You Can Unfriend

When you browse your newsfeed
and you need cat videos
And no one, no nobody knows the truth.
Look for that ellipses (…), and click on “unfollow”
And right away your newsfeed is less uncouth.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

When a friend you thought was loving
Delights to gore your ox.
And nothing they say makes a lick of sense,
If you’re always shoving
Your feelings in a box,
Cause what they say is racist, and rude, and tense,

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.

Now ain’t it good to know you can unfriend
When people can be so cold?
They’ll tag you, and they’ll drag you
Into their fight if you let them
Ah, but don’t you let them.

You just hide, scroll or block.
And you know when comments are locked
You’ll be wanting the madness to end.
If politics, religion and crime
Are all your friends can post all the time.
You won’t see them if you will,
You can unfriend.
Ah, darling, you can unfriend.
Ain’t it good to know, ain’t it good to know
You can unfriend.

Gifts of God

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

— John 10:22-30 NASB

Some of us want to impose our own conditions on God’s grace. Some people say it is available only to the select few, or to those who don’t sin, or to those who are baptized. We want to say that salvation belongs to some particular set of denominations and not to the others. Some people have even gone so far as to say that those who speak in tongues or faint at church, those who are “slain in the spirit”, are the only ones who are truly saved.

And I assure you, for everyone whose salvation we question, there is someone out there who questions ours as well.

I think that everyone here is walking the road to God. Some of us might be farther down the road than others. Some of us might be just getting started. And there might be some of us who are tempted to leave that road and go another way. But I think the very fact that we are in a Christian church and that we are intentionally listening to the gospel message means that we have each been called by God to be here.

In our scripture today, Jesus says that those who don’t believe are simply not the sheep of His pasture. We here the Good Shepherd’s voice, and we follow, because we recognize that voice. We are the sheep of His pasture.

How did we get here? How did we get so lucky? Most of us were raised in a church, maybe even in this church, and we’re here because we recognize the songs, the liturgy, the scripture, and the people. It’s just where we feel at home. We belong here. We didn’t earn the right to be here; it’s a gift of God. We were raised hearing that Voice of Jesus., We recognize that Voice. Others may have come to faith later in life, but something about that Voice, that message of love and forgiveness, rang true to us.

In today’s scripture, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I’d say we’re here because we want to follow Jesus. We know that voice. The next statement should give every one of us the confidence to face anything life throws at us. It should make us bold in our faith: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We can debate whether you can give up your salvation, but this verse tells me that no one can steal it from you. You won’t be lost by accident, an no one can take your salvation away. It’s a promise from Jesus Himself, and you can take it to the bank.

Now, consider what comes next: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all”. Do you realize that God has given us to Jesus? We’ve considered before that the ability to believe in Jesus is itself a gift of God, and that no one can just decide to believe. So God has given us that gift of faith. But in our scripture today, we learn that we are God’s gifts to Jesus. We follow Jesus because God has put us in the Good Shepherd’s pasture.

There are other places in the gospel of John where Jesus makes the same point. In John 6:37-30, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothingh, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

And at John 17:6-10, in what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name to the men [and women] You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

We talk a lot about the gifts of God – the gifts of tongues, of healing, of prophecy and such. But in another sense, each of you is a gift of God. God the Father has given each of us to Jesus Christ. We have been intentionally placed in Jesus’ care. I don’t look for another shepherd because I know that I was given to Jesus by God Himself. I don’t reject anyone who tries to follow Jesus Christ, because they were given to Jesus by God as well.

In the Old Testament, the original covenant, we learn that God set a nation apart for Himself, so that they could carry the message that there is but one God over all, a God who cares, and loves, and forgives. Now, God has set us apart as well, not by making us all members of one race, or one nation, but as sheep of one Shepherd, as followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter, who spent most of his life thinking his family and his country were the chosen people, said about all believers in Jesus, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. And we know Peter was talking to Christians, and not just to Israelites, because he also said “for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

So don’t keep looking for the gifts of God proof of salvation. If you’re looking for the gifts of God, look around you. Look in the mirror. WE are the gifts of God, and we were given to Jesus Christ, who will not let us go, and who will give us eternal life. He will raise us up on the last day.

This knowledge gives us the power to live joyously, confidently, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We fear no one. We don’t even fear death itself. We will never perish. Hallelujah!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, receive the Good News. Amen.

Marshmallow Manna

In childhood they were “marshmallow chickies,”
All soft and yellow, crunchy sugar birds.
Still soft and sweet and simple little stickies.
But neon chicks and rabbits? How absurd!

