Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sept. 27, 2009
Text: Mark 9:38-50
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says of His people, of the disciples, of you, of me (Matt. 5:13; ESV). What is the function of salt? It is a seasoning, to be sure, and it is in this sense that Jesus speaks when He calls you the salt of the earth. Christians are to season the world with our confession of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel, and with our good works that glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). But salt has another function, and it is that of which Jesus speaks in our text this morning when He says, “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). In the days before refrigeration, salt was used to preserve meat. When you cure meat with salt, it keeps the meet from rotting. The salty fire Jesus speaks of is the agent by which our Lord cleanses and preserves His Christians. “It is the discipline of the Word and the Spirit of God which gradually cleanses the believer of sin, and kills the works and desires of the flesh, and the fire of tribulation, which renders sin and its results unpleasant… it prevents moral rotting and a relapse into the service of sin.” It prevents the kind of rot that leads to the weakening of faith, and perhaps to the loss of faith in Jesus Christ altogether.
Dear Christians, you are to be the salt of the earth. You are to season the earth with your confession of Christ and your good works. You are to chase the devil away with the Word and Name of Jesus. Just like the man in our text, wherever you bear the Name of Jesus, and you bear that Name wherever you go since you have been baptized into His Name, there the devil must flee. The man in our text who was casting out demons in Jesus’ Name was the salt of the earth. John and the other disciples had no reason to be jealous of him, just as you have no reason to be jealous of your fellow Christians as they do good works in Jesus’ Name. The truth is, too, that we don’t all have the same work to do. Not everyone casts out demons, like the man in our text. Not everyone is a pastor, nor should everyone study for the office of the Holy Ministry. Not everyone is the president of the congregation or the head elder. On the other hand, being pastor or president or head elder is no more holy a work in the Kingdom of God than that done by any other Christian. Every Christian is important in the holy Church. Every member of the Body of Christ is important to the overall health, wellness, and functioning of the Body. And contrary to popular belief, the works that seem great in human eyes: the prestigious, the spectacular, the works that are noticed, are not as “salty” as some other works that go entirely unnoticed. Jesus says that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (v. 41) (Now I know why the elders always bring me ice water! Thanks be to God for them!). In the same breath Jesus speaks of the “mighty work” (v. 39) of exorcising demons and the mundane work of placing a cup of water in the hands of one who is thirsty. Both are high and holy works of God. This is salt of the earth kind of stuff. It seasons the world. It confesses Christ in word and in deed. It bears the Name of Christ to a world desperately in need of Him, desperately in need of the life-giving Gospel.
But that’s the easy part of the Gospel lesson. Now it gets more difficult. You are to have salt in yourselves, as well, Beloved. This is to say that the Word of God, Law and Gospel, is to have its way with you, to season you, and to preserve you. You will have to pass through the fire of tribulation, by which God would purify you. It isn’t pleasant. But it is necessary. Because hear again Jesus’ Word about those who cause one of these little ones to sin: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone,” like the one on the front of your bulletin, “were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). Better to be dead, than to cause one of these little ones, little children, weak Christians, the vulnerable, to sin. Such could even, God forbid, cause one of these little ones to lose their faith. We have to watch. We have to be on our guard, lest we do mortal harm to our brothers and sisters in the faith. “Here a grave responsibility is placed upon all parents, teachers, and all whose duty brings them into contact with children and with such as are small in the kingdom of God, the Christians that are weak in Christian knowledge. To watch over our mouths that they do not speak words, to watch over our members that they do not commit deeds, that will cause harm and offense, that is a solemn obligation, for which account will be demanded on the last day with most severe reckoning.”
And so this leads Jesus to say the very startling things He says in our text. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out! It is better to enter life without these members than, possessing them, to be cast into hell where the fire never stops burning and the worms never stop gnawing at your flesh, where fire and worm are ever consuming you, yet you are never consumed. Any and every alternative is better than hell, a place of unimaginable eternal torment. But is Jesus really telling us to mutilate ourselves? I hope not, because if we had to slice away every member of ours that we have used in service to sin, we would all be laying around with no appendages and no eyes. In fact, we’d be dead(!)… And that’s just the point, isn’t it? We’ve all been caught red-handed. It’s true, these hands are stained by sin. It’s true, these feet have led me to sin. It’s true, these eyes have lusted and coveted and looked upon others with judgment. This is to say nothing of the tongue, that untamable beast afire with gossip, idle speech, filthy language, and the cursing of the neighbor. This is to say nothing about every other member of the body that can be used in service to sin. You get the picture. Lord, have mercy. But even all of this doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is… well, your heart. Remember what Jesus says of your heart. We heard it just a few weeks ago: “out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). So you see, what really needs to be cut away is your heart. Cutting off your hands and feet and plucking out your eyes won’t get rid of sin. The heart is the source of sin. Your heart must be cut away and something else put in its place. And Jesus must do it. We cannot do it ourselves. We pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). God must create it if you are to have a new heart. He must break your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez. 11:19). He must create in you “a heart which rightly believes that it has been purified by God through faith.”
God does this in Baptism. That’s where you receive your new heart. That is where you are created anew, where the Old Adam in you is drowned and you are reborn, regenerated, renewed, made God’s own child, united to the crucified and risen Christ, and anointed with the Holy Spirit. Baptism is where all your sins are washed away, all those evil things that proceed from your heart, and you are given faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is where you are given your saltiness. Having been cleansed of your sin, the salt of God’s Word and the fire of tribulations, which ever drive you to Christ alone for mercy, preserve and purify you. Jesus says, “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). He’s talking about Christians, not unbelievers. St. Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,” salted with fire, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Jesus says to His disciples, to you, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). Have salt in yourselves. Be in the Word. Be flavored by the Word. Be preserved in the Spirit. Be purified by the fire of the cross. And then flavor one another as you live together in peace, always giving place to your neighbor, never insisting on your own way, gently restoring the erring brother or sister, sacrificing yourself for the good of the other, giving of all that you have been given to meet your neighbor’s every need, for you ever receive more and more from your loving heavenly Father. Have salt in yourselves. Be the salt of the earth.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the good news is you have no need to cut off your hands or your feet or to pluck out your eyes. You have no need to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea. You have no need, not because you haven’t sinned, not because you aren’t a sinner, for you have sinned, and you are a sinner. You have no need because Christ has already suffered all of this for you. He gave His body into death in your place. He died for your transgressions. And He is risen, that you may live, even now, a new life. He is risen, that you may be His salt. He is risen, that you may be His Body on the earth and in heaven. He is risen, and one day, on that great and blessed day of His appearing, you, too, will rise. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 218.
 Ibid., p. 217.
 Martin Chemnitz, quoted in The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009) p. 897.