Finding God in a Box of Cereal
Mark 9:38-42, 49-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “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 for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“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.”
Near the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to order some LIFE cereal online from Amazon. The price seemed decent and so I ordered 4 boxes, or so I thought. I had actually ordered 4 three-packs for a total of 12 boxes of cereal. That’s way more cereal than I needed. But maybe I just needed to read the packaging better!
Have you ever noticed all the different boxes in the grocery store? Are they all the same? What differences do you see? Sometimes we try to put God in a box, as if our conceptions or ideas can contain or describe all that God is.
Do you think God could fit in any of the boxes we construct with our minds? You know there are many different religions in the world—Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and many, many more. In some ways, these religions are like all those boxes at the grocery store.
They each have their packaging slogans: New and improved! Do religions sometimes claim to be new and improved? Original! Do religions sometimes claim to be original? All-natural! Do religions sometimes claim to be all natural? Quick and easy! Do religions sometimes claim to be quick and easy? Well, maybe not those exact words. But sometimes it’s pretty close.
Our theology—the study of God and God’s relation to the world—are just words. And like these boxes they cannot really contain all of what God is or means, can they?
In the gospel of Mark 9:38-50, Jesus’ disciples tried to stop someone from doing the good deed of casting out demons in Jesus name, because he was not one of them. But Jesus responded that “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Did you know that when Christian churches of all the many different Christian groups work together that’s called “ecumenical understanding” and when different religions like Christian, Sikh, Baha’I, and Taoist get together that’s called “interfaith understanding.” Jesus taught that “whoever is not against us is for us.” Perhaps the paradox is that God can be new and improved—and original. God can be quick and easy—and all-natural.
The mystery may be that God is greater than one box and greater than all the boxes.
But if I am a box of salt, I want to be as salty as I can be. Not to oppose the other boxes, but just to be the best box of salt I can be right there among and in unity with all the other boxes. Jesus said: “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” (Mark 9:50).
What can we learn from this passage?
When those disciples criticized the one who was not part of their group for doing things similar to their group, they were succumbing to a natural human tendency. Tribalism or the clan instinct. In a brutish world where men carried clubs and hunted in groups, that instinct aided in survival. But in Jesus time, the world had evolved to a more civilized society. Human tribal instincts got in the way of a more evolved society where the rule of law and the social compact make mutual collaboration and commitments among and even between groups and clans the preferable order.
I loved studying political philosophy in college and learning about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. These and many others contributed to an age of enlightenment that articulated the necessity of humanity’s social evolution from brutish survivalism to the social contract and enlightened self-interest.
Jesus’ disciples simply knew that this man who was doing things and invoking Jesus name was not a direct disciple of Jesus. They were sure that if they didn’t know him, neither did Jesus. He wasn’t part of the group, so to there thinking that made him a fraud. In some ways, they were also seeking to ensure their own power status. If they were Jesus close disciples, they felt a need to keep control of those who went forth in his name.
But Jesus had a different view. “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.” Jesus knew that if the gospel or good news was going to be spread, it would be impossible to try to contain it to just one group. Many different groups, clans, villages and peoples were destined to receive the gospel. So Jesus proclaimed a principle of alliance with all efforts of goodwill.
“40Whoever is not against us is for us,” he proclaimed. And today we see that there are hundreds even thousands of denominations and communities that work in Jesus’ name. Hallelujah! In most congregations, when we gather we are just a few people. As Community of Christ we are what ? 250,000 worldwide. Well that’s about 1/10,000th of the 2.2 Billion Christians worldwide. In the promise of Christian unity, there is an amazing faithful response to the good news of Jesus Christ. There are 5.8 billion people of faith worldwide. “40Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus proclaimed. People of all faiths can work together for principles of good: joy, hope, love, peace.
And yet Jesus said something else amazing in this passage.
He once again uses the metaphor of salt.
I remember when I was a freshman at Graceland I ate in the Commons every day. The cooks tried to prepare food that was suitable for those on a low sodium diet. After a few weeks of high humidity, low salt diet and taking a conditioning class, I started to get leg cramps. One day I got a bad cramp while I was in the gym. The coach asked me: “Do you add salt to your food?” No, I said. He said, add salt. He said your parents probably salted everything in the kitchen. Here at Graceland, they add much less salt. You need to hydrate and add a little salt to your food. And sure enough, adding a little salt to my food solved the problem.
It has been common throughout history for people to confirm their agreements with each other by eating and drinking together, at which times salt is used. As salt was added to foods, not only for spice but also to preserve them from decay, it became a symbol of incorruptibility and permanence. A “covenant of salt” signified an everlasting covenant. In the Bible, salt also came to symbolize purity, perfection, wisdom, hospitality, durability, and fidelity.
So Jesus chooses salt to make another point:
50Salt 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.”
We aren’t called to give up being Christian, we are called to be salty Christians. Authentic to our heritage and calling and at the same time to “be at peace with one another.”
Salt has those qualities of preserving who we are and at the same time extending hospitality, wisdom and fidelity.
As stated by President Steve Veazey of Community of Christ in section 164:2a-b of the book of Doctrine and Covenants:
… as a growing number have come to understand, the redemptive action of God in Christ—while uniquely and authoritatively expressed through the church—is not confined solely to the church.
God’s grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, freely moves throughout creation, often beyond human perception, to achieve divine purposes in people’s lives.
Here in the Lamoni Heartland Mission Center in Community of Christ we are blessed with a rich tradition. We have plenty of salt to share. We have a great heritage to preserve and we have a calling to be at peace with one another.
I am eating my LIFE cereal past its “best before” date. It makes some of those interesting claims: “new look! same great taste!” Hmm…”Original” Hmmm… But this one stands out on this day when I am thinking about ecumenical and interfaith understanding: “try our other delicious flavors.” And I love this one: “Life is full of beautiful moments.”
I remember seeing an old church pamphlet that had a slogan at the top: “All Truth!” At the time, I may have seen it as an antiquated claim that we are the possessors of “all truth!” But what if we see this is an aspirational idea. Not that we have all truth but that we should be open to and seek “all truth.” I will have to agree with the cereal box: “Life is full of beautiful moments.”
Spiritual Practices for Today
Look through the advertising claims on the boxes in your pantry or in the newspaper ads. Do you see competing claims? In what ways do different items claim the same benefits or attempt to differentiate themselves? What would happen if instead of trying to differentiate ourselves, we searched for Unity in Diversity?
After spending time in meditation, consider this prayer:
Pray: Divine Creator of All Faith, All People, All Creation. Bless us with ecumenical and interfaith understanding. Help us to ally ourselves with you and all those who seek to make the world a better place through faith, peace and love. Bless all the peoples of the earth with your divine nourishment. Forgive us for sometimes seeing the other as unacceptably different and bless us when we open our hearts to forgiveness and understanding. We join in a mighty worldwide chorus of praise! Amen.
Read Doctrine and Covenants 164:2a: “… as a growing number have come to understand, the redemptive action of God in Christ—while uniquely and authoritatively expressed through the church—is not confined solely to the church.
God’s grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, freely moves throughout creation, often beyond human perception, to achieve divine purposes in people’s lives.”
What word or phrase caught your attention in this passage?
Read the passage again. How is this passage speaking to you today?
Download or open the Community of Christ app on your smartphone or visit www.cofchrist.org to read today’s Daily Bread and Prayer for Peace. After reading the Daily Bread, consider these questions:
What does God want you to learn?
How might you be called to forgive yourself and seek forgiveness in light of this reading?
Pray the Mission Prayer: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.
2021 Guiding Question: Are we moving towards Jesus, the peaceful One?