I close my eyes to eat them and recall —
My teeth on edge, I chew them with my tongue.
Of Easter fare I love them most of all,
As much today as back when I was young.

I wonder, will their sugar coat dissolve
As quickly as marshmallow melts away?
The answers, now as then, will still revolve
Around that tastebud/sweet tooth interplay.

Tastebuds die. Teeth fall out. Still, nothing keeps
Me from my Springtime rendezvous with Peeps.

A New Point of View

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

— 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can expect to gain a new point of view. Unfortunately, we’re still in the flesh, so sometimes we still see others “according to the flesh,” or as the world sees them. We all know what worldly things are: physical appearance, income, race, age, gender and the like. We can’t help but to see others according to the flesh; it’s our first impression of everyone. But even though we may see these physical attributes, we regard them according to the Spirit.

Jesus talked about regarding others according to the flesh. In Matthew 23, He said this about the Pharisees.

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

— Matthew 23:5-8

He was talking about people who want to make a good physical impression. I think we all fall into that trap. I wear a nice suit, I use “Rev.” in my title, and I like to be called “Pastor.” All of that is worldly stuff, according to the flesh. But according to the Spirit, we are all equal in the eyes of God. We have one Father, even God, and we’re all brothers and sisters. We have one Rabbi, even Christ, and we’re all fellow students. We talk about pastors and laymen, members and nonmembers, insiders and outsiders, Jews and Gentiles, but we’re all sinners, saved by grace if we’re saved at all.

When God sent Samuel to find a new king for Israel, he went to the household of Jesse. So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

Paul certainly saw himself according to the flesh. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees, a zealous Hebrew, blameless under the law. But after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had a different point of view.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

— Philippians 3:7-11

I think it’s safe to say that Paul had a new attitude. Before Jesus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians who thought he had a right to have people put to death. After Jesus, Paul became a servant. He was mighty proud, but Jesus knocked him off his high horse. After that, Paul became an ambassador for Christ. He used to come with soldiers and warrants; now he comes pleading and imploring. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)

We still see ourselves and each other according to the flesh, and there’s no getting past it. But how do we regard each other? In Matthew, the Pharisees said that Jesus did not regard the person of men. (Matthew 22:16) They meant that Jesus was not impressed by the long robes, broad phylacteries, big Bibles, long titles or big wallets. We know that Jesus was not against these things; he met with Nichodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and also with the Roman centurian and the Samaritan woman at the well. He ate with Pharisees and Tax Collectors alike. Jesus doesn’t judge people, good or bad, according to the flesh. Like God, Jesus sees the heart.

So how do we regard one another according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh? Jesus said that when we bless everyone, friends and enemies alike, we are like our Father in Heaven, who makes the same sun shine and rain fall on saints and sinners alike. We start by seeing others as our equals, because we have one Father, and we are all brothers and sisters; one Rabbi, and we are all fellow students.

We regard others according to the Spirit when we adjust our vision with the spiritual truths we’ve learned from Jesus. We’ve learned that God made each person intentionally, in God’s own image, and that deserves great respect. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, so we practice humility, because we’re all just beggars inviting beggars to the banquet.

We know what it means to regard others according to the flesh – judging them by age, income, race, background, gender, profession and the like. Let’s not do that. We used to regard Jesus that way, but let’s not just regard Him as a middle-aged Jew with long hair and a robe. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again to reconcile us to God, to restore our relationship as sons and daughters of the Father. I intend to redouble my efforts to regard others as exactly that, brothers and sisters, equals in the kingdom of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I pray we may all see others from a new point of view.

The First Sign

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

— John 2:1-11

The book of John uses seven signs to demonstrate the Deity of Jesus. The first is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The others were the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-5), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14), walking on water (John 6:16-24), healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The first 11 chapters of John are sometimes referred to as the Book of Signs.

The story of changing water into wine and raising Lazarus are only in the book of John. The rest of the miracles are similar to stories in the other Gospels. But these are in the book of John for very specific reasons. Some think it’s a map of the new creation, with seven miracles in tandem with the seven days of creation.

In this first miracle, Jesus converts the water in six vessels used in ceremonial washing. The word tells us they hold 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine, and the host of the feast tells us it is better than the wine served first. The host and the guests didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the disciples and the servants knew. The implication is that Jesus did it so that His disciples would believe.

