven all your sin so you don’t have to cut off your foot or hand or eye.” But not so fast. Jesus becomes very descriptive here because he’s teaching us to take our Christianity seriously. After all, he did. Took it so seriously he suffered hell itself on the cross and abandonment by his Father, a pain so extreme we cannot even imagine it, so that I can say, “Don’t worry. God forgives every time you use your hand or foot or eye for sin because of Christ.”
But we live in an age that lulls us into a lukewarm Christianity, an acedia. An age in which we can get used to sinful attitudes towards food, or parenting, or work, or competition, or four letter words, or money, or beauty, or clothes, or marijuana, or sex, or alcohol. And Jesus is saying, “Get used to the pain, sometime burning pain, of saying ‘no’ to your own sinful desires.” “Have salt in yourselves.”
“… and be at peace with one another.” The greatest peace is when you realize that I am so crazy and so short-sighted that I am unwilling to cut off my hand or foot or eye, even though I know I’ll use them for sin and end up in hell. Isn’t that crazy? But then you realize that I am exactly the kind of crazy, perverse, short-sighted sinner that Jesus came into this world to die for. Precisely because I could never be the kind of person he wants me to be, he came and did it for me. Used his entire body to live and die and rise again for me. To give me peace with God. Total commitment on his part. Which is to move us to total commitment to him and each of his teachings.
We stepped into the middle of a conversation in our Gospel lesson. It had started elsewhere and was going off in a different direction. Three different directions, actually. But at the same time, each part is, at bottom, about one thing—“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.” Amen.