Our Life Together
This is a strange text indeed. Very vivid. There's the unknown exorcist, the millstone around the neck, the dismembered body, hell complete with never ending fire and worms that don't die, and finally there are the words about salt. Young people today like the concept of randomness. Are these just random events and words of Jesus pieced together by St. Mark? No, this is about our life together. The text begins with a question about those who don't follow with us and ends with Jesus admonishing "be at peace with each other."
Our life together is based on Jesus. It's not a matter of whether a person or church is with us but are they with Jesus. Right before our text Jesus had taken a little child into His arms and said, "Whoever receives a child in My name receives Me." This caused John to question something the disciples did earlier. They had seen a man driving out demons in Jesus' name, but had told him to stop because, literally, "he did not follow us." The exorcist was using Jesus' name, not the name of Solomon or Abraham like most Jews did, and he was getting results. He wasn't like the Jewish exorcists in Acts who tried to imitate Paul and use Jesus' name to cast out demons. Those men failed and were beaten by the demon. This man succeeded, but still the disciples told him to stop because he wasn't following with them.
That's not the issue. It's not a matter of who is with us, but who is with Jesus. The man the disciples confronted was driving out demons in Jesus' name just like they were. He was not against them but for them. Even if someone gave so much as a cup of water to them in Jesus' name, God would remember and reward that. How much more so, someone who in Jesus' name was helping the disciples in the war against demons! If they persisted in forbidding people who used Jesus' name to cast out demons, what would they do next? Slap cups of water out of the hands of people who offered them in Jesus' name?
Our life together is as full and rich and as sweet as Jesus' name. The boundaries of our fellowship are as wide and high and long as the name of Jesus. Therefore, we are to be very serious about the name of Jesus. We are to think it better to have a 2000 pound millstone tied around our neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause even the least of believers to stray from the name of Jesus. What a horrible figure! Historically, it has been applied primarily to pastors. In fact, if you look at old pictures of Lutheran pastors, you will see them wearing a black shirt with a big white puffy thing about the neck. That was to symbolize a millstone. It was a constant reminder that it would be better to have a millstone about the neck than to lead anyone away from Jesus.
Where is Jesus found today? He told the first pastors, "He who hears you hears Me." Jesus is found where His name and Word are preached. Anyone who leads you away from faithful preaching would be better off wearing a millstone. Jesus is found in Baptism. "As many of you who have been baptized, you have put on Christ." Anyone who leads you away from your Baptism or suggests it's not that powerful would be better off wearing a millstone. Jesus is found in Communion. Anyone who tells you that this is not the Body and Blood of Jesus, anyone who tells you that Jesus is not here on this altar but in heaven, would be better off wearing a millstone.
Who belongs to Jesus must be protected at all cost. Jesus switches to the analogy of the Church as a body. He says better for the body to lose a hand, foot, or eye than the whole body be dragged into hell. People misunderstand this when they think Jesus is speaking about the individual. This is where those gruesome stories come from of the person walking into a pastor's office with an eyeball in their hand. Orgien, a Church father, misunderstood it this way and castrated himself concluding the problem went deeper than hands, feet, or eyes.
The problem does go deeper than hands, feet, and eyes, and even deeper than Orgien went. None of these parts of the body cause us to sin. Our fallen hearts, our fallen natures are the culprit and no surgical procedure no matter how radical will solve this problem, will it? Jesus is not giving advice on how to stop sinning. He is telling us how to protect the Body of Christ. Where do you think St. Paul got the figure of the Church as a body? Do you think he pulled it out of thin air? No, it was a figure Jesus first used here in talking about what to do about those who cause others to stray from Jesus' name.
Your eye, hand, feet, or any other member of your body is not the source of your sinfulness, so it is silly to think that by removing a part of the body you could save yourself from hell. But, a false member in the Body of Christ can most certainly lead the Body of Christ astray. Hands that point to something other than Jesus; feet that guide people away from Jesus into the broad, comfortable path of damnation; eyes that look to success, numbers, and popularity rather than to Jesus, can lead a whole church to hell. Lose any member of the Body of Christ rather than jeopardize the whole Body.
