August 28, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5.13)
“God has raised this Jesus of Nazareth, whom He has made both Messiah and Lord, to life and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the very right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear….When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you, too, will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2.32-33, 37-38)
You may well wonder what the passages of scripture presented to you for this reflection have in common. Essentially, they both have “sacrifice” in common. Neither passage mentions the word “sacrifice,” but a sacrifice is essential in understanding them both. I would go further and add the words of John’s recollection of the teachings of Jesus found in the midst of a powerful presentation now labeled as John, chapter 6. The entire chapter speaks to the very sacrifice which Jesus would make for the redemption of God’s people and clothing them all with righteousness. It connects to those scriptures above for me in two particular verses- 28 and 29: “Then the disciples asked Jesus, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered them, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.’” It takes a lot of sacrifice to truly believe in what God has done. John had already declared the very sacrifice which God had made because of His great love for His people. “For God so loved the world He gave [sacrificed] His Only Begotten Son so that all those who would believe would receive eternal and abundant life.” It also speaks, by default, of the great sacrifice which Jesus made as He surrendered His place at the right hand of God. He gave up the presence of all Heaven and Heaven’s glory and wonder to dwell on earth not in angelic form but in the form of flesh and blood humanity. He set aside freedom from pain, death, suffering, crying, hungering, thirsting and striving to be clothed with us so that we might see the “wisdom” of God. Israel had existed in the knowledge of God since the foundations of the earth were created. There were some who grasped the wisdom of God but by and large most people never did. Even the enemies of God and God’s people understood the “knowledge of God” but not the wisdom. How can I say that? Because those enemies who distanced themselves in fear or by defeat from Israel never believed in the God of Israel and called Him their own. They could not do the work that was required of them because they would not make that pivotal sacrifice of self to God. In John 6. 28-29, we hear what that work is. It is the “wisdom” to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Lord and Messiah of all. Those who would not grasp the wisdom of God did not truly believe. If they did not truly believe then they could not truly receive the promise of the Holy Land, the abiding presence of God wherever it would be found. We, as followers of the way of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ who is Lord and Messiah, Savior of the world, should need our feet washed a great deal. In fact, our feet should be washed continually because wherever the Spirit of God is at work in us, through us and around us is holy ground. And, as in the days of Moses on Mt. Sinai when he was seeking His father’s sheep (well, his father-in-law’s sheep), we, too, should remove our shoes for the ground on which we walk the walk and talk the talk is sacred, holy and worthy of our sacrifice in humble worship and praise of the One True God.
It is in that sense of “sacrifice,” humbling ourselves before God in all we say and do. it is to acknowledge God and receive from Him the wisdom which sets us apart. With that we must take our stand in the world. The very gospel, as the work we are called to do as believers and receivers, is an “a-salt” (a play on the word assault) on our senses and sensibility. The gospel of Jesus Christ defies the logic of the world and glorifies the logic of the Kingdom. Many people would tell you that putting salt on a wound is a bad and painful thing. In truth, pouring salt on a wound is painful. It is “painful good.” When salt is applied to a wound, it causes the cells to shrink and pull away from each other. This helps to remove any debris or infection that may be in the wound. The “sting” may cause a pain and our human desire is to escape pain. But, it is the pain which causes us to flee from an ultimate pain which is death. Hear the echo of the early Church hymn which Paul sings to the community of faith in Corinth- “Where, o death, is your sting. Where, o death, is your victory. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.” But, salt goes further than separating the cells so that the uncleanness can be removed. Remember, when I spoke of the man who cleaned his house ridding it and him of an unclean spirit? His failure was that he did not fill the space with things of life. The unclean spirit went out into the dry and arid lands but it had a longing for “home.” It kept its eye on the past and found others who were a part of that “past” as well. In truth, the seven spirits might have even been evicted from that man’s house themselves at one time. They had a shared story- the man never learns his lesson. Oh sure, he has the knowledge of purging his house of an evil spirit. But, he lacks the wisdom of setting the best hedge of protection around the house to keep it from falling into darkness again. That “hedge of protection” was not an exterior defense but an internal offense. While football championships may be won by defense with the attitude that a good defense is the best offense, it is not the same in the world of righteousness. When the disciples and other followers were in the Upper Room the morning of Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit came upon them as with tongues of fire. They had been salted by the gospel of Jesus Christ, retaught