“Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt” September 30, 2018
“Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt”
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
James 5:13-20/ Mark 9:38-50
Some years ago, I was asked to help out with the music for a wedding in Florence, MT. My job consisted of working with two young ladies who were related to the bride and groom to perform a duet – of sorts. They were both extremely nervous about the whole affair; they had it in their heads that this had to be perfect. I gave them the usual spiel that things always go wrong at weddings and that’s what makes the wedding memorable, but they wouldn’t buy it. So after transposing the sheet music that I was given from the horrendous key of G#, we started rehearsals in earnest. Just one song, right? How hard could this be? Well, I soon found out when it became apparent that one of the singers had no sense of timing while the other had a pretty shaky sense of pitch. But they were determined. There were tears, there were moments of total frustration but after 6 hours of reworking and rehearsing this one song it was time. And believe it or not, they pulled it off.
The wedding itself was interesting. I don’t know what denomination these folks were a part of, but it was different than most any wedding I have ever been to. The highlight (or low point) of the service was something called the “Salt Covenant.” Now traditionally, salt ceremonies at weddings are like sand ceremonies: the bride and groom mix two different jars of salt together and this signifies, like the individual grains of salt, that these two can never be separated ever again. It’s nice, it’s pleasant, and it’s touching in its own way. This wedding, however, was different. It was different because the salt covenant was nothing like any salt ceremony I had ever witnessed. No, this covenant of salt was very old and very biblical dating back to references in 2 Chronicles, Numbers, and Leviticus. And it was very serious stuff. I don’t recall many of the details, but I vaguely remember that it was a covenant of loyalty and fidelity between the bride and the groom. I distinctly remember, however, that this covenant ended with a promise; a promise of death if the covenant were to be broken. That was the part that kind of creeped me out. And then all of this was sealed with salt.
Because of this salt, I found myself drawn to our text from the gospel of Mark today. It begins with John the disciple telling Jesus that (vs 38) “We saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Wow, now that one speaks volumes. Jesus promptly tells him to back off saying “No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us.” Now this sets the tone for the lesson that is to come: whereas John is saying, “If you’re not for us, then you’re against us,” Jesus is saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It broadens the playing field quite a bit here. So what do we do with this? Am I just nit picking here? Should we just leave it alone and move on? Jesus didn’t. In fact, he used this opportunity to speak on one of the greatest dangers of this institution we call “The Church.”
I’m sure there are some here old enough to remember that fateful day when mainline churches started to allow things such as guitars into their worship services. It was awful, it was terrible – blasphemous, almost. And the words of John ring out saying, “We tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” The question to ask now might be, “How many of the little ones who believe were caused to trip and fall into sin” from worship and doctrine and dogma that beat them over the head with guilt and shame because…well, that’s just how it is, as opposed to worship in which they can relate to and enjoy and get excited about?
We are the salt of the earth. God sent his son Jesus Christ and the Gospel story that we might be fired up and energized, that we might be the zip and the zing in an otherwise bland world. You know, the one thing that always sticks in my craw is that moment when I am asked what kind of a Christian I am. My first reaction is usually something like, “What in the world do you mean by that?” And then I get to pick from a list: “Are you Evangelical? Are you a fundamentalist? Traditional? Or are you one of those post-modern progressives?” and because I don’t want to sound like a smart-aleck, I resist the urge to say, “Yes, that’s what I am. All of those things.” But the truthful answer would be something more along the lines of, “I am a work in progress and because of that, putting me in the category of your choice is not going to work out so well. I’m not a Democratic Christian or a Republican Christian. And neither am I a left or right or in the middle Christian. What I am is grateful: grateful for a God of grace and love and hope and promise. Our path to God our God is through the Gospel and through our faith. To be labeled this, that, or the other thing is, quite frankly, boring. It’s bland like salt that has lost its taste.
So what is it that trips up “the little ones,” as Jesus put it, to turn away from the Gospel of Christ? Is it the reports of abuse and cover ups from the church for long standing abuse? The answer is yes. Could it be the preaching of prosperity as opposed to the teachings of Christ? Yes, again. But if anything is going to trip up someone seeks the love of God, it would be going to be the faith community without conviction, without fire, without salt.
We are a joyful people, we are a salty people. We are the church – the body of Christ. How we live out the Gospel story is our story. Let’s live it with salt and be at peace with one another.
Amen & Shalom