“Salt is good.”, Jesus says. Well, that certainly is good news for those of us who love salty snacks and have been trying to avoid them for health reasons! Of course, Jesus isn’t talking here about a bag of Doritos. Jesus is talking about salt, but just not as a seasoning to make our food taste better.
Jesus is talking about certain uses of salt that we don’t think much about these days. One is to preserve food – common before modern refrigeration. That preservative effect may have been what led to the use of salt in covenant ceremonies. A covenant – an agreement between two parties – was ‘salted’ to insure its permanence. Salt was also a purifying agent, which anyone who has ever gone into the ocean with a cut on your hand can testify. The stinging you feel is salt, cleaning out the wound. Salt was also used to purify a sacrifice leading to its use in the rituals of worship.
I hope this little background helps us understand what Jesus is saying when he talks with his disciples about salt. When Jesus says “everyone will be salted with fire” he is trying to make it clear to his disciples that following him will lead to sacrifice. That was a tough lesson for them, as it would be and is for us. Like the disciples who in Mark appear especially dense, we too are often surprised by the demands discipleship can make on us. We’re OK with what Jesus says about welcoming all people into our ministry – course, we’d like it if they do things the way we have always done them. But the idea of such demanding sacrifice as Jesus modeled is more than we can take. Cutting off offending body parts – seriously?!
This is a dangerous piece of scripture which has been misused for centuries. Hear me clearly – Jesus doesn’t want us to mutilate ourselves or each other. But he does want us to be aware of those parts of our individual nature and those parts of our communal fellowship that lead us astray. Sometimes it is necessary to remove damaged parts from the body, just as cancers are removed. It is painful, but necessary. Part of the purifying work of salt.
Jesus goes on to speak more about community when he tells the disciples to ‘have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’. Here, Jesus is referring to the covenantal use of salt – the guarantee of permanence that was part of the ritual of covenant, assuring that the agreement would last through whatever came after it. The disciples had some tough times ahead. This incident is the last episode of Mark’s story of Jesus to take place in Galilee. Galilee was home – it was where the disciples were the most comfortable. After this exchange, Jesus and his followers will begin their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus knows that what happens in Jerusalem will change the disciples lives forever.
There, Jesus would die – they would no longer have him with them on earth, but they would always have each other, because their covenant had been sealed with salt. They might disagree about the direction the ministry Jesus left them should go, but they would always have their time together with Jesus to fall back on and get them through. They would struggle finding a way to become the Church, but they would do it grounded in all they had learned together from Jesus.
Communities of faith have depended on this salted covenant for centuries, as the church has grown and expanded. The church has faced the challenges of changing times, changing relationship with rulers and governments, growing secularism, persecution and other hardship, and come through it together as community. Individuals depending on one another, working together, praying together. And the ministry moves on, because it is God’s ministry and God never turns away.
Fortunately, our beloved Calvin is not heading toward Jerusalem. But we do face the challenge of moving on without him as our rector – a thought that brings much sadness, and a little apprehension. In the month ahead, we will celebrate all that we have done together – in November, we will grieve and then we will move on. We will continue to pray and sing, worship and work. For God has called us all to be ‘salty’ Christians and we will take up that call, trusting in God and each other. We will continue to proclaim God’s love for all creation, even when that message carries the stinging power of purifying salt. We will continue to welcome all who seek to join us in God’s service. We will continue to reach out into our communities and the world offering a cup of water, and more, as we seek to share from our many blessings with those not so fortunate. We will continue to gather as beloved community in this place to pray, trusting the assertion of James that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” We will pray for one another, and we will pray for those around our world who need our prayers – those suffering the effects of earthquakes, tsunami, flood, hurricane, fires – those living with secrets too painful to voice – those struggling to find their way in a world that is changing too quickly to understand.
God has called us to this salty life – and God has entrusted us with all that we need to be able to live it. God walks with us along the paths we know, and those whose ending we cannot yet see. Let us trust God to lead and support us as we go out to be God’s salty people in this place.