This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 26, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’ Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-50
Young Friends message:
Have some salt to show them. Ask them and the adults, how much money do you think is in this little packet of salt? Yes, probably only a few cents worth. If I were to give you some salt for your birthday or Christmas, you probably wouldn’t be impressed. It’s not worth very much in money but it’s worth a whole lot in our lives. What are some things that salt does? Salt does many important things, but we actually need a good balance of salt in our bodies to live. Without it, our bodies don’t work properly. Even though it’s not worth much, you can’t buy anything with it, it’s very valuable to us. But in Jesus’ time, salt was like money, and was more valuable than gold. People were paid for jobs in salt. In our bible story today, it starts out with the disciple John being very worried that someone else was good at casting out demons, or helping people in Jesus’ name, and he was jealous. Jesus tells him that anyone who is helping people and loving people in God’s name is valuable. Jesus then goes on to say some very scary things about body parts being cut off. Jesus does not mean for us to cut off or harm any part of our body. But Jesus is trying to get our attention that what we may think is valuable or impressive may actually be harmful to someone else, and that our mission in God’s kingdom is to make sure that everyone knows that they are included in God’s love and promises. That no matter what they look like, what they do, where they live, what they do or don’t have, they are more valuable to God than salt and should see each other as valuable too. The saying you might have heard that derives from this is “someone is worth their salt.” You are valuable to God and to us here at OSLC, more valuable than money, gold or salt. I have a reminder for you of this-a baggie with some salt and the saying “you are worth your salt.” We’re going to talk a little more about this.
If you had one hour to pack up your car and leave because of a fire, or some other disaster, what would you take? Outside of important legal documents, for me, I would grab pictures. Not a piece of china or crystal, not a piece of furniture or another object that might have monetary value. I would take items that are probably only valuable to me, because they offer me a connection to someone and something that can’t be replaced by money or other material means. Most of what I own, doesn’t have monetary value, only sentimental value. A saying I’ve heard is “something only has value if someone else wants it.” That’s a hard fact for most of us. We think our children will want some of our things one day, but the truth is that they often don’t. Our material things don’t have any meaning to anyone outside of us. No matter how much we want other people to place value on the same things that we do. This can happen with traditions as well. Such as sending Christmas cards used to have meaning for me, but it honestly no longer does since with social media, I keep up with the folks that I want to throughout the year. It’s a tradition that many have given up as it no longer holds the value that it once did. And it frees up time, worry and money in a season that is already fraught with stress and removed an obstacle from focusing on what really matters.
What’s truly valuable is a hard conversation, whether it’s material objects, or traditions. We like to think that what we find meaningful is meaningful for everyone else, in all times and in all places but sometimes we find that what we think is meaningful, can be a stumbling block for someone else. In the 21st century church, we’re wrestling with this truth. Traditions that seem immutable and monolithic aren’t valuable to different generations, demographics and cultures. As a matter of fact, they are a stumbling block for them to even consider being a part of a Christian community. It can be a stumbling block that worship is Sunday mornings, or that communities aren’t racially diverse, or mainly accessible to able-bodied, neurotypical folks, or when churches are more concerned about who they keep separate from than seeking authentic partnerships. Or more personally, I can be a stumbling block for others to experience the healing of Jesus, when I don’t advocate for my Haitian siblings on the border, or I’m too afraid of tarnishing my reputation or being called radical that I don’t stand firm to support the human rights of bodily autonomy of pregnant people and LBGTQIA+. I can be a stumbling block when I’m more worried about myself, what I might lose, than what my neighbor has already lost. I can be a stumbling block when I succumb to my privilege, being “nice” and quietism instead of living for the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. I have to wonder if part of the decline in participation in mainline Christianity, such as the Lutheran church, is linked to that we refuse to wrestle with and cut off what is no longer valuable for people in our church systems, that we cling to what we like, are comfortable with and are used to, instead of focusing on what is truly valuable to bring in the kingdom of God. Something only has value if someone else wants it.
Many people, particularly younger people, are searching for true value, authentic community, community who accepts them just as they are and doesn’t make them hustle for their worth. Community that exists to transform the world, to care for creation, community that clearly sees the hard realities of our society and faithfully engages. Community that is rooted in something beyond themselves, something more precious than much fine gold or honey as the psalmist writes. A community that is worth its salt: people are looking for life, for peace, as Jesus offers his followers today in this gruesome passage of amputations, and the fires of hell, Gehenna. This talk of hell isn’t about the afterlife, it’s about being in the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem where refuse, objects with no use or value were disposed of by fire. But there is good news here for us in this horror story.
Jesus names the reality that we think we need to compete for our worth, and Jesus counters that because of the word of God, the name of Jesus, the promises of the good news of wholeness, abundant life, connection and love we are already worthy. Or is as valuable as salt, which as I mentioned to our young friends, in the ancient world was used as currency and was more valuable than gold. What and who has value in God’s economy isn’t the same as the world’s economy, Jesus says. You have worth because you are God’s, AND so does everyone else.
But we worry about what we might lose if we cut off the things and traditions that we love and know, as dearly as we love and know our own appendages. Will the church have value if it no longer looks like what we grew up with, or doesn’t have all the programs we’re used to, or doesn’t use a building, or has leadership that looks different than in the past? Or will we then clearly understand what has true value: God’s living word of love for us and our neighbors. We can see how people around us are also worth their salt to God and understand that in removing stumbling blocks, even if we love the stumbling blocks, we gain so much more than what we gave up. We gain wholeness in ourselves, in our community and in God. We gain peace with each other. We gain life beyond arbitrary traditions and human rules to freely live as God’s people in God’s economy valued and beloved. We live as people worth our salt. Thanks be to God.