Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Have Salt! - Sr Constance Joanna - 27 September 2015

Homily for Proper 26, Year B
St. John’s Convent, September 27, 2015
Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

I remember vividly one day when I was about 9 or 10 years old and in Sunday School. Our teacher was presenting a lesson from the first letter of John in which he says “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). She went on to interpret the passage as saying that only those who love God or acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour are able to love.

I knew immediately and intuitively that she was wrong. My father claimed to be an atheist, but he was one of the most loving people I knew. He was the one who let all the neighbourhood kids play on his grass, who would get down on his hands and knees and play wheelbarrow with kids, who helped the neighbours with work around the yard or repairs in their house, who made things for us kids, who took me to Cleveland Indians ballgames and told me stories of his growing up as a kid in Sweden.

I just knew that the love he shared with us came from God even if he didn’t know that. And that Sunday School teacher could never make me believe that my father was unloving just because he wasn’t a Christian.

In fact the point John is making in his letter is that anyone who loves IS born of God and knows God – whether or not that person is consciously aware of being loving, or aware of the source of their love. My father’s loving nature came from God, and I knew that even as a child.

This is exactly the point that Jesus is making in today’s gospel. In fact he goes further and says that if we reject those who are doing good because they do not have the same theology or Biblical interpretation or social and moral views that we do – if we reject them for that reason, we are in fact judging them and shutting them out of the circle of God’s love. We are called to do the opposite – to invite everyone into the circle of God’s love, into the community of the body of Christ, whether we agree with them or not.

It reminds me of the song by Gordon Light, “Draw the Circle Wide.” And a little poem by Edwin Markham, an American poet of the early 20th century:

“He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”

It also brings to mind the recent kerfuffle in the media when the Archbishop of Canterbury announced there would be a Primates’ meeting in 2017 and he was inviting the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America – the collection of traditional Anglicans who removed themselves from the Episcopal Church in the USA because of its liberal stance, including on issues related to homosexuality. The ACNA drew a circle around itself that excluded the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and now the Archbishop of Canterbury is drawing a circle that takes them in – not necessarily a redefining of the Anglican Communion though I suppose that could happen – but at least an enlarging of what we might consider ecumenical boundaries.

This is entirely in keeping, it seems to me, with Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, in which he chides the disciples and his other listeners for their judgmentalism and exclusivism. “Whoever is not against us is for us” is the heart of the first part of our gospel, which is fairly complex because it is actually made up of three sections that at first don’t seem related to each other. But each one builds on the other and also expands the point of the first reading this morning from Numbers.

In the reading from Numbers, a young man complains to Moses that two men, Eldad and Medad, who have not been properly commissioned, are prophesying in the camp. Then Joshua complains as well. But Moses says to them, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Or as Jesus says, “no one who does a deep of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

Moses and the young man are just like Jesus’ disciples – jealous of people who are exercising a spiritual gift without having been officially commissioned by the religious authorities to do so. Both Moses and Jesus say, “draw a circle that takes them in!”

And the second section of today’s gospel develops that message. Whoever puts a stumbling block in the way of “one of these little ones” may as well be thrown into the sea and drowned. Who are the little ones and what is the stumbling block? The little ones may refer to the unlearned, the untaught, the uninitiated, or the unloved – or those people who are casting out demons in Jesus name but are not part of the group of his followers. They are vulnerable, like children, and they need to be nurtured and brought into the circle, not excluded. And the stumbling block is our exclusivenes, our judgmentalism, our requirement that they do things just like us – even our focus on getting people to believe like us or come to our church when we are empowered to meet God with them, where they are.

Jesus uses the image of “little ones” or children several times in the gospels to demonstrate that God especially welcomes those who are vulnerable and fragile including the poor, the lonely, the sick, the homeless, the hungry. They may be innocent or unlearned, but they have spiritual gifts to share with all of us. As a matter of fact, just a few verses before today’s passage, we read of how the disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest, and Jesus put a child in their midst and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Whoever – anyone – not just he initiated, not just the officially religious. In fact the religious, including the disciples, were the ones most likely to dismiss the child and the uninitiated but gifted casters out of demons.

The third section of the gospel is the climax of Jesus’ teaching in this section of Mark’s gospel: “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.”

This is challenging. Not only are we not to be jealous of those who have spiritual gifts outside of our circle. Not only are we to pay attention to God’s little ones, the most vulnerable. Not only are we are to accept everyone who shares their love with others, and not to judge them. We are called to be salt.

Salt is both a preservative and a flavour-enhancer. It can make other things taste salty but there is no way salt can be made salty once it loses its saltiness. It represents, in other words, the origin, the wellspring of our faith, the Godseed planted in us. We are to preserve it and nurture it but not hoard it or it will become useless – it will lose its saltiness. We are to give it away in acts of kindness and compassionate service to others, to sprinkle it over those God sends us to care for in God’s name  -- and that includes the little ones, the ones outside our circle however we might define our circle. This is how we play our role in helping to build the kingdom of God.

“Have salt in yourselves,” Jesus says, “and be at peace with one another. Have salt in yourselves – that is, keep yourself both interesting and flavourful. Nurture the spiritual gifts God has given you, share them with God’s little ones, and honour the spiritual gifts of others. Be at peace with one another rather than jealous and competitive. Salt enables the whole community to live together in peace.

So our challenge in today’s gospel is threefold:
  • to be salty enough – courageous and loving and adventurous enough – to share the gospel of love
  • to create peace among one another
  • to let others also share the love of God even when we think they’re doing it the wrong way. 

How desperately our church and our world need the gift of salt, of acceptance, understanding, compassion, peace and love.

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”