to them over forty days of post-resurrection instruction by Christ Himself. The salt of the gospel changed the nature of the fire from a consuming one to a purifying one. It took away that which remained of the world, that debris and infection drawn out by the salt. Then drawing out the fluids of the human nature (non-living water which salt also does in drying up the wound so that the body can be mended from the inside out) it became an in-dwelling experience. The gap in their lives which sorrow, despair, doubt and death renders is filled in to make them truly whole. The man whose “house,” an object lesson of Jesus to represent the body, was knowledgably clean with the absence of an evil spirit and was empty. It was empty but not full-filled. It gave the appearance of righteousness but was not anything of the sort because it was empty and lifeless. Jesus would call the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs.” They gave off the appearance of righteousness in their white flowing robes and long jangling phylacteries to draw attention to themselves. But, appearances were deceiving because inwardly they were filled with haughtiness, deceit and self-righteousness. They were the ancient version of “the walking dead.” They could have well played the part of a valley full of dry bones in the vision given to Ezekiel. God asked him, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered “God, you know,” meaning “I have no earthly idea.” And God brought to bear on those bleached bones the four winds of His Holy Spirit and the bones rattled to life outwardly and were filled with the Spirit of God inwardly being an inspired army of the Lord. Except, the Pharisees would have to sacrifice their old way of understanding and put on the new in order to no longer be “tombs.” But, the man did not go on the offense by filling his house with the wisdom of God. The Word of God was not found there. It may have still been hanging on the wall outside the doorway but it was covered with the dust of the world. The light of the world was on but no one was at home. It was just a cleaned out house; a whitewashed tomb. So, in came the spirits who now had this in common: the fate of the man was worse than ever before.
So what of our “fate”? If we choose to have life and have it abundantly, we must lead the “a-salt” on the world of humanity with the knowledge and wisdom of God. Jesus told the woman at the well, “The day will come when we will worship neither on this or that mountain but in spirit (wisdom) and truth (knowledge).” And that “spirit and truth” is none other than the gospel of the saving grace of God made known in Jesus of Nazareth whom God declared as Lord and Messiah, Savior. We are called to go out into all the world clothed not as whitewashed tombs and facades of emptiness. We are called to go out into all the world clothed with righteousness and doing what Jesus did- make disciples in and of all nations as we have been disciples, teaching them all that has been taught to us and baptizing them as we ourselves have been baptized by fire and water, spirit and truth. It requires sacrifice and surrender, no pain-no gain. Jesus says to us “Take up your cross and follow me. I send you out into the world among wolves but fear not, I have overcome the world.” Yes, I blended three different passages of scripture to create a statement of faith but it is true to the very spirit of the Word of God. It is the same Spirit which was at work in Peter and the other apostles. It is the same Spirit working through them to all those who were gathered for the Pentecost offering- the sacrifice of a lamb for a bountiful harvest. It was happening at the very moment that Peter was preaching. The High Priest was returning back to the old ways now rendered useless. They were symbols only of death and destruction. But, what they had intended for evil God chose to use for good. It is the good Jesus recognized on the cross when He said, “Father, forgiven them as they do not know what they are doing.” You see, it isn’t a matter of whether God forgave them or not because He forgave them. That would be common knowledge according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What it was a matter of was whether they would receive it or not and be filled with the wisdom of God to know the difference. They persisted in the ways of knowledge as was present in the Old Testament, even with the words of prophetic anticipation of the coming of the Messiah to save His people included in it. But, lacking the wisdom to accept Jesus as that Messiah, the Christ of God, Lord and Savior, the author and provider of that New Testament, or Covenant, they missed what would make all the difference in their future. It makes all the difference in our own, too. What are we willing to sacrifice and have the salt of God’s word poured into our woundedness? Is our desire to do so so we can be healed and purified and ready to receive the light of His Word? And is our desire for it so great that we would give it all to be filled to overflowing with the wisdom of God that causes the enemy to flee? I would hope so because there is no other way to the Father but through the way of His Son who led the a-salt on the enemy of God and humanity and is victorious. Where is your sting, o death, and your victory. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Faith in Jesus as the Christ is the victory that overcomes the world and fills it with new life!
TODAY’S PRAYER: Father, salt us with the gospel of Your Love, wash us clean with the blood of the Lamb that was slain and fill us with Your Holy Spirit that we may be new creations and glad members of the priesthood of all believers seeking to serve You and glorify You by loving those in the world with the opportunity to believe and receive the fullness of Your great love. In Jesus’ name we live, serve and pray. AMEN.