Reflection: "How's Your Salt Level Going?"
In our reading from the Gospel of Mark this week, we observe Jesus continuing to teach his disciples about how to live their lives when he’s no longer with them.
The disciple John came to Jesus with a worrying story of a man, who wasn’t one of their close knit group, who appeared to be driving out demons – and using the name of Jesus to accomplish it.
This didn’t seem right to the disciples and so they mentioned it to Jesus, expecting their master to be as angry as they were.
But Jesus surprised them by pointing out that it’s better for people to do these things in his name, rather than their own, because then they weren’t acting against him, as some of the religious leaders constantly were.
Jesus was being really hard on people whose actions caused the little children to sin and suggested that there would be some quite dire consequence for these sorts of people, like drownings with millstones around their necks, hands and feet cut off, being thrown into hell, where the fires never go out, etc.
In his ministry, Jesus had been using salt as a very important illustration of influential Christian life in the world.
In this passage he now compares purification by fire with the method of salting the sacrifices made at the temple.
Salt is an element that dissolves in water and when it dissolves, it grows weaker.
When the amount of water exceeds the amount of salt used, that salt loses both its saltiness and its identity.
We notice this in saltwater swimming pools after a lot of rain.
By resisting the dilution of their saltiness from the world’s wateriness (that is sin), Jesus was encouraging his listeners to stay strong in their convictions.
Many people probably think of salt as simply a granular, tasty, food seasoning, but only about 6% of all salt manufactured today goes into food.
Of the remainder, 12% is used in water conditioning processes, 8% goes for de-icing highways in frozen lands and 6% is used in agriculture and the majority is used in manufacturing and industrial chemicals.
Apparently, we use salt in more than 14,000 different ways from the making of products as varied as plastic, paper, glass, polyester, rubber and fertilisers to household bleach, soaps, detergents and dyes.
I think Jesus was referring to salt in a different way, so let me describe the world in the time when Jesus was ministering.
When Jesus came into this world, human life had lost its way and had fallen from the original glory that God has designed for it.
Sin had entered the world and people were becoming enslaved to it, controlled by its power.
Therefore, Jesus saw that the entire human species was needing restoration, renewal and transformation.
To restore humanity as a whole to the original status granted by God, Christ declared in John 10:10 that “I came to give life and life in abundance.”
This was an overt act of restoration and Jesus came to restore our life graciously and very generously.
One of the many great acts and actions of this good shepherd is the restoration of our souls.
The soul is the essence of human life and when it is restored, the essence of humanity is restored - regaining value, wisdom, character, dignity and hope.
To achieve renewal, the old has to pass away so that the new may come.
God has been constantly renewing the covenant with his people.
This message has been echoing all the way from the days of the prophet Isaiah, through John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and it was even stated as an apocalyptic hope in the Book of Revelation.
The new life brought into the world, through Christ's plan of restoration, can never be put into an old container.
Jesus used the metaphor of putting a new wine into an old wineskin, which ends up producing a disastrous result both for the wine (which goes sour) and the wineskin (which breaks).
Thus, we see that renewal is at the heart of Christ's mission.
He renewed humanity by killing his old self and rising up with a newly resurrected identity of hope and future.
And that brings us to the process of transformation, which means going beyond the current state of being or format.
This process of transformation happens through a transforming agent, which we call the Holy Spirit.
Jesus talked of the Holy Spirit as being a teacher, counsellor, companion, guide, leader, encourager and purifier.
It was the Holy Spirit that Jesus was referring to, when he was talking about the fire that transforms.
As restored, renewed, and transformed human beings, we get our new identity from this Spirit.
The renewed Christian life, which was granted a salty identity to enable it to be influential, was made into what it currently is through the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Becoming salty means:
1. Becoming a symbol of value.
In the days of Jesus, salt was a valuable element of transaction and commerce.
2. Becoming an element of therapy and healing.
For nearly 8,000 years, salt has been used as a means of healing diseases and infirmities.
3. Salt has also been used as a substance of preservation through the ages to maintain and keep.
Foods last longer when they’ve been salted.
