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September 30, 2018

“Seasoned to Perfection”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 124

Mark 9.38-50

September 30, 2018

A line has been drawn in the sand. There are those people who don’t act the same. There are people who are tattled on and those we point at and keep out. There are those people who are like us – safe. They make us comfortable. Am I describing our scripture passage, or our society today? There are some pretty close similarities in the fear of the “other” and how people respond to those who are different.

Jesus explains in the Gospel reading about how we function as a community. He is giving some information about human interactions. His ministry was relational – how we relate to each other and how we relate to God. So much of ministry is about relationships and Jesus attempts to help the disciples navigate through those interactions because it is challenging. He also talks about fire and salt at the end of the passage, but let’s wait on that for a moment.

Last week we read about some of the contentiousness happening among the disciples. The passages were full of disagreements amongst the disciples and the stress created from Jesus’ imminent death. The people were in an anxious place and were not relating well. Now we read, as the disciples and Jesus continue to walk around, that the disciples have come across some people healing in Jesus’ name, but they weren’t doing it right! I don’t know where the disciples found the healing manual, but the people they encountered were not following whatever directions they had been given.

This passage is very interesting because earlier in chapter nine, in the part I mentioned that we skipped over last week, the disciples tried to heal someone, but with no luck. Jesus ended up swooping in and healing because the disciples apparently weren’t doing something right. So, the disciples haven’t always done healings in the “right” way, either, but they are quick to point to others and call them out.

I really love Jesus’ response to this, because I feel it is so counter-cultural in his time and in ours: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” I believe the opposite is touted more often in society: “If they are not for us, they are against us.” Humanity often likes to look at the gray area, the neutral area, and turn it into the enemy. If we don’t know the motive or the reasoning behind something, the assumption is that it must be bad. Jesus gives the gray area the benefit of the doubt. If they haven’t said they’re against us, they must be for us. This is a gentler way of looking at society.

Here we find Dr. Deborah Krause’s theory again of Jesus redefining society and turning culture upside down. Rather than being defensive, Jesus is telling them to be inclusive. Rather than fretting, be calm. Rather than worrying, be confident. Rather than being separate, unite. This is what we need as Americans, as Christians, as human beings. We need to be reminded to find that unity – that commonality.

The disciples want to make clear sides, but in all situations there are not always “sides” to take. Instead of jumping to conclusions and making enemies we should start with allies. I really like Eugene Peterson’s summary of this passage: “If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.” Last week’s Gospel reading helped define who is a disciple, and this just further cements what Jesus is telling them. If they aren’t against us, they’re for us – they’re a disciple.

Jesus offers a series of sayings in this passage to define who is a follower. He tells people not to put stumbling blocks in front of others – or in front of ourselves. The disciples are doing just that by naming these others as enemies. If both groups of people are doing good work but the disciples attempt to separate themselves from them, they are harming themselves and the others. Imagine what they could do together? Imagine what impact they could have if they worked together in ministry? He ends with some hell, fire, and brimstone – or at least what some might consider hell, fire, and brimstone. The flames are a reference to Gehenna, which was basically a dump outside of Jerusalem that was on fire.[1] This was a metaphor of sorts – a warning. Jesus is telling them to be aware of their actions.

The salt piece is very interesting. Salt is a preservative, so as a metaphor, what is Jesus asking them to preserve? With all this conversation about unity, perhaps he suggests that they must preserve community through their actions.[2] What other places do we find salt other than in preserving food? Our tears have salt. Tears remind us of love and compassion, for we shed tears when we are deeply invested in someone. We weep together, we share love and we have compassion with one another. Our sweat has salt. Relationships must be worked at and are not always easy. We sweat when we work hard, and the salt of our sweat reminds us that we must work hard at relationships and at ministry. The ocean also has salt – a reminder that we are connected to the earth and have relationship with the world around us. Jesus tells the disciples: “Have salt in yourself. Be at peace.” These go together. When we have salt in ourselves we can confidently be in community with others and be compassionate, be invested, be willing to work at relationships. We can find peace in that connection.

The Psalm gives instance of a separation in community, drawing a line in the sand. The words are around “us” and “them,” with God being “for” us and “against” them. This is a communal psalm, meaning it would be read within a community. They are celebrating that they have survived and overcome obstacles, which is fantastic, but there is a sense that God is on one side and not the other.

Is God on one side and not another? Can God be with everyone and not take sides? Can we say that God is for humanity but not our sinful ways? The Madison area community has really been working toward unity and inclusivity since the visit of the KKK in Madison. Many people are coming together to show love and support in the community and to let people know that this is not a community of hate, but of inclusivity. The only way we can do that is by remembering that God has connected us into community. If they are not against us, they are for us. We have allies even in people we might not have expected. A community is built on relationships and we must support one another and be compassionate with one another if we are going to be a place of welcome.

Now, it is easy to love those who agree with us. It is difficult to love those who are in that gray area we talked about. How do we love those who are against us? Jesus talks about loving enemies, as well. That task is perhaps the most difficult.

We must have salt in ourselves. We must be compassionate and be invested in one another. We must constantly work at community. Just when we think we have it all down, we will encounter another obstacle. Working at community is an ongoing task. We must be committed to community.

Today I have bags of salt for you. Take this and pray about how you can be the salt in the community. How is God calling you to have salt? When you feel you have an answer, maybe you sprinkle it on your food (if your doctor allows you to have salt!) and as you eat that salty food and remember your calling. Perhaps you share this bag with someone else, telling them to have salt in themselves. Perhaps you sprinkle it on the earth. I invite you to come forward and receive a bag of salt, and if you are interested, you can also receive a blessing of salt water – a reminder of your baptism and calling in the world. Amen.

 

[1] C. M. Tuckett, “Mark” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 906.

[2] Harry B. Adams, “Mark 9.38-50” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 120.