Watching for the Morning of September 27, 2015
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 21 / Lectionary 26
As you read through the collection of thoughts in the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday they begin to tumble together leaving us a little dazed and confused. It seems to make sense – however troubling the statements of Jesus might be – but pretty soon Jesus is talking about having “salt in yourselves” and you are not sure what he’s talking about anymore. But Mark isn’t just throwing together some leftover sermon bits; he (and his community) understands how all these apothegms connect.
Jesus is talking to us about what it means to live in the community of disciples, to be citizens of the dawning reign of God. The language of salt and millstones and the unquenchable fire is meant to alert us to the dramatic significance of what is happening in Jesus.
God has come to reign. God has come to drive out the power of evil and bring that day when all things are made new. That’s why Jesus will not silence someone who has co-opted the name of Jesus for use in exorcism. The demonic is being driven out. And those who use the name of Jesus in such a way will find themselves unable and unwilling to later turn against him.
The thoughts are continuing from last week when the disciples argued about who was most important. Jesus upset the applecart by placing a child in their midst. What is happening is not modeled on the kingdoms of this world; God is transforming the world. Greatness is in service. Honor is accorded to the least. The power present in the world through the name of Jesus isn’t the possession of a few but is rippling out to touch all lives.
So those who show the simplest kindness – even a cup of cold water – shall inherit their just share of the kingdom. And if any would block someone’s participation in the reign of God, it would be better for them to tie a millstone to their neck and perish at the bottom of the sea. Indeed, if your words or deeds inhibit you from participating in God’s dawning reign, be bold. Act decisively. Better to enter the dawning age of life maimed than to celebrate your wholeness on the smoldering dump of cursed idols.
And so we come to salt. Sharing salt is like sharing bread. It is the symbol of a common bond, of friendship, of covenant, of mutual aid and protection, of peace with one another. When salt has lost its saltiness – when the ties of our mutual participation in the reign of God, our fellowship in the covenant of peace – when those ties are ruptured, what good remains? Be at peace with one another. Inhabit the realm of peace. Inhabit the realm of God that is come to us in Christ. Inhabit the realm that is defined by the cross and resurrection.
This Sunday we will hear Moses, like Jesus, reject the attempt to control the Holy Spirit, sighing: “If only all God’s people were possessed of God’s spirit.” The psalmist will sing of the goodness of God’s Torah – God’s teaching for life. And James will urge us to care for one another in a mutual ministry of prayer and healing. But it is the word of Jesus that will linger, setting before us the urgency of complete allegiance to the mission of Jesus.
The Prayer for September 27, 2015
Holy and Gracious God,
before whom the least of your children bear an eternal name,
season us with your Spirit
that we may never drive away those whom you call near;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Texts for September 27, 2015
First Reading: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” – Moses cries out to God about the burden of caring for this rebellious people, and God puts his Spirit upon seventy elders to share the leadership. But two, Eldad and Medad, are not present with the others and begin prophesying in the camp. When word comes, Joshua would have Moses silence them.
Psalmody: Psalm 19:7-14
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” – The psalm sings of God’s wondrous ordering of the world, beginning with the majesty of creation, and then the gift of God’s law.
Second Reading: James 5:13-20
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them.” – The author urges the Christian community to mutual care and absolution.
Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” – The disciples show their failure to understand the reign of God present in Jesus and he summons them to the radical commitment that the reign of God requires: “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.”