Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year B

September 24, 2021

“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.”

Upon my retirement from Randolph School several years ago. I received many gifts from colleagues, parents, and students. As everyone knew my future path would be in ministry, it was not astonishing that the overall theme

of mindfulness or spirituality characterized the gifts. But the variety of the gifts was a bit surprising. The school counselor presented me with Benjamin Hoff’s set of books The Tao of Pooh—a fascinating look at Taoism through the characters of Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore in the children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh. Another gift, from a parent whose religious background was Hinduism was a book of Indian poetry by the Nobel prize winning author Rabindranath Tagore, —his Gitanjali is a beautiful devotional. I don’t remember from whom I received the book entitled The Prophet, by the Lebanese-born writer Kahlil Gibran; it is an amazing work of fables greatly influenced by Gibran’s interaction with Islamic Sufism. You might wonder what someone heading to become a priest in the Christian tradition would do with these books from other religious traditions.  But it became clear to me, that my friends understood clearly what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples in today’s gospel—”whoever is not against us, is for us.”

This story in Mark’s gospel comes immediately after Jesus has just rebuked his disciples for arguing over which of them is the greatest. Now they have crossed the line again. They seem to want power–oversight and control over the whole movement. John comes to Jesus to report that he’s stopped others from healing in Jesus’ name. I’m sure he was expecting to be praised; instead he was reprimanded.

Jesus punctuates his displeasure by speaking to all of them using strident words. He warns them of the danger of stumbling blocks, millstones, and unquenchable fire. Though we must know Jesus is speaking in exaggerated hyperbole, he is no less serious. Jesus wants his disciples to focus on themselves… on welcoming and serving others… on healing others not judging them. Jesus has no interest in forcing others to follow “them.” He sees the good in all those devoted to building peace and healing. He rebukes the disciples for being short sighted.

I’ve come to believe that there are two sure signs of closed mindedness. One is when we can only think in dichotomies. Us or them. American or outsider. Christian or heathen. The second is when we are certain we are right. My alma mater, Sewanee, has a funny cheer that I’ve said many times at Tiger football games and track meets.

“Rip `em up! Tear `em up! Leave `em in the lurch.  Down with the heathen up with the church. Yea, Sewanee’s right!”

I can just see the original creators of this fight song, cheering, tongue in cheek. Apparently, it was first said at a game against the Methodists of Vanderbilt.

The cheer is even more funny because of the irony in it…really. Don’t we think this sometimes…at least about ourselves? That we are right. Don’t we think this about the Episcopal Church? Personally, I can’t wait to get to heaven, to show … all those folks that I was right. Yea Polly’s right!

I am sure God has a sense of humor, thanks be to God. Still, Jesus’ message is clear: infighting, elitism, and pride are self-destructive. When we close ourselves off from others, separating into factions, we cannot be bearers of peace.  

During the pandemic Rob and I found a few television shows that we might not have had the time to explore without being made to stay at home. One show we fell in love with is now in its second season—you may be watching this as well. It is comedy series on Apple TV, called Ted Lasso. With a ridiculous plot line where an American football coach from the south is hired by a flailing British soccer team, the show may seem too outlandish or silly for your taste. The language can be a bit halting at times too. But the show ventures into matters that illuminate the complexity of the human experience. One recent reviewer wrote that Ted Lasso shows the mystery found in our gospel: “that the way up is down. Joy is found through confession, strength arises through vulnerability, and life springs forth from what feels like death.”

What I love most about the series is seeing Ted’s way of coaching. He engages his players with lines like, “I do love a locker room. It smells like potential.” And after his team suffers a loss he says, “You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It’s a goldfish. It’s got a 10 second memory.”

Ted, with his southern accent and persistent smile, is a coach dedicated to helping each person find their gifts and then working to bring them all together.

This is Ted’s gift, and in light of the today’s gospel, I’d say this is Ted’s saltiness. Yes, his saltiness.  

Here in this story in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ words move from rebuke to warnings to philosophy. Jesus turns to the metaphysical teaching of salt. “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” Just as in the sermon on the mount, Jesus is teaching “You are the salt of the earth,” entreating the people not to lose their saltiness. We must know Jesus was thinking broadly, as salt was used for so many purposes, preserving, sacrificing, destroying, and fertilizing. Salt was a precious commodity—essential for life. And remarkably, salt has the amazing ability to draw out the flavor in other foods—turning something bland into something tasty.

Be that, Jesus says, be salty, use your gifts to heal, to bring others back into community, and for God’s sake be at peace with one another.

Though it is emphatically not meant to be a Christian show, Ted Lasso lives into Jesus’ message…Ted uses his gift, his saltiness, to draw out the best in those around him, so that they make an effective team, a good team, one without infighting.

Whoever is not against us is for us.

No matter from whom it comes, the love and gifts shared by the courageous, persistent, salty persons of the world makes this earth a better place, a place closer to the kingdom for which Christ gave his life.

Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The only clear line I draw these days is this: when my religion tries to come between me and my neighbor, I will choose my neighbor… Jesus never commanded me to love my religion.”

Or as Eeyore says, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”

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