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The Second Sunday of Lent, Year B

A Covenant of Salt

Based on the readings from Genesis 17:1-10, 15-19; Romans 4:16-25; Mark 8:31-38

Last week we began a journey from ashes to Easter. Lent always begins with ashes as a powerful reminder of our need for repentance. Last Sunday, the symbol of water reminded us of the new beginning we made as we entered the waters of baptism. Today we add the symbol of salt.

Salt is such a modest metaphor! It is not dramatic at all. It is certainly not overwhelming. It is a functional, everyday metaphor, and yet it has a dramatic effect on the environment. In fact salt has about 14,000 uses. Let me name just a few. In many cultures it is a symbol of hospitality. Salt changes food. It makes it tastier, livelier. Yet simple and everyday as it is, salt has caused wars and revolutions. It has lead to trading partnerships. It is a basic human need. Without it we would not survive. Once you put it on food you cannot separate it out again. It becomes incorporated into the food. Both the salt and the food are transformed.

Through baptism we become one with the body of Christ. We become part of the community. As members we enhance the community without losing our identity. We are transformed and become part of the wholeness of the community.

We Christians are to be salt for the world. As salt flavours and transforms, so the church permeates and transforms the world. The initiation of new members into the church strengthens us as the body of Christ and enhances our mission. Lent is an opportunity to examine our lives individually and as a community to see whether the salt has lost its savour or whether it continues to transform the world.

Lent provides us with an opportunity to transform our lives. What does it mean to believe? Does it mean intellectual assent without any connection to our daily lives? Does it mean never doubting? Faith involves passionate engagement, relationship with God. It involves giving one’s heart to belief and holding it actively with love. It means having enough confidence in its reality to act on it, incredible as it may seem.

Faith begins with trusting God’s promises. That is what brings us to a sense of holiness, of wholeness. Where do we find that kind of wholeness, of meaning? How do we achieve a vision that will sustain us through the difficult choices and tests of life?

We all undertake many covenants during our lifetime. We form covenants in marriage, in friendship, in professional life, in relationships of every kind. Covenants not only give us a sense of responsibility, they make us responsible for our actions. When we make a covenant with another person, we take on a sense of responsibility and commitment. We carry it through. When we make a covenant with God we commit to faithful discipleship.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds them of the covenant made on their behalf, of the kind of commitment on which their faith and ours rests, for we share the faith of Abraham. Paul reminds them that the unexpected happened to Abraham very late in his life. God gave him the promise of a blessing, the promise of fruitfulness, a fruitfulness which was born out in the birth of their son Isaac, the child born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age.

Lent is an opportunity to renew our covenant with God and our commitment to the faith. It is a salty time in our lives. For the Jewish nation every sacrifice was seasoned with salt to remind the people of their need to remain faithful to the Covenant between them and God. The salt made the covenant a binding agreement. It represented loyalty and truthfulness between them. Salt was a symbol that could heal the rift in a relationship. If there was no salt used in the Covenant it meant barrenness.

That promise of fruitfulness is born out in our own lives over and over again. I remember seeing a wonderful film; it must have been a National Film Board undertaking. It was about life in the desert. All you could see on the horizon was sand shifting in the wind. Then it rained – something that happened if I recall correctly only about once in seven years. Yet in no time at all, that barren wilderness was transformed into a beautiful garden. Plants bloomed and took root in that wasteland in a way that you could not have imagined. For seven years those seeds had lain dormant in the earth waiting for enough moisture to bring them to life.

What deserts have you seen come to life? A marriage that seemed to be dead, and grace is given and it blossoms into a stronger relationship. A relationship dies; a new one begins. A life is shattered by illness or bereavement; grace brings about new life. Someone thinks that they have no talent; suddenly they discover great personal gifts. A door closes; another door opens leading in a new direction, to new opportunities, to new possibilities.

The life of commitment brings about fruitfulness. But more important for us to recognize is that the Christian life requires commitment, more commitment than we can imagine. Total commitment! Costly commitment! For anything good that we set out to achieve has a cost. Somehow we come to believe that to put our trust in God is to put an end to all of our problems. If we believe that then our Christian life is bound to be disillusioning.

I suspect that was Peter's problem when he rebuked Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer and be rejected and killed. That could not have been easy for any of them to hear. Their leader, the one whom they expect to be their king and lead them to victory is telling them instead that he will be put to death. Suddenly their commitment to their leader takes a turn for the worse. What are the implications in their own lives? We like to hear good news. We like comfortable words. When it comes to bearing the cross, then we cop out or crawl back into our kindergarten approach and miss the real point of having faith.

"Commitment to me," Jesus tells them as he tells each one of us, "means taking up your cross and following me." The disciples knew what that meant in a way we can never fathom. They had all witnessed Roman execution. They had seen victims carrying their cross out to the place of execution. To think that their friend and maybe even they themselves might face such a death was unthinkable. Yet through the cross Christ was able to offer real wholeness to the world. The cross, a symbol of torture, became the way to wholeness.

And what a symbol it is to the Christian! It helps us to understand that dying is the step we must take in order to bloom. What does it mean to “deny ourselves” and take up our cross and follow Jesus? What self am I denying? Is it about giving up something for Lent and then going right back to it as soon as Lent is over? Is it about constantly putting myself down?

It is certainly not about any of that. It is about offering ourselves to be formed by God for God’s purpose. It is about becoming holy people. It is about wholeness. It is about discipleship. It is about commitment to the faith. Through self-denial we accept discipleship in a community that lives the way of the cross. We were signed with the sign of the cross at baptism. What did that signing mean for us as individuals and as community? It is at the heart of our Christian faith. As Christ bore our sins on the cross, so we find the grace and strength to live the Christian life. We accept responsibility for living the Christian life. Instead of thinking of ourselves we embrace the way of Jesus. It is above all finding our true selves, becoming all we are meant to be and understanding in a true sense what it means to be human.

As Christ bore our sins on the cross, so we find the grace and strength to live the Christian life. We trust in God's promises to bring us to a sense of wholeness and allow us to enter into the life of the community. We commit ourselves to the gospel message. We commit ourselves to faith in a gospel which calls us to service, to make a difference through our lives, through love of God and of neighbour.

So make it your mission to be salty people. Begin with your own commitment to the gospel. Let your faith make a difference in this needy world. Lent calls for a good seasoning of salt. As we move forward in ministry we need to be salty Christians. To be salty is to have a spiritual thirst that means that you cannot help but want to learn more about God. It means that you want to share what you have learned with others. To be salty is to keep your baptismal Covenant to the best of your ability. It is to see Christ in others and allow them to see Christ in you. It is to be the people of God. Amen.
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