18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2015
Mark 9:38-50 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
In the late 1960’s a poet named May Sarton, ended a long-standing relationship and bought a house for herself in Massachusetts, and set out to craft a new life for herself. She wrote a book about it, that was a minor success. When she received the book from the publisher, she realized that the story it told was all about furnishing rooms and digging wells and getting a dog. Nowhere in the narrative was the agony of the loss, the desperate struggle to keep focused on her writing while her life was falling apart, the overwhelming amount of decisions she felt so ill-equipped to make. So she wrote another book from her journals through the time of the changes. “A Journal of Solitude” was the real story, bit by bit, of her struggle to craft a new life for herself. It was published in the midst of the rise of feminism and stuck a chord with many other women who were also struggling to make sense of a life that seemed handed to them. Her honesty in sharing her trial by fire introduced a whole new kind of writing about women’s experience. It was a huge success, and helped to launch a whole new career for Sarton, whose poetry had been known to only a few.
Jesus says, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” Our experiences and struggles to be faithful often put us at odds with our expectations of what our lives will be like, and sometimes even put us at odds with the world around us. But if our struggles and expectations pull us away from our trust in God’s work in our lives and in the world, then we’ve lost everything.
In the reading we have this morning, the disciples are worried that people they don’t know and don’t trust are using the name of Jesus to do what only they are allowed to do. They see their commission to heal as something exclusive. I certainly get it. I come from a tradition that questioned whether Roman Catholics and Baptists are really Christians, and thinks that it has an exclusive lock on the “true Gospel.” If you’re not doing it our way, then you must be wrong. But Jesus’ vision is larger than that. If you are not against him, then you are for him. Anything done in the name of Jesus is good enough.
He even gets gross about what can distract you from opening your heart to love people, and what can tempt you to indulge yourself instead of looking at the world through God’s love.
This is hard. We all love to gloss over the nastiness in our lives and in our hearts. We much prefer to tell the stories of how faithful and good we’ve been, and see ourselves as examples of doing things right. That allows us to look at other’s struggles with a little superiority, as if our own sins were not as bad as theirs. The fact is that we all need to fall on our knees in gratitude for the gifts of being born in the right country and the right age. We all need to ask for forgiveness for the self-centered view of life that is our default when we’re not happy. We all need to open our eyes to those who are struggling alongside of us to be God’s people, even if we don’t always understand how that works for them. And we all need to realize that the times when we are salted with fire are the times when our faith is being forged into something stronger and more confident. We only grow beyond our Sunday School faith by the trials and struggles of our lives. And that’s the story that is our most authentic story, and the one that changes us to see new possibilities for the world around us
At our Church Council Retreat in July, we wrestled with the findings of our vitality surveys, One to One meetings, and congregational meetings. As we confronted the lists of action items, we realized that we needed to learn to talk to each other and to the rest of the world, to focus on mission and get beyond our immediate anxieties. So we committed as a council to reading “Unbinding the Gospel” together. “Real Life Evangelism” is the subtitle. Pretty scary for Lutherans. But it puts in perspective the urgency of mission and renewal that has to happen within a community in order to grow and thrive. Congregations that are thriving and focused on who’s not coming to church yet, “are held together by three distinct areas of honest, loving relationships: with God, within the congregation, and with people outside the church whose lives are not centered on Christ,” says the author.*
Each of us has a story of being salted with fire, and how our lives have been transformed by God’s love and grace. It is our most honest story, and the salt that seasons our conversations, our decisions, and our care for the world that isn’t sitting here with us today. It’s the stories of our transformations that make an opening for the Spirit to invite others into God’s story. “Have salt within yourselves,” says Jesus, “and be at peace with one another.”
Please pray with me:
Jesus, give me the courage to be real about the transformation of my life through your love. Help me see where else you are at work in the world, and help to support that work. Open my heart to care about people who don’t know you yet. Amen.
*Reese, Martha Grace, Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.(St Louis, MO, Chalice Press, 2008). Pg. 5