In a Christian wedding ceremony, the preacher usually mentions that Jesus’ presence at a wedding in Cana is His endorsement of marriage. I think that’s true. Later, Jesus would say that even if it’s good not to marry, living as a bachelor isn’t for everyone. Jesus not only attended this wedding, but He blessed this wedding with the wine. Wine is an ancient symbol of God’s bounty, blessing and joy, and we certainly recognize Jesus as the source of new wine. So this story shows that in Jesus, God is generous; God is not opposed to human joy and fellowship; and God is not against marriage. This is all good news for us.

Some thinkers also see this miracle as a hat tip to pagan beliefs. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, fertility, and wine, a very important god to Roman pagans. By turning water into wine, Jesus proved Himself to be superior to Bacchus.

Wine certainly had a different significance in Jesus’ day. It was medicinal, ceremonial, and practical. But it would be very convenient to me if Jesus had avoided drinking wine, instead of making it and using it in religious ceremonies.

Some of you know that the church I last served had a very active recovery ministry, addressing drug and alcohol addiction. That tends to cloud my view of wine and all the references to wine in the New Testament. The Temperance Movement to outlaw alcohol started in the churches. Preaching would be easier for me if Jesus had avoided wine. And you know what that means? That means that compared to Jesus, I’m a stick in the mud. Sometimes I think I can be holier than Jesus. Sometimes I think misery, loneliness and seriousness are more holy than happiness and celebration. So maybe I have something to learn from this, the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. Maybe we all can learn something from this.

Have you ever heard of a church or sect that practiced shunning? You know, a church where if someone falls from the faith, gets divorced, or gets in trouble, everybody avoids that person? Jesus wasn’t like that. The Jews in Jesus’ day shunned Samaritans, single women, and the lame. Jesus didn’t shun anybody. If that’s true, then how can we call it Christian to shun people? Jesus welcomed everyone from the woman at the well to the thief on the cross. That’s the example we’re called to follow. But some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Have you ever heard of churches that wouldn’t have fellowship dinners because they thought it was unholy? I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. Jesus was always sitting at the table with His disciples and tax collectors. After preaching all day, Jesus served dinner on the grounds for 5,000 people, and He didn’t check anyone’s membership card. I don’t think Jesus would call that unholy – but some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Of course you know, that doesn’t make sense. We can’t hope to be as holy as Jesus. So when it looks like Jesus is doing something we would avoid, something like healing lepers or talking theology with loose Samaritan women, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is. When we worry about Paul eating with Gentiles or disciples who eat without washing their hands or Jesus letting a strange woman wash his feet with her hair, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is.

Jesus was not about fasting and suffering and shunning people. Jesus celebrated life and fellowship. Jesus enjoyed a good feast. Jesus was generous in blessing others – and Jesus wants us to be generous, too.

Do you know that Jesus told His Disciples to be perfect? He did! But His definition of perfect I different from ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

It is not possible to be holier than Jesus, but we need to see what Jesus meant by holiness. Jesus wants us to be perfect, but we need to see what Jesus calls perfect. Jesus says perfect is impartial, loving and generous to others no matter what. Jesus was perfect. God was perfect. And Jesus wants us to be perfect, too. Love the unloveable, bless those who curse, and pray for those who use you. That’s the first sign that we are Christians.

Know Thing Gnu

I dreamed I shared my thoughts, and all agreed
That thoughts I thought were thought to be divine.
Some ask, “What is your source? We really need
To know whose words these are.” And I said, “Mine!”

My thoughts were bought as thoughts that ought to be
On paper, lest the caper be revealed
That thinkers drink the ink that taught the sea
To linger dark and deep, her secrets sealed.

There’s simply nothing new beneath the sun.
Ecclesiastes gives us all away.
We think we think anew, new thing begun,
Because we don’t remember what we say

Was first heard of another long ago,
Elocution attribution goes no know.

 

Little Flock

Birdfeeders once drew cardinals and jays
And other sundry birds just passing through.
Sometimes a finch. No mockingbirds these days.
Do mockingbirds eat seeds? I have no clue.

Days grow shorter, colder, still, and quiet.
The clouds cast shadows as they mist my face.
Sunshine hides. I try, but I can’t spy it.
Nor can I hide; clouds always win the race.

Sparrows flock to feed upon my feeder.
Little shades of brown. They are all the same.
They fly without formation, have no leader.
Just feathered mice, no rose by any name.

God’s eye is on the sparrow, not the clock.
God knows your needs, so fear not, little flock.

The Devil’s Foothold

Eleven worshippers were killed on the Sabbath at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. A few days earlier, two shoppers were shot in Jeffersontown, KY, after the gunman failed to enter a black church, where 70 worshippers had been gathered a half hour earlier. The gunmen were obviously unstable and very, very angry.