4. Salt is now used to melt snow on very slippery roads, allowing people to still drive safely.
5. Salt brings out flavours and improves the taste of foods.
It brings taste to the tasteless and flavour to something that doesn’t necessarily have any flavour of its own.
6. It’s used in making soap and chlorine.
These elements are cleansing and purifying elements.
So, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life transforms us into becoming the salt to the world.
This then makes us agents of purification and cleansing to society and the community.
These uses are all very symbolic when it comes to being restored, renewed, and transformed in our lives as Christians.
In this process of becoming and being salt to the world, the role of the fire of the Holy Spirit is very highly significant.
So, as I asked at the beginning, how do you feel that your level of saltiness is going?
And I’m not talking about the level of Sodium Chloride in your blood stream.
We all know that too much of that can cause cardio-vascular problems.Instead, I’m talking about the kind of saltiness that heals, protects, preserves, clears the way and improves things.
This is what Jesus wants us to be – strong, salty people.
Do you think that you’re the sort of people that Jesus would want to be his representatives in the Kingdom?
You know, the strong & salty kind?
As you travel through this sinful world that we live in, don’t let it dilute or weaken you and your resolve to live your life the way God has always intended you to.
I’m encouraging you to be the sort of strong, salty people that Jesus can be proud of.
Reflection: "A Heart of Greatness"
The reading from Mark’s Gospel isn’t a very long passage, but it contains a couple of interesting stories.
They must be important messages, because they’re covered in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke).
We find the other readings in Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-50.
The message in each Gospel is essentially the same:
“Don’t think too highly of your own importance and welcome all people to you, especially the children.”
In the earlier chapters of Mark, we read that Jesus took Peter, James & John up onto the mountain and, whilst they were up there, the disciples saw Jesus talking to Moses & Elijah before he was transfigured (ie. lit up like a dazzling white figure) and they heard God saying
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Yet, despite this miracle, which, I’m sure, the 3 onlookers would have recounted to the other disciples, all the group could think about was themselves.
They didn’t appear to understand Jesus when Jesus said that he (ie. the Son of Man) would soon be killed, buried and would rise from the grave on the third day.
Instead of focusing on what Jesus was saying and doing, while they were walking, they argued about the preference given to three of them at the transfiguration and who, therefore was the favourite disciple.
Matters of rank were important to the Jews (remember in Luke 14:7-11 at the wedding feast.
Should the host seat the guest at the top of the table, or lower down?), so it was natural for the disciples to be concerned about their status in the coming messianic kingdom.
The disciples were still anticipating an earthly kingdom and wondering what great positions they would have.
After all, they were the chosen 12, weren’t they?
When they reach Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about whilst they walked along.
Even though they remain silent, their master knew what they had been talking about.
He calmly explained to them about how one must not only put oneself last, but be a servant to every person, in order to achieve first place in God’s kingdom.
Here, the word “servant”, as used in the reading is diakonos in Greek and it depicts one who attends to the needs of others freely, as opposed to one in a servile position (doulos, a slave).
Jesus didn’t condemn their desire to improve their position in life, but he did teach that greatness in his kingdom wasn’t determined by their status and power over others, but by what they did to help others – ie. their service.
Jesus indicated to them that they were asking each other the wrong question.
They should’ve been concerned about what they could do to serve God, not about their positions in the kingdom.
As he had done in previous lessons, Jesus used the example of a small child to emphasise his point.
Remember, in Jewish and Greco-Roman society, children were at the bottom of the social ladder.
Children had done nothing to achieve greatness, yet God loved them so much that Jesus told the disciples that by welcoming the children in his name, they would be welcoming him and, not only him, but “the one who sent him” (ie. God).
In Matthew’s account of the story, Jesus told them that they must actually change, and become like little children, or they would never be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
He also went on to list some pretty dire consequences if people caused the children to sin, but I’ll let you read about that on your own time – you’ll find it in Matthew Chapter 18.
If you keep reading the next few verses after today’s lesson, you’ll read that the disciples told Jesus about some random exorcist that they saw driving out demons in the master’s name.
They had told him to stop doing this, because he wasn’t one of them.
