the nineteenth sunday after pentecost

Mark 10. 2-16
The gospel doesn’t need sugar-coated; it’s sweet enough!

It was a post of Facebook. Friday, a week ago. Intended as a conversation starter. “The church,” the photo said, “cannot be the salt of the earth if we keep sugar-coating the Gospel.” “The church cannot be the salt of the earth if we keep sugar-coating the Gospel.” There was a time, I think I might have understood what all that meant. There might, even, have been a time when I might have read the words and said, “Amen!” Not so much, anymore. You see, whoever prepared that post makes an assumption about the gospel … they assumed it can’t be sweet. Instead, it’s something bitter. Something harsh. Unpleasant. And the only way most people could stomach it was if it was sugar-coated. “The church can’t be the salt of the earth if we keep sugar-coating the Gospel.”

Now, I understand why we say that. I really do. The frustration. The fear. Proclaiming gospel sunday after sunday. Administering good news season in and season out. Especially, during a pandemic most around us don’t think is real. I get it. All the blood … sweat … tears … with little, no result. It’s natural. Lowering the bar. Raising expectations. Somehow people just aren’t doing enough. They’re not living up to their end of the bargain. And something has to give. More often than not, that something is us. Our patience. Our kindness. Our big-heartedness. What was once free is purchased. What once was unearned and undeserved becomes a big ball of loose ends. We figure we’ve been too nice, too long. No more mr niceGuy. No more ms niceGal. So, we sneer. We wring our hands. And we get ready to “give ‘em hell!” “The church can’t be the salt of the earth if we keep sugar-coating the Gospel.” Mua-ha-ha!

CheapGrace, we call it. Gospel isn’t, simply, rights and privileges. It’s duty and responsibility and obligation. Being church requires time and trouble. Being god’s people demands effort and energy. After all, dreams don’t, just, come true? They don’t, just, happen; we make them happen! It takes work! Lots and lots of work! We have grades at school. We have quotas at work. Surely, we have the same things here? Here in the church? Here among god’s own? So, we read the words. “The church cannot be the salt of the earth if we keep sugar-coating the Gospel.” We take a deep breath. And we become salt. Just like Lot’s wife. Everything we say, everything we do, everything we believe becomes set is salt. And in that moment, the church is born again. Not in the image of god, but in our own image! And the gospel becomes something it never was. Sour. Bitter. Acrid. The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

But when you get right down to it, it’s a pretty ridiculous thing to say. Especially that part about sugar-coating. It’s redundant. Unnecessary. Unneeded. The gospel hoesn’t have to be sugar-coated! It’s sugary enough on it’s own! Sweet! Pleasant! Pleasing! That’s why it’s called gospel! Good news! And that’s what draws the crowds! Like ants to sugar! It’s the case that something doesn’t have to taste bad to be good!

In the wilderness, when Israel came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the water because it was bitter! So, the Lord showed Moses a piece of wood, threw it in the water, and what was bitter became sweet! The psalmist sings, “How sweet are your words to my taste; sweeter than honey to my mouth!” God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll. And when he does, “in his mouth it’s as sweet as honey!” There’s nothing wrong with saying the same thing about the gospel! It’s sweet! Sweeter than honey!

Ask the man with the unclean spirit. The one in the synagogue at Capernaum … Ask the leper who came to Jesus. Begging. Kneeling. Ask the multitude at the seaside … Ask Legion … or Jairus … or the Syrophoenician woman … And they’ll all tell you that the words are sweet! Sweet to hear! Even sweeter to eat! You can’t remove the sweetness from the gospel any more than you can remove the saltiness from the salt! It’s what it is! What it will always be! Calling it sugar-coated might make us sound serious! More serious than the others! But when you stop and think about it, well … it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense! Removing the sweetness from the gospel is removing the gospel from the gospel! It’s the sweetness that makes the news good!

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Mark. Ten. Fifteen. That’s what it looks like to be the salt of the earth. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And the very next verse? Mark? Ten? Sixteen? “And [Jesus]took them up in his arms!” “Jesus took them up in his arms laid his hands on them, and blessed them!” And that is the “sugar-coating” we so often want to get rid of! He took them up in his arms! Laid his hands on them! And blessed them! And that’s how little children – how we – receive the kingdom! And to remove that sweetness is to destroy the good news!

Jesus’ embrace! Jesus’ touch! Jesus’ blessing! That’s how we all receive it! By being received! It’s not our wishes! It’s not our wants! It’s god’s will! It’s not our asking! Or knocking! Or seeking! It’s Jesus! Jesus and his love! We are the salt of the earth, precisely … precisely … because of the sugar! And my friends, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that!