It is always wrong to kill because of someone’s race, nationality, religion, or opinions. As with the first murder, when Cain killed his brother Abel, murder begins with anger. Anger is a natural human emotion, but one that our faith requires us to reign in and control. Like the LORD told Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7b)

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 when he says, “’In your anger do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26)

The problem with anger is that it gives the devil a foothold. That’s why Jesus equates anger with murder. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22a)

Anger is like smoking. Each little puff seems harmless enough, but each one weakens us and brings us closer to sickness and death. Each little angry word or thought seems like no big deal, but if they build up, they bring us closer and closer to making bad decisions, harming others, or destroying friendships.

But what about those people and groups who seem to deserve our wrath? The Bible is clear on taking revenge. Paul sums it up in Romans 12:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Some people do not live by these words, so it is even more important that we keep them in mind. One person’s anger inspires another, and before you know it, friends break up, marriages fail, churches split, or some unstable person goes on a rampage. But if we’re quick to listen and slow to speak, we won’t be making things worse.

In these days of heated rhetoric and divergent opinions, let’s remember what God’s Word says about anger, and pray that Jesus will help us be patient and forgiving.

Hard Hearts & Stiff Necks

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.”

Mark 10:1-11

My message today is not about divorce. It takes two to get married but only one to get divorced. I would not be surprised to learn that there are divorced people in our church, just like in all other churches. Statistics show that at least one in three marriages will end in divorce. We presume nothing about these break-ups. If a spouse is abusive, divorce might be the only reasonable option. The legal and social implications of divorce are far different today.

I might use this scripture to counsel a married couple that wants to stay together. I would never use this scripture to condemn a divorced individual. Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a man out of wedlock, and even then he did not condemn her.

Pharisees were legalists, and they often used scripture to condemn other people. Every time they did in Jesus’ presence, he turned the tables to correct their understanding of God’s Law.

So what does this scripture say about the Law? Jesus is unequivocal: To divorce one wife and marry another is an act of adultery. That means the Law of God handed down by Moses way back in the book of Exodus is a permit to commit adultery. In Malachi 2:16 God says, “I hate divorce.” – but God’s law makes legal divorce possible. What does this say about God and God’s law?

It says that God is loving and forgiving. It says that the human heart is hard and stubborn, but God won’t let that separate him from his creation. The law of Moses that permits divorce is an act of compassion on the part of God, because nobody is served by being trapped in an abusive partnership.

The scripture is a little different in Matthew 19. There, the Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Because Moses didn’t say you had to have a reason; he just said you had to put it in writing. (Matt. 19:3)

The ending in Matthew is different, too. In Matthew 19:10, “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” We know from scripture that Peter was married before he became a disciple, but this passage makes me wonder if some of the disciples had been previously divorced. It certainly implies that some were not yet married.

When Jesus taught scripture, it was usually to condemn the way others were abusing it. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’” (Matt. 5:38) That was also in the Law: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. People were using that to extract their revenge, and even today we use it to justify our actions. But the law doesn’t say you have to extract revenge. It is really putting a limit on revenge – you can’t take two eyes for one, or two teeth for one.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matt. 5:43) That’s in the law, too. But Jesus is saying that we should not only love neighbors and friends, but also strangers and enemies. He is asking us to hold ourselves to a standard even higher than the Law.

The question for us is not about divorce, or neighbors, or even revenge. The question is about a hard heart. In Mark 8, Jesus told the disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod (8:14). They thought he was talking about bread, and he said, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (17)

In the book of Acts, Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

The book of Romans quotes Isaiah to say of those whose hearts were hardened, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”

With a hard heart and a stiff neck, we need miracles to believe and laws to keep us in line. The terms “hard heart” and “stiff neck” are used to describe people who refuse to listen, people think we know it all and we don’t need to learn more.

Paul’s first letter to Timothy goes beyond calling it a hard heart. Paul calls it, a conscience seared as with a hot iron: “The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” That seared conscience is making its own laws, apparently to make up for a hard heart. People with soft hearts do the right thing out of love for God and for others. Paul says, and Jesus seems to agree, that the Law was written for hard hearted people who don’t believe. Believers are held in line not by the law, but by the Love of God.

Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 when it says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion. … So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:15,19)

Jesus holds us to a higher standard than the Law of Moses. But Jesus also gives us a better way to please God than just following the Law. Jesus gives us a reason to believe. Jesus shows us that God loves and forgives. Jesus tells us to love and forgive. Jesus gave his all to reunite us with God. We should give our all to be reunited with God.

