The Gospel is one of those readings that can leave your head spinning. Hacking, gouging, maiming, blinding, water, salt, fire, hell, and worms. Add in the fact that there are two verse numbers missing from modern Bible translations and you have the perfect sermon preparation nightmare. There was a lot to weed through, and seeking the path of the Gospel and staying on the path with so many optional detours presenting themselves was tough. But the toughest thing is not falling into the trap that the disciples fell into in trying to keep people from falling into the trap. It’s kind of like the lesson I learned in life guard training many years ago. Reach, throw, row, go. That’s the order of attempts in life saving which all dovetail into the cardinal rule of not getting yourself into a drowning situation that makes things worse instead of better. The last thing other rescuers need is an extra victim. And I was finding myself jumping into the water prematurely out of frustration over and over, so I went to my thinking place. I stood in the dark in the shower and just experienced the water, calmed down and felt the water and thought about grace and baptism and centered myself in those two things and everything got a lot clearer. I’m not going to use precious time combating the proclamations of others and miss the opportunity to proclaim the good news. The problem that the disciples ran into can only be seen in the wider textual context of the Mark reading. In other words, what happened before this? Earlier in chapter 9 at verse 14 the disciples are getting their heads handed to them by a large crowd because they can’t perform an exorcism. Jesus scolds the crowd but doesn’t come down hard on them but simply tells them that they needed prayer on this one. Pretty gracious and nice response to a failure. And it is right after that that the disciples are arguing between themselves who is the greatest, so as we pointed out last week the disciples miss the point of graciousness, kindness, humility, servanthood and that lot. So today, we know that they are coming off an exorcism failure and they see someone, who, as far as we can tell from the text, is successfully casting out evil spirits in Jesus’ name. I don’t think that I am off the mark to say that this is where professional jealousy rears its ugly head. The disciples are angry because someone else is able to do something that they were not able to do, so they try to stop it, then tattle-tale/complain about it to Jesus. Their egos are bruised so they must try to keep others below them in order to make themselves feel or look better. What they miss here or get in the way of is God’s grace. Think about those who were healed by the other person. Think about how their lives changed. Think about the rejoicing and healing that came to them and their families. New life! And Jesus is getting the credit because its in his name, just not the in group, the disciples. Because of their selfishness they want to keep the other person on the outside and in their place and are not concerned about those who were being helped. Jesus handles this in several ways. Let’s talk about the salt first. A lot of the understanding and impact of this metaphor has been eroded by time and culture. Salt could season and cure food, something we understand but that we don’t have as much familiarity with as far less people cure their own meats to store them. Another use, and don’t try this one at home as we now understand it to be a very dangerous practice, rubbing salt on newborns and putting it in their swaddling clothes. Why would we do that? We can see an explanation from Galen, one of Hypocrates’ students from not too long after this Gospel was written. The idea was to toughen up the skin of babies and purify them. It works for meat right? So, it just seems to me that Jesus wanted them to not be so thin skinned with fragile egos. Another use was pointed out in the in the commentary Word- Sunday it states, “The salt referred to the levelling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus. Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun. When the fuel paddies were lit in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat. When the fuel was burnt out, the family would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.” Word-Sunday goes on to say: “Jesus saw his followers as levelling agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural ‘dung’. Our calling is to spread light, not hide it, to share with the world, not hold for ourselves.” So the other way Jesus handles the situation is with water. Hopefully it cleared the disciples’ minds like the shower did mine and like I suspect it did for our friend Martin Luther who encouraged us to think about and give thanks for our baptism each time we washed. Actually, Jesus doesn’t just bring up water, he also brings up sort of an alternative for comparison. The disciples seem to be in a temporary funk where they’re trying to cut one another and others out of the picture, so Jesus raises that as an alternative. If you’re going to pull out the axe or saw, it would be best to start with yourself. There’s a human tendency to go to town on the faults and sins of others, and these verses are often used to heap condemnation on others, but Jesus is pointing out that we need to stay a little closer to home. There are many who take the saw to their lives, cutting away every possible temptation, condemning every problematic person, severing relationships, burning bridges, and driving themselves into despair. Martin Luther had this problem for a while. He sought ways of hurting himself and punishing himself to try to drive out sin or cut it off. He would sleep on a cold stone floor without a blanket and whip himself with knotted cords and crawl up the steps of cathedrals on his hands and knees. He envisioned Jesus as an angry judge that was just looking for a reason to damn him to hell. He focused on punishment and the law, the one alternative to which we will never be able to live up to. It demands perfection. When mistakes are made, self mutilation is required. What would we have left if we are to live in this way? My legs have carried me to places I shouldn’t have gone, my hands have been clenched in anger, my tongue has abused my neighbor, my ears have eagerly listened to gossip. I mean all in all, I think that little dangly thing in the back of my throat might be pretty innocent, but that’s about it, nothing would be left of me, my relationships or my interests. Everything would eventually be cut away. Look at the mountain of requirement and sacrifice for making ourselves right by our own hand or our own works, an impossible task. Three big portions, with huge consequences and the wise alternative almost sneaks by unnoticed. What disarms the trap is God’s grace. Jesus has been working to get the disciples, everyone around him and us to understand is that cutting away and exclusion is not the answer, but grace and love is. Living in thankfulness and forwarding the grace and love we have received from God is the way. We can’t cut enough away to make it and God loves us so much that God doesn’t demand it even though we try to demand it from others. The cup of cold water. Given. Free. Abundant. Graciously. That little sentence that Jesus leads off with, but for centuries we are drawn to the axe or saw. As David Roberts points out, “one cuts and divides, maims and kills. The other cleanses and revives, refreshes and gives life.”. It’s the cup of cold water that marks us in our baptism and grants forgiveness for all of those missteps. All the cutting away and severing of relationships is what Jesus came to mend. He came to show us the way to the water, to the fountain of life that flows from the throne of God.