Maybe they were still smarting about their failure to drive out the demon in the young boy (read Mark 9:14-29).
Jesus told them that what the man had done was ok, because by hitching his wagon to the Jesus train, he could not then turn around and condemn Jesus.
His words were:
“Whoever is not against us, is for us.”
“Against us” and “for us” leave no room for neutrality.
If one is working for Jesus, in his name, he cannot work against him at the same time.
Though this man didn’t appear to follow Jesus in exactly the same way as the twelve disciples, he nevertheless followed him truly and stood against Satan.
Even one who performs the smallest act of hospitality in Jesus’ name, such as giving a cup of water to someone because he belongs to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.
He will ultimately be recompensed by participation in God’s kingdom, not on the basis of merit (a good deed) but because of God’s gracious promise to people of faith.
Interestingly, Jesus uses the title “Christ” instead of “Son of Man”, which is rare in the Synoptic Gospels.
So, what can we learn from these words?
The position we have in God’s Kingdom isn’t determined by how great we are on earth, or what positions of greatness we may achieve, but by how humble we make ourselves and how we serve others and therefore God.
That we, too, can perform miracles in the name of Jesus, if we have enough faith to believe that we can.
That even small acts of kindness - like giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty - are important in God’s eyes.
To make ourselves great in God’s eyes requires a great heart, not a great title.
Think of what positive actions you’ve taken in the past week, month, year - no matter how small.
Ponder these during your times of silent meditation with God and ask yourself what else YOU can do to serve him in some tangible way.
He isn’t asking you to make yourself the greatest at anything, but rather to assist others who are less fortunate than you are.
“Loving Lord God, help us to keep a humble heart and look to what we can do for others, rather than building ourselves up in the eyes of others.
May we look to building up your kingdom here on earth and assisting others to come to the knowledge of your love for them.
Keep us and our loved ones safe in this time of COVID lockdown and bring us out the other side with a positive attitude and love in our hearts. Amen”
Reflection: "Just Who is Jesus?"
Have you ever been asked that question?
Have you asked it of yourself?
Or am I talking nonsense?
It would seem natural to think that after 2,000 years of Christian history, we shouldn’t have to pose such a question. We might even add that it’s obvious – Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, the son of God, the second person of the Trinity, to whom we pledge our faith through the Nicene and Apostles Creeds.
Still, the question presents itself to us today: Who is Jesus?
Mark takes us back to the very heart of the gospel, where it was a critical time in Jesus’ relationship with his closest followers, a moment when the truth of what God was doing in and through Jesus came into sharpest focus.
It was an encounter that clarified once and for all the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”
Certainly, for each of us – as for every generation of Christians – an understanding of who Jesus is cuts to the core of our personal faith.
What Peter and the others experienced so long ago is what we go through again and again as we decide whether we are willing to match what we say we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives.
In today’s reading, we find Jesus with his disciples in a decisive moment of teaching and a gut-wrenching reality check.
Near the end of his public ministry, Jesus sought an evaluation of its effectiveness.
And he needed his closest allies to understand, really understand, what God was doing in and through him, to know where it all led - for the sake of the world.He asked the disciples what people were saying about him - who was he in their eyes?
He received several answers from them.
They said that some called him John the Baptist, others Elijah come back to life again, and some, a modern prophet.
But that was just the warmup round of questioning.
What Jesus really wanted to know, was, who his disciples thought he was.
Peter, always quick to act, spoke boldly for them: “You are the Messiah.”
Peter had come to understand him as the one who would fulfil God’s promises, the one whom God had sent to save the world.
So far so good, Jesus must have thought.
But no doubt, he really knew that they still didn’t fully understand what he meant to the world.
Jesus knew that Peter and the others still interpreted the meaning of Messiah according to the old, Jewish, order.
They saw him as the one who would usher in a climactic day of God’s deliverance as a mighty warrior.
One capable of returning Israel to independence, free from Roman oppression.
The truly revolutionary nature of what Jesus was doing, required him to continue to teach, and perhaps test them, further – to tell them what it meant for him to be God’s Messiah, what it would take for the world to be saved.
