Sermon - 9/30/18
2018.10.01 21:54:26

PROPER 21/B (2018): Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; James 5:1-20; Mark 9:38-50


Salt,   “[E]veryone will be salted with fire. 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” (vv. 49, 50). 


What’s the background for being salted with fire? The immediate context is the dispute among the Apostles, which of them is the “greatest” in the Kingdom (Mk. 9:34).  The overarching situation remains Jesus correcting misunderstanding about the Loaves and his coming Passion (6:52; 9:32). 


The main force of Jesus’ teaching today is directed to his disciples, those following him in establishing his NT church. Earlier Jesus admonished the puffed-up self-evaluations and ambitions among his Apostles by enfolding to his breast the one among them who is truly great, a powerless child, and the family/household servant.  Jesus had taken direct aim at the apostolic band. 


It is axiomatic that any student worth his salt is able to divert the class discussion from its assigned topic. St. John attempts to distract Jesus from apostolic shortcomings.  Thus there is an intervening discussion about those employing Jesus’ name for exorcisms yet do not follow in the Way.  Jesus blows-off John’s interruption; and so for the moment do we as better considered for a Reformation Day Sermon. 


Jesus abruptly returns the class to the topic at hand. The Apostles’ argument over which of them is “greatest” brought them dangerously close to being agents for the church’s infection; and so Jesus described the curative for recalcitrance in being “friended” with the world: surgical removal from the body; once again another stern rebuke to those following him on the Way.


If your eye, foot, or hand is a cause of sin, cast it out. No doubt there is figurative application for individuals; but more importantly is the necessity of a literal plucking and casting out members who by their passions and friendship with the world can and will infect the congregation being sanctified in the body of which Christ is head.  A rotten apple is not allowed to contaminate the barrel.  Such a one may return to the communion by grace when in repentance he is restored as good fruit. 


Likewise, St. James pulls no punches, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:4); and, “Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire” (5:3).  And so we come to Jesus urging us to be on guard against and to “rule over” sin always “crouching at the door” (Gen. 4:7), and “hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48). 


Really, how is it possible for sinful man to “rule over” sin, Satan, and the world all of which claims dominion over man?  St. Paul describes our dilemma; “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18a, 19).  Paul joins James in assigning prominence of our worldly passions as an infection that produces war within (7:23; James 4:1) and communicable within the body of Christ. 


Under these conditions, how is it possible for us not to sin? Well, this side of heaven, it is not; but with God all things are possible and for the one who believes as well (Mk. 9:23).  Satan, by the gospel, is already a defeated foe, yet continues a rear-guard action roaming the world, especially against the church, launching fiery darts as he retreats to Armageddon’s cataclysm. 


So what are we to do, but in faith put on the whole defensive armor of God (Eph. 6:11); and to this end Jesus continues teaching about the Loaves and his Passion on the Way. “[E]veryone will be salted with fire.”.  Fired-up Salt is the antidote to hell-fire and its undying worm. 


Have you ever dosed a worm or a slug with salt. What happens, it melts away; in this way Jesus speaks of himself, “Salt is good…” (Mk. 9:50).   The Salt with which we are salted is for our on-going sanctification and holiness.  Our fired-Salt is the principle element that unites with the Eucharistic grain of NT Loaves, as priestly food for the Baptized.


Accept a homework assignment, if you will. In your favorite English Bible translation open to Acts 1:4.  The occasion is forty days post-Resurrection.  Jesus in word and deed has imparted into the soul and being, the woof and warp of his church his cross and Supper, the lessons of the Loaves and Passion; now he is about to ascend to the Father in the sight of his disciples.  


Invariably English translations render, as by your ESV, “And while staying with them [Jesus] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem…”  As regards such mistranslations one can fairly appropriate from Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so; the things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, it ain’t necessarily so.”  


Without getting into Greek weeds, the proper translation is, “And as [Jesus] was eating and taking salt together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem…”  Let me repeat, Jesus was not merely “staying” with his Apostles/disciples, he was eating and taking fellowship salt with them.


Jesus had fully instructed his church about the Loaves and his Passion and this the day of Ascension consummated that teaching in Eucharistic eating, sharing salt in friendship. Ten days hence Jesus would send upon the church the promise of our Father, the HS.  By the HS’s enlightenment the apostolic teaching would guard the church in the Way of the Loaves and Jesus’ Passion.


So what does Jesus mean when today he tells his Apostles, “[E]veryone will be salted with fire”?  He means that his flesh and blood self-donation on the cross for the life his church fulfilled the Law, specifically the OT grain offering regulations for feeding God’s priesthood, forming of a holy people.  


When in Capernaum Jesus announced, “I Am the Bread of Life come down from heaven” (Jn. 6:41), he was not merely making a one to one simile with the OT manna in the desert.  Jesus not only came out of heaven to feed his church by his word, but with the church’s sacramental Loaves; in water, grain, and oil, he is for us fire-salted Bread sacrificially offered to God on the Cross. 


This Eucharist is the participatory food in God’s new Temple, it is the new Showbread offered to God and returned as sanctified Bread for distribution to the Baptizeds’ eating and sharing in peace.


The old covenant begins with grain offerings for sanctification, presented to God and returned as the bread of Presence for consumption by the priesthood. Thus anticipating Christ, “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt; you shall not leave out the salt of the covenant of your God from your grain offering.  On all your offerings you must offer salt (Lev. 2:13). 


When Jesus identified himself in the synagogue of Capernaum as the Bread from heaven (Jn. 6), he implicitly informed those with Jewish ears to hear that he is the church’s Salt and salting of her NT exodus feeding: he is the Seed that produces much grain (Jn. 12:24), the baptismal water, salt and oil of the HS (Mk. 9:49) united in his fiery Passion for God’s love of men that overcomes the sin of the world and hellish invertebrates.


When Jesus warned his bickering Apostles in today’s Gospel, “Have Salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”, he makes a similar point in his Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew, “You are the salt of the earth…” (Mt. 5:13).  But before we may be salt for the earth we must have Salt in ourselves.  Jesus is our fire-salted Eucharistic food in whom we are sanctified, having peace with God and with each other.


Our Eucharistic gifts: grain, wine, worldly treasure for the poor and for your pastor is intrinsically associated with our communal prayer at the Altar of Thanksgiving. God acknowledges our earthly offerings and our priestly character in Christ, returning to us heaven’s priestly Bread, in whom God gives us his “yes” in faith.  Amen. 





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