Toorak Uniting Church

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Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other

Numbers 11   Mark 9: 38 – 50
Tina Lyndon
27 September 2009

O Lord, teach us about being community and leadership. Open our hearts to your Word for us today. Help us find food for the journey and gain insights into where your Holy Spirit is leading us. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen

In today’s story from Numbers we hear about the Israelites grumbling and complaining

They are not grateful to God

They have a craving for meat, and good food.

They are bored with eating manna.

Manna is the excretion of scale lice that suck sap from tamarisk trees, excretion that forms sweet droplets that dry into solid balls that can be anything from the size of coriander seeds to the size of peas. The people would gather them and make them into cakes.

God becomes angry with the people because they reject his gift of manna. They become tired of God providing just enough food for one day.

The people remember when they were slaves and could eat all they wanted. When they didn’t have to trust God or depend on God or worry about obeying God’s commandments. They preferred the slavery of Egypt to this endless wandering in the desert.

Perhaps they even wished the Sinai covenant God made with them had never come into being.

There may have been times in our lives where we found it hard to trust God with providing for us and doubted his steadfast love for us. Times where we may have preferred the slavery of our old ways, rather than the demands of being faithful and steadfast to God’s call on our lives.

Moses and the people were in a desert and life was harsh and they didn’t know whether or not they would ever reach the Promised Land.

The people were miserable and complained about their lot in life.

God heard their complaints.

God was angry because the people were not taking their relationship with him seriously. They had failed to take their complaints to God and call upon him in prayer.

When Moses hears the people’s complaints and realises God is angry with the people he becomes frustrated and complains bitterly to God. He tells God how inadequate he feels for the task of leading the people and how the burden of leading these people is too heavy. He says his role is not as their mother or nursemaid.

Moses begins to doubt himself and asks God whether he has found disfavour with him. He says:

Why are you treating me this way?
Where am I going to get meat to feed all these people?
If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death!
Give us meat to eat!

Sometimes we may feel a bit like Moses, when we lead or care for others - burdened by the task. We may even doubt ourselves, feel inadequate or fear failure.

God knew the Israelites as a community were struggling and Moses was feeling burdened.

He asks Moses to go and gather seventy elders to share the load of leadership with him.

So Moses chooses and God ratifies his choice by taking some of the spirit he placed upon Moses and placing it upon the elders.

When they prophesied it was a sign that the spirit of God had come upon them. This spirit changed their status permanently and endowed them with the continuing capacity of sharing responsibility of leadership with Moses.

Eldad and Medad were registered by Moses as elders too, but for some reason they didn’t go with the 68 people who were registered as elders to the tent of meeting.
For some reason they stayed in the camp where the people had set up their tents. Yet, they received a portion of the spirit from God and prophesied. Joshua objects to this.

Joshua asks Moses to stop them from prophesying. He objects because Eldad and Medad didn’t receive God’s spirit to lead in the prescribed way and in the right place – which was the tent of meeting where they were supposed to gather with all the other elders and leaders and Moses. He objects to them prophesying in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

What’s really happening is Joshua is trying to control who has power, who leads and how they lead.

Moses refuses to stop the two men from prophesying. He is not concerned about power and control. He wants God to favour, bless and pour out his spirit on all the people. He wants all the people to become prophets.

What has happened is that the voice of God was heard amongst those who were not properly ordained to leadership and this challenges the existing structures and teachings known and believed in by Joshua, who was Moses assistant, the minister of the sanctuary. He is challenged when God’s spirit is revealed amongst all the people and isn’t restricted by human rituals and institutions.

What happened to Eldad and Medad teaches Moses, Joshua, the seventy elders and all of the people that leadership doesn’t depend upon their own personal power, human rituals or institutions or upon the correct way of doing things.

Leadership depends upon God’s power through his Holy Spirit and God working through his people.

Today’s gospel also teaches us about leadership and how God works through us.