Jesus replaced the Law with faith, hate with love, and discipline with passion. As Paul said in Romans 13:9-10, “The commandments … are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

It’s an odd truth, but it’s one we should remember, and one for which we thank God. You don’t have to know the law to fulfill the law. All you have to know is that Jesus commanded us to love one another. That is the fulfillment of the law.

Salted with Fire

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Mark 9:38-50 NIV

At first glance, there may seem to be multiple messages here. One says whoever is not against us is for us. Another says don’t cause these little ones to stumble. A third says it’s better to enter heaven maimed than to enter hell whole. Another says salt is worthless when it loses its flavor.

But all this is part of a bigger story, and one that starts before today’s scripture. The chapter starts with Peter, James and John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Then, Jesus has to cast out a demon because the disciples can’t do it. They argue about who’s going to be the greatest in heaven.

Then we come to today’s passage. John says they tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t with them. This is the same John who had seen the transfiguration, the same John who argued about who would be the greatest, the same John who couldn’t cast out a demon without Jesus’ help. So you can imagine how he felt when someone who wasn’t even traveling with them was able to cast out a demon when he could not.

These are not story fragments; they are one continuous story. So it matters that Jesus goes immediately into the admonition not to cause one of these little ones to sin. Is this just any cause and any sin? Maybe, but it certainly includes the sin of trying to stop someone who is trying to serve God through faith in Jesus just because that person is not in our church or in lock step with our doctrine. Jesus is not the one who drives people out of our churches. What drives young people out of our churches is the internal fighting that pits one Christian against another. People are turned off to the church by how we put down other churches and other believers.

Jesus often went over-the-top to make his point. Better to lose a hand, foot or eye than to be cast into the fire. The hand is what you do; better to stop doing it. The foot is where you go; better to stop going there. The eye is what you observe; better to stop watching.

The disciples had been asking about what would their reward be for following Jesus. Here, Jesus is not talking about reward, but sacrifice. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus? How are we willing to change? Whoever does not take up his cross … those who lose their lives will save them … anyone who loves mother, father, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me … in so many ways, Jesus tells us that our pursuit of God in Jesus Christ must be our top priority.

How are we willing to change? We should start with those things that offend these little ones. Am I willing to give up on my hard opinions, to lose the fight in order to keep the peace? Or does my pride make me insist on my doctrine no matter what it does to people? Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin would be better off with a millstone around his neck.

Jesus said everyone will be salted with fire. Is that the fire of suffering, or the fire of the Holy Spirit? Maybe it’s both. But everyone is not the same as all. It doesn’t say all of us, the church at large, will be salted with fire. It says that everyone, each person individually, will be salted. We will each be tested by God. We are so afraid to let others be wrong or to let them disagree with us. But like Jesus said, whoever is not against us is for us.

Jesus talked about salt as the gospel, that a little an season a lot of food, but it has to taste like salt. The Gospel has to act like the gospel, or it’s just so many words to fight about. A gospel that does not love is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not forgive is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not draw people to Christ, or a gospel that drives people away, is not the Gospel. Those are examples of salt that has lost its saltiness.

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Church, we live in hard and controversial times. There are a lot of hard opinions out there, and if we just pick sides, we’ll get thrown in with people whose opinions are a lot harder than ours. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion and don’t take a stand. But I am saying what Jesus is saying: “Be at peace with one another.” Jesus was serious when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It might look like salt, and it might feel like salt, but if it isn’t salty, then it’s good for nothing. That’s true for salt, and it’s true for religion.

All this brings to mind Romans 12:9-14:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Each one of us will be salted with fire. Each one of us will stand before the judgment seat. Sound doctrine is important only insofar as it leads us to make disciples and love one another. Anything else only looks like salt.

Everyone will be salted by fire. If that’s the fire of suffering, then remember that Jesus is saying that the question is not what reward will we get for following him, but what are we willing to sacrifice? If it’s the fire of the Holy Spirit, then who am I to judge someone else’s work if they follow Jesus and love others?

I think it’s both, the fire of suffering and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been talking about both. The disciples could not drive out the demon because, as Jesus said, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting – the sacrifice we are willing to make. Prayer – the time we spend with God. They couldn’t drive out the demon because they had not spent enough time with God; they were not committed enough to rely solely on God. Then, they tried to stop someone who had done the work and made the sacrifice.

I pray we will not be guilty of causing these little ones to sin. Let’s make sure our salt is salty, and let’s have peace among us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen