Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
27 Sept. 2015 Proper 21 Year B: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
The disciples see someone casting out demons in Jesus' name, try to stop him & complain about this person who is not in their group. Jesus says:
“Have salt in yourselves & be at peace with one another”.
You, my good & wise Brothers & Sisters, know how to have salt in yourselves & be at peace with one another. You know when someone is “worth their salt”, a phrase we get because people have been paid in salt [it was part of a Roman soldier’s pay].1 You know good things about salt: it enhances food, tweaks the sweetness of desserts, helps bread dough rise, & helps preserve food. Salt on icy roads makes them less slippery.
Salt does more than change food & road conditions. It helps fix dye in fabrics: without salt, bright colors wash out quickly. [I use salt, lemon juice & sunshine to get out stains.] Salt is used in making leather, plastic toys & other every day items.2
As the salt of the earth, you have a much greater effect on God's world than you may know. Remember: salt can be used for good or ill.
I learned the value of salt to our diets when I cut it out because my high-pressured work holding down 2 jobs had raised my blood pressure. Without salt, my heart did funny things that were not funny; the doctor said I needed salt back in my diet. It's a matter of balance.
Salt can do good or harm, sustain life or prevent it...3 Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth.”
But salting the earth is destructive & was warfare's “scorched earth” tactic before we invented Agent Orange. We see this tactic used in Judges 9:45 when the king puts down a revolt & salts all the fields so that no one forgets he's boss.4
You can take something with a grain of salt to make it “easier to swallow” or rub salt into a wound to increase pain, which may be what the disciples do in the first part of our Gospel today. How quickly they have forgotten what just happened 20 verses earlier: they couldn't cast out a demon. The father of the afflicted boy comes & asks Jesus for help & asks Jesus to help his unbelief. Jesus rebukes the demon & heals the afflicted child, whose daddy loves him so much.
May this healed child remind us that
God the Father loves us so much.
I wonder if what we hear from the disciples in today's Gospel is from their limited perspective of God's fatherly love. I wonder if they are jealous that someone not in their group can do what they failed to do. Jesus gives us the broader perspective of who works with or against Jesus, with or against God's will for health, wholeness & love in the human family.
In the human family we face the same enemy: despair.
When we cast out the demon of despair we make room for gifts of joy & gladness. When we cast out the demon of despair, it's like adding salt to a recipe. A pinch of salt is enough. We do not have to be big & strong & have large resources to make a positive difference, to be at peace, to be peacemakers.
We hear lack of peace in our news & in our scriptures. We hear about suffering & sins in our lesson from James, who tells us how Christians are to handle the lack of peace life's experiences bring us so that we change from sorrow to gladness.
Notice this: James says when we turn our mourning into a holiday & celebrate & feast with each other we are to give presents to the poor. We are to celebrate AND tend to the needs of others. This is one way we are “salt of the earth.”
Mahatma Ghandi used the powerful symbol of salt to topple British colonial rule of India, as one preacher says. The British had a monopoly on the salt trade & levied tax on salt. In 1930 Ghandi decided to walk to the ocean, an almost 250-mile, 23-day journey. The procession of people following him stretched 200 miles long. Reaching the water, Gandhi raised a lump of mud & salt & declared: “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” He boiled it in seawater to make salt, which no Indian could legally produce. Historians see this as a turning point in the movement for India's independence that came 17 years later.5
Achieving the balance of salt & peace in our lives is a life-long journey. We do not journey alone, although at times we feel alone. Our journey calls us to focus on the phrase in our Baptismal Covenant: “I will WITH GOD'S HELP.”
With God's help in this Body of Christ we find strength to persevere, grace to hear & heed warnings to avoid pitfalls, & to live into God's peace that passes all understanding. Beloved Brothers & Sisters, in this Happening Community where we live God's love, we use our God-given gift of brains; we worship the Triune God who transforms, guides & empowers us to acknowledge: God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.
In this Body of Christ, we discover the strength, wisdom, & inspiration to use the gifts God has given us to transform for the good ourselves & the world beyond our red doors.
We know hatred & bitterness are in our world. When you & I share Jesus' love that willingly dies on the cross for us, we are salt of the earth that Jesus calls us to be. Just a pinch of salt does so much to reduce bitterness & to bring peace.
Jesus says: ask & it shall be given you,
seek & you will find.
Ask God to help you to be that "pinch of salt" that flavors the world with peace.
Savor God's love.
Bates, The Rev. Dr. Barrie. “Careful Seasoning”. Proper 21(B). Accessed: 22 Sept. 2015. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/09/07/careful-seasoning-proper-21b/
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 22 July 2015.
http://www.sermons4kids.com/ “A Pinch of Salt”. Accessed: 22 July 2015.
http://www.sermons4kids.com/ “Pass the Salt, Please”. Accessed: 22 July 2015.
1 Bates, The Rev. Dr. Barrie. “Careful Seasoning”. Proper 21(B). Accessed: 22 Sept. 2015. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/09/07/careful-seasoning-proper-21b/
3 Ibid. Bates.