He revealed what would result in the events of Holy Week – his trial and death, before rising again on the third day.
Proving that he really didn’t get it, and with his usual impetuousness, Peter responded to this news by reprimanding Jesus for having said it. He didn’t like what he heard.
It didn’t fit his view of how God would save the world.
Imagine how much it must have troubled Jesus to experience such treatment from his most trusted follower.
So challenging was this rebuke that Jesus had to take the strongest of measures to make sure he was not misunderstood.
He called Peter “Satan,” and insisted that his view was one of human thinking and not of God.I suppose that Jesus should have expected this.
It’s probably why he told the disciples not to tell the people about their knowing him as the Messiah.
The people would surely have more trouble understanding than his twelve closest friends.
They had to know that the gift of God in him – the love, grace and forgiveness poured out through him – would come at a price, not only to Jesus, but to his followers, as well.
To follow Jesus, to walk the way of God, would require going against the most basic urges of human nature. It would require that they deny their own needs and desires and – speaking words they would only truly grasp after his death – they would have to take up crosses of their own, like the one that Jesus would bear on his way to die on the cross of Calvary.
It wouldn’t work if they were to focus on saving their own life – that would be the surest way to lose it spiritually. Every value of the world, he said, pales in comparison to what one could have in living a life with God.
And THAT is the nature of “who Jesus is.
”THAT’s what it means to know him as the Saviour.
THAT’s what it means to follow him in the way of God.
THAT’s how it becomes personal for us.
THAT’s how we match what we say we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives.
To say that Jesus is our Saviour, is to follow him willingly into salvation.
Today’s gospel reminds us that to do so, is to deny ourselves – to lose self, to let go of the ego, to put ourselves aside for the sake of greater values.
It’s giving up ourselves for others, in the way of sacrifice and unselfishness.
It’s giving up particular interests, or time, or possessions, when the purposes of God require it.
It’s letting the will of God take the place of our own will. It’s putting God, not ourselves, at the centre of life.
It is, in the words of the Baptismal Covenant, renouncing all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.
The figurative cross that we carry by following Jesus, represents the price we pay for our Christianity, the cost of discipleship, the way we remain connected with God, the answer to the question: “Who is Jesus?”
Though the answer – the response of losing our selfishness for the sake of God – is highly personal, and we don’t act upon it alone.
We’re lucky to be able to carry crosses in the company of a faithful band of followers of Jesus.
We stand beside one another as we meet Christ at the Eucharist table where we relive his sacrificial death.Together we gain sustenance for the difficult challenge Jesus sets before us, as we eat and drink with him, and of him.
We take what he is into our bodies and our spirits, as we become renewed and empowered by the spiritual energy that is Christ.
So empowered, we can go forth into our weekday, everyday world, as we act out the answer to the question and know just who Jesus really is.
God of our days, your Spirit sings to us in so many ways.
As the wind speaks through the trees, and the birds call out their joy, your Spirit reveals to us life in all its fullness.
Come today and speak in the midst of your people.
Your Wisdom is our teacher, bringing understanding.
Your Laws guide us in our daily living and our very being.
Wisdom, rest on our hearts and souls as we worship you today.
Reflection: "Living a Good Life"
This week we’re continuing our look at the book of James, and you may remember that last week I compared the book of James to the book of Proverbs, in that they both contain a lot of helpful sayings and information about how we should be living our lives.
Now, a proverb is described as just a pithy statement, expressing some truth in a striking and memorable way.
They were normally written by a scholar for a student, teaching them how to lead a moral life, with proper respect for God.
The writer of Proverbs is promoting the idea that the objective of life is the attainment of wisdom, i.e. integrity in God’s eyes.
We all know that life is full of choices and unfortunately we just have to turn on the nightly news to see far too many stories about so many young people, usually men, killed in motor vehicle accidents, or caught up in fights outside a late night drinking venue, where sometimes just one punch can result in the loss of an innocent life, usually from making bad choices.
Often, throughout the collection that makes up the book of Proverbs, one proverb may not appear directly related to the next, so reading them aloud in succession can sometimes make them hard to follow.
