The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Jesus said, “For everyone will be salted with fire. 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.”
There are many ways in which we can use salt. For instance we can use it to improve the taste of our food or use it as a preservative. Salt can be used to put out fires and to kill slugs. It will extract moisture from eggplant and retain fluids in our bodies. Superstitious people will throw it over their shoulders to ward off evil spirits and to cast out demons, sometimes even in the name of Christ!
Now fires can also be used in various ways. We heat with them, we cook with them, and we use them for light or creating romantic environments. Fires can also burn you very badly, even kill you, and as the people of California will testify, they can wipe out whole villages and buildings. So salt and fire can be used for both good and evil purposes.
What I love about today’s scripture lessons is that they portray real human beings, like me and you. In today’s Old Testament reading, the rabble had strong cravings, and so do I, but it’s not for salt or for fire, or even for meat! The Israelites wept and said, “If only” we had meat to eat. They even demanded it from Moses. Nikki Finkelstein-Blair (an ordained Baptist minister) said “Often, when life isn’t working out the way we imagined or hoped, our impulse is to pray for God to change things. We think ‘if only’ things were different, ‘if only’ people were better, ‘if only’ our needs were met, ‘if only’ the pain went away, ‘if only’ the choices were simple, ‘if only’ temptation disappeared, ‘if only, if only’......
Now God was angry and Moses was displeased. So Moses asked God “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” The Israelites whined and complained, Moses blamed God, shifted responsibility, and then he asked God for death rather than seeing his misery.
These are all stumbling blocks in our paths to the promised land and they prevent our ways forward as faithful people. They create barriers between us and our relationships with God and with one another. And they are all self-imposed. If I want, I can take these stumbling blocks away from me. Like a millstone around my neck, a hand, a foot, or an eye that prevents me from seeing and knowing God’s goodness and grace, I can cut them off. I can throw them into the unquenchable fire, which is where they belong, so that I can follow Jesus. And how do I do this? By praying and by fishing, and by fishing and by praying.
My husband Paul has been fishing in saltwater off Cape Cod for most of his life and loves to fish. Last weekend we gathered together with 12 of our friends from our home parish in Connecticut. Since we’re now scattered all over the country, we gather as an intentional community once a year at the home of our friends, who live on a pond in the Adirondacks. We catch up with each other’s stories, we share our walks with Christ, we encourage each other’s journeys, and we try to discern God’s will for our lives. We eat meat; we break bread; and we drink water and wine. In the beauty of nature, and our community, God restores our souls.
This year a guide from the Adirondacks taught Paul, and some of the others, how to fly fish on the pond. Paul loved it. He said that it was much harder than salt water fishing; it took small moves and a lot of patience. And, like any kind of fishing, Paul and his friends hooked plenty of things other than fish!
I, on the other hand, am not a fisher person, at least of fish; and I don’t want to learn how either. I like to pray, and so I also learned something new on the pond in the Adirondacks: I learned how to do centering prayer, with my eyes closed, in the fog, in a kayak. And let me tell you, praying in this way is a very different experience from sitting in a chair at home by myself, or in a group at church. When we began our prayers on the pond, the three of us were within arm’s reach of each other. Twenty minutes later, when I opened my eyes, I was alone on the pond with none of my prayer partners in sight. Like Paul’s fishing, this way of praying was harder for me than my usual ways. It took small moves and a lot of patience. And while I didn’t catch any fish, I do think that the Big Fish hooked me.
Now both Paul and I delighted in our new experiences. Despite our initial disorientation and discomfort, God quickly reoriented us to God’s presence right where we were. You might say that we were like Eldad and Medad; we were outside our familiar tents but still in the camp of God, where the spirit rested upon us. You might say that God was seasoning our souls with salt, except on a freshwater pond. You might say that God was restoring the fire in our spirits. For we’ve all been called for a purpose which is to reflect the glory of God by being human beings who are fully alive.
Transitions can be both difficult and energizing. I can totally relate to the story of Moses and the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness. To be honest, I’ve done my fair share of grumbling, whining, and complaining. Sometimes, instead of prayer, I indulged in self-pity. I felt as if I were fishing and catching nothing, as if I were floating in a fog with no purpose.
During this time of transition, I learned how to fish and how to pray in different ways than before. I fished for new possibilities and opportunities. I enlarged my pond. I prayed in the traditional tents of meeting and in God’s city camps. I did the same things I had done before, only a little bit differently. And I learned to be still, to try new things, and to trust in God’s grace. I learned patience from my suffering and my searching, and God blessed my journey every day with fire and salt. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, I learned how to be grateful in all circumstances.
Jesus said that everyone is salted with fire. Our call then is to discern how we, as faithful Christians, can use our saltiness and our fire for good. And when we lose our saltiness or the fire in our spirits, we need to pray and to fish; and then to fish and to pray.
Jesus calls all of us for a purpose. We are to be fishers of people, and people of prayer, and everyone has been salted with fire. As members of the Body of Christ, we have choices to make. We can be for Jesus or we can be against Him. We can be stumbling blocks or we can be footstools. Here on the coastline of the Atlantic ocean, we can be God’s salty servants, with fires in our spirits, ready to do good deeds of power in the name of Christ. The choice is ours to make every day.
And so today, pray and then go fishing. Fish and then pray. For as Nikki Finkelstein-Blair said, “God doesn’t only change us; God changes the world through us. When our attitudes are transformed, God can transform the people and situations we encounter. If only we choose wisely when options are hard. If only we respond kindly when people are cruel. If only we act boldly when people are hurt. May God use us to answer the ‘if only’ prayers of our world.”
So go, pray and fish, and fish and pray today. You have been salted with fire by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and you have been called for a purpose. Amen.