An exorcist who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong amongst the disciples of Jesus, is travelling about the countryside and through God’s spirit is casting out demons and healing people in Jesus name.

The disciples try to stop him.

They tell Jesus about him and how they tried to stop him. They don’t want the exorcist ministering. He is not one of them and they want to control him and have power over him and how Jesus name is used. In many ways they are trying to control the Holy Spirit.

Jesus responds: Do not stop him, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is with us.

Joshua and the disciples have something in common.

They are being possessive of God’s spirit and don’t like the fact that God’s spirit isn’t limited to the in-group. They are hostile towards those whose worship and leadership is different to theirs and who don’t belong to their established leadership.

In contrast, Moses and Jesus want to encourage an attitude of openness, acceptance, graciousness and generosity. They don’t want to limit God.

There is a sting in Jesus teaching.

Jesus teaches the disciples about the importance of not behaving badly in front of the "little ones", those who are young or new Christians. He says that it would be better if a millstone was hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea, if you lead the "little ones" astray by your behaviour, if you allow it to become a stumbling block before them.

The exorcist can be seen to be one of the "little ones" that Jesus mentions. He is new to the Christian faith and the behaviour of the disciples threatens to place a stumbling block in his way that might prevent him from becoming a Christian.

Jesus says to the disciples that when someone outside of the Christian community offers hospitality, even a glass of water, to a Christian, they will be blessed. This makes us wonder what kind of hospitality the disciples offered to the exorcist, who was healing people in Jesus name.

Jesus teaches his disciples that the kingdom of God is so important that you need to be prepared to cut off your hand or leg or pluck out your eye, rather than have it cause you to behave badly and stumble and be thrown into hell.

Cutting off arms and legs and plucking out eyes isn’t meant to be taken literally. It symbolises the disciples cutting out the part of themselves that is causing them to stumble, such as their thirst to have power and control others.

Jesus also warns the disciples about an inner hell that can be created through their own behaviour and offers them a better way to live.

He offers them three teachings about salt:

The first teaching is: Everyone will be salted by fire.

Jesus tells the disciples they will experience testing and persecution, but that they will be preserved and refined by these experiences.

Sometimes our faith is tested by what happens to us in life. Other times we have to make choices about what values we embrace, in a world where it seems like we are travelling on the fast lane of a highway, where we can’t get off.

We need to trust God and depend upon God during the good times and the difficult and challenging times, to provide for us. We need to be grateful to God and live a life worthy of our calling as the people of God.

The second teaching is: Salt is good but if salt has lost its saltiness how can you season it?

It seems the disciples wanted to be the only ones who do the work of Jesus and that they are more interested in their own status. They are not holding fast to the values Jesus taught them. Instead, they are holding fast to the values of the world, values such as power. Their job as leaders is to guide, support and form new Christians so that they grow to full maturity. They are called to lead people away from values and behaviour that take them far away from God and themselves as the people of God.

The disciples needed to learn to be the salt of the earth and embody what they taught and lead by example.

In fact this is the role of all members of the Christian community. Whenever anyone is baptised it is our role to teach them how to become the salt of the earth.

We need to hold fast to our values and what we learn as community and not allow them to be watered down by values that are not of God. As Christians we need to stand out and stand firm.

Mark’s final teaching about salt is: Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.

Jesus offers his disciples a choice. Avoid values that throw you into inner turmoil, that can often seem like hell and instead hold tight to values that nurture the Kingdom of God within you.

Embrace values that bring inner peace and peace between one another within the community of God’s people.

Jesus must have ruffled a lot of feathers amongst his disciples. His teachings made them think and change their ways.

We can learn many things from Jesus teachings.

We can learn how to be the "salt of the earth".

This doesn’t mean being perfect and never being grumpy old men or women.

It means embodying qualities and values such as steadfastness, humility, compassion, faithfulness and loyalty and other qualities that you know of as Christians.

The Lord be with you.

© Tina Lyndon, 2009

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