Instead, I’d recommend that you look on each one as a little nugget of inspiration and joy, and savour it before moving on to another.
Scholars of Hebrew poetry, which is what these proverbs essentially are, may take minutes, hours, or even years of careful meditation, analysis, and reflection before they grasp the full meaning of what the proverb meant when it was first written and how it now relates to their lives.But don’t let that deter you.
Instead, let it challenge and inspire you to further discovery and enlightenment.
Our reading this week from James Chapter 2 reminds us that, as followers of Jesus, our care for the poor can't be just about having our consciences pricked and simply sending money to a charity.
Nor is it only about building or supporting programs to help folks get a "hand up” - be they governmental, faith-based, or led by other non-profit organisations.
It’s not even only about addressing and reversing the root causes that lead to conditions of poverty in the first place.
Granted, all of these are critical places for church members to be actively engaged.
But all of them can also be exercises in missing the point.
What matters most of all, James reminds us, is building real relationships of mutuality and respect, in recognition that the poor - like the wealthy and all those in between - have both much to offer and much to give.
People who are engaged in hands-on ministries with the poor, whether in their local community, or around the world quickly learn this truth.
James calls on individual Christians and congregations to account for the ways they actively dishonour the poor.
Anytime we do this, we fail to fulfil what he calls the "royal law": i.e. to love every neighbour as we love ourselves.
Once again, we're faced with being admonished by James in this context.
When he says "stop doing this bad thing", we should also hear "keep doing this good thing", and ultimately that is what he’s after.
Not just to stop doing the bad thing, but to do something positive instead.
Can we think of some practical examples of how to achieve this?
Luckily, James gives us one example in the early verses of Chapter 2 – “seating practices” – when he tells us a story of someone coming into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, followed by a poor man in filthy old clothes.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
We happen to know that the early Christians in Syria took this teaching so seriously that they instituted a practice that if a poor person showed up at a meeting, and no seats were available in the congregation, the bishop would have to yield his seat to the poor person!
I like to think that we wouldn’t discriminate here in Lane Cove, but it certainly would test us if a homeless person, probably long overdue for a wash, wanted to sit next to us in a pew, wouldn’t it!
Another example would be if we totally ignored the hard of hearing by not putting in a hearing loop – maybe as a cost saving measure – or then not bothering to turn it on?
Would it be like putting out a big sign that they could read, saying: "Deaf people not really welcome here."
Similarly, we could have ignored the needs of the mobility impaired and not installed ramps, or banned walking frames inside the building.
Maybe we could decide that bringing the Uniting bus here is getting to be too much trouble, but it wouldn’t be a very good example of our faith in action, would it?
Luckily, we DON’T think that way.
Isn’t it great to see the excitement surrounding the Paralympics every 4 years, just following the able-bodied Olympics.
Here are a great bunch of athletes, physically and mentally challenged in various ways, all giving their best to perform for their country.
Their feats are just as, or even more worthy than the exploits of the able-bodied Olympians a few weeks earlier.
Do we see our congregation actively making room for the gifts and needs of all persons, so that we can all live together as the one body of Christ, showing no partiality, but truly loving every neighbour as ourselves, i.e. fulfilling the "royal law"?
I know that we can and, on the whole, are doing so, here at Lane Cove Uniting Church, so I’m sure that I don’t need to spell them all out for you.
Our faith needs to be more than just a feeling of wanting to do more for our fellow man, especially those who may be less fortunate than we are.
As James summed it up in this morning’s reading – “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”
This Sunday is Father’s Day in Australia and it’ll be a particularly hard time for many of us, as we can’t gather together as we usually do, to honour our fathers.
In our family, we often defer the celebration of a special day until we can be sure that the whole family can celebrate together.
Maybe that’s what many of us will have to do in 2021, as the COVID19 virus is spreading throughout the community.
You may be feeling isolated and lonely, but know that there are others feeling the same way, so don’t hesitate to reach out with a phone call. It will help both of you to feel connected.
Stay safe and well and consider your fellow man by becoming vaccinated and following the health guidelines.