Our life together is based on Jesus. It's as broad and wide as Jesus and His Word. If it's any broader or wider than Jesus or His Word, than it's outside of Jesus and discipline must be taken. The power of this fellowship, this community based on Jesus is salt. Salt is important to have in one's diet. Medicine frequently warns us about too much salt, but too little salt can also give you health problems. The Body of Christ needs salt, and, thanks be to Jesus, we need have no concern that we lack it.
That's a bold statement, but isn't it true? Jesus says in Matthew 5, "You are the salt of the earth." He doesn't say, "You must become the salt of the earth," or, "You need to get salt." But what about here? Doesn't Jesus say, "Have salt in yourselves." That's how all the translations translate this, as an imperative. But in form it's an indicative. "You have salt in yourselves." And this indicative form fits Jesus' words in Matthew, "You are the salt of the earth."
How are we salt? You don't make salt by adding lots of salt to something. That only makes it salty, not salt. Salt is a created thing. God brings it into being. In Martin Luther's 1523 Order for Baptism the pastor takes the child and puts a pinch of salt into his mouth and says, "Receive the salt of wisdom. May it aid thee to eternal life. Amen. Peace be with thee."
At one time you were unsalt, or no-salt. At one time, you were outside the Body of Christ, outside the boundaries of Jesus' name without God and without salvation. But God had mercy upon you. He sent the Gospel of Jesus Christ out to find you. Over hill, into valleys, through swamps, that Word of salvation kept calling you saying, "Come back sinner. Your sins are too heavy, too big, too many for you to deal with. They're dragging you straight to hell." The Gospel said, "Though your sins be as scarlet, Jesus has made them white as snow. Though your face be crimson with shame for your many sins, Jesus will make it white as wool. Stop trying to make up for your sins. Stop trying to excuse your sins. Your efforts and your excuses can only go to hell with you."
"There is only one answer to your sins," preached the Gospel to you. It's found in Jesus. He kept all those laws, all those commandments, all those requirements of God that accuse you, convict you, shame you. Since Jesus kept them, in Jesus they can't accuse, convict or shame you. Moreover, Jesus suffered the fire that does not go out, the worms that don't die, and the unquenchable wrath of God that your sins deserve. Let the devil stoke the flames of hell as hot as he can. Let him fill hell with maggots, and roaches, and blood sucking worms. You're not going there because Jesus went there for you. He endured all that the devil threatens you with on the cross. He drained the cup of God's wrath against sins. Let the devil try to pour it out on you; there's not a drop left."
All that Jesus worked and won for you in His Body, was given to your body in Baptism. We don't put salt in your mouth anymore, but through the Word joined to your Baptismal Water all the forgiveness, all the deliverance from death and the devil, all the eternal salvation that Jesus won on the cross in 30 AD comes to you today. And the Jesus who makes the damned, saved, the guilty, not-guilty, the dead, alive, makes the no-salt, salt.
And dear friends, salt does what it does without command, without threats, without training. Have you ever put salt on your food and found it didn't season it? Have you ever put salt in a glass of water and found it didn't make it salty? You are salt; you have salt. Jesus has sprinkled you on this earth to do what salt does: to season, to preserve, to cleanse. But in this text, it's not about seasoning, preserving, and cleansing the earth, but the Body of Jesus. This text is about our life together, and it says we can be at peace with each other because we do have salt in ourselves.
Friends, when I am tempted to look away from Jesus, to look where He is not, to ignore Baptism, Absolution, and Communion where He is, you are to season me with the salt of truth calling me back to where Jesus is. When I am rotting in my falleness, certain I'm dying and going the way of all flesh into decay, you are to sprinkle me with the life that you in have in Jesus. You are to sprinkle me with the truth that though I die, I never die in Jesus. Though my hands, feet, and eyes cease to function here, they never do in Jesus. And when I sin, you are to cleanse me. You are to sprinkle me liberally with the forgiveness you have in Jesus. From Jesus, in Jesus, by Jesus that sums up our life together. O, and pass the salt please. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIX (10-19-03), Mark 9:38-50