Have Salt in Yourselves
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 30, 2018
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
All three scripture passages today are challenging, and yet also contain wisdom that can help us with our personal lives and our engagement with a nation and world in crisis. The key to their usefulness lies in understanding the strange teaching Jesus gave: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
What is the salt we have in ourselves?
Jesus has been talking about the importance of being in the sacred way and life and realm of God, so salt must have something to do with that. Salt also is a symbol for the core essence of our lives, who we are as humans—our essential saltiness. But what is it?
We can understand who we are and our place in creation by looking at what a recent film calls the Journey of the Universe. The film goes back to the Big Bang or great flaring forth and looks at the laws and patterns and inner organizational principles that formed the stars and galaxies and eventually the earth.
The same force led to the creation of life in the first single cell beings. The film traces those same laws and patterns and inner organizational principles through the evolution of more complex systems and finally the human mind, and then the continuing evolution of consciousness through the invention of language and the developmental stages that we have passed through (for instance the human mind’s leap forward during the Golden Age of Greece, and again two thousand years later during the Enlightenment).
Looked at over the sweep of almost fourteen billion years, we get a sense of our oneness with all the universe: we are made of the same elements as everything else, and the same force and its laws have shaped us that have shaped everything else. If we call that force God, then God truly is all in all, and that makes us one with all.
The entire history of the universe up until now has been shaped by the same laws and patterns and inner organizational intelligence, what we could call the sacred way. But the human mind has the freedom and capacity to choose another path, to depart from the force that has brought us here. Humans can re-chart the path of the earth and redirect the evolution of living things by exerting our own self will and technological prowess.
The salt Jesus is talking about is the part of us that is one with the force of love and life and light that created us and that is one with all creatures and all creation. To lose our saltiness is to depart from that unity, to go against the laws and patterns of the universe and harm our fellow humans and creatures and planet.
We have peace if we have salt in ourselves because we see that unconditional love for all, without exception, is the law that is most natural to a universe where all are one. We have peace because we see that our neighbor truly is our self, and compassion moves us to uplift the poor and hurting and vulnerable and create a society of fairness and equity for all. We see that the earth is sacred, and our well-being is dependent on the well-being of all other people, creatures and corners of the earth—and so we have peace.
Humans have always been able to lose our saltiness and stray from the sacred way through greed for wealth or the desire for power or privilege over others, by not loving all people and all the earth around us.
Wise spiritual teachers have seen the consequences—the breaking of the peace, the suffering. The Tao Te Ching says, “If I had any sense at all, my only fear would be of straying from the way.” The Hebrew prophets called the people back again and again from their selfish pursuit of wealth and power and their neglect of the poor and of God. The prophets saw the evil that befell the nation every time it went astray.
Today’s scriptures are in this tradition. God’s law is perfect, the Psalm says, and it revives our soul. Think of that law as being the laws and patterns of the universe that we see in all nature and in our own evolution, a force still at work within us. It is perfect, and to connect to it makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes and fills us with a life that never dies. All of creation works with us when we align ourselves with that force.
James talks about those who wander from the truth and says that to bring someone back is to save their life and undo much wrong. The way of God that flows through the universe brings forgiveness and healing and resurrection. A star explodes and a new star rises from its ashes. An old tree falls in the woods, wounding and bending a young tree to the ground. The young tree’s wound closes. A branch becomes the new main stem. To be aligned with the truth, in the sacred way, is to open our lives to that saving and renewing force.
Jesus said that anyone who is working with that force is on the same side, even if they are not of our religion, race or nation. We are all part of God’s movement.
Jesus gives some very unpleasant images to drive home the point that there are terrible consequences when people are separated from the sacred way, when they work against the force of love and life and light that created the universe. All you need to do is look at the world today to see why Jesus went to such extremes to urge us to have salt in ourselves and stay on God’s side.
The question is how can we find or discern the sacred way, how can we align ourselves with the creative force of the universe within and around us, and how can we work with it to try to restore our lives and our world to health and peace?
If the children were here they would be quick to guess that the answer is prayer. Sure enough, the passage from James tells us over and over to pray, pray, pray. All prayer turns our focus toward God, and that is the first step on the sacred way. Prayers that are telling God what to do are not the most useful kind, though. We need to pray the way Charlotte waited in her web for a fly or an idea. Contemplative prayer aligns us with our innermost truth. There we find the force that created us alive within us, wanting to help us, the salt that leads to peace.
The former Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, made a strong statement to the Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome, saying
“Contemplation is…the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with…freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”
We do not all have to practice Centering Prayer or meditation or mindfulness—it is possible to have a contemplative experience in nature, or doing repetitive tasks like knitting or raking. Contemplative experience can come naturally, but it is far better to have some training in the practices of mindfulness and meditation and simple active prayers so that when we are walking in the woods or making bread we can enhance our connection to God, and when we are confronting a situation where we need to draw on the Spirit’s guidance and power we know how to open ourselves to it.
The psychologist Carl Jung told a story he heard from a missionary in a region of China that was suffering a severe drought. The people had tried every spiritual avenue and superstition and nothing had worked. Finally they heard of a Taoist holy man called the Rainmaker, and they sent for him.
When the little, dried up old man arrived all he asked for was a quiet house to have to himself. He went in it and disappeared for three days. Finally on the fourth day a huge, drought-breaking storm arrived, and the old man emerged. The missionary friend of Carl Jung’s went up to the man and asked how he did it, and he said he did not create the storm. The missionary asked, then what were you doing?
The old man said, “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in the Tao, and I also was not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in the Tao and then naturally the rain came.” (from Carl Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis)
The early Christian desert monks had a saying, “Go into your cell, and it will teach you everything.” We have within and around us the force of love and life and light that created the universe and brought life into being and continues to guide our evolution. It is what makes our salt salty. We may have many other things in life that we need, but that force is our true hope for transforming ourselves and transforming the world in the direction of greater wisdom and peace. If the history of the universe teaches us anything, it is that by the power of the force of God miracles can happen, including that which we need and long for most.
Let us pray together in silence like Charlotte hanging in her web waiting for the Spirit to move…