19 Pentecost Proper 21: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, September 30, 2018
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
We all have purpose, and at any given time we might recognize that purpose as a reason, a season, or a lifetime. There is a poem written by an unknown author that expounds upon that idea: People can come into our lives for a reason—they offer support and encouragement in the moment of our need and then drift out again. Some people might come into our lives for a season—circumstances may have brought them to us and in that season together we grow and are nurtured by our relationship with one another—they share in the ups and downs of our journey and create memories with us. Then there are those who are with us for a lifetime—sometimes we don’t get to choose those relationships, family is family after all, and sometimes those relationships started on that first day of kindergarten when we walked into a strange classroom, scared to release our mother’s hand because in the chaos of that new experience we didn’t know who we might cling too until someone came up, took our hand, invited us in, and made space at the table for us.
No matter who we are, we have purpose: purpose in our relationships, purpose in our positions, purpose simply because we are children of God. It is in God that our purpose is defined—we spend our life seeking relationships with God and one another that we might do God’s work in the world. That purpose is summed up by Jesus’ s last line in our Gospel reading this morning, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Our purpose is to be the salt of the earth and when we trust in our own saltiness, then we find we can live at peace with one another instead of feeling threatened by one another.
When Jesus tells his disciples to have salt in themselves, he is reminding them that they are to be flavored with Christ—righteous in their actions, void of corruption, gracious with one another and the world. When the disciples see someone doing a deed of power in Jesus’ name—like casting out demons—they are not to feel threatened or anxious but instead avoid rivalry and self-assertion by valuing the gifts of another and how that person might contribute to God’s purposes which are greater than their own. Would it be that all God’s people could cast out demons or some other deed of power!
Moses gets it. Though the details of the situation are slightly different in the story we read from the Book of Numbers this morning, the issue at hand is quite similar. When the spirit of the Lord rests upon the seventy elders gathered around the tent of meeting, it also rested on two of the men who had remained in the camp. Joshua, second in command and chief amongst Moses followers, is threatened by the wildness of God’s power and in his anxiety, exhorts Moses to stop them. To which Moses replies, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them.” Moses is not threatened by what the Lord does, instead he recognizes that the more people and places that demonstrate the power of God, the greater the purposes of God can be served.
Eldad, Medad, and the exorcist of Jesus’ day have come into the picture for a reason. They offer the opportunity of a lesson, a moment of growth, a time for the clarification and expansion of God’s purposes: To follow God is to be inclusive of others rather than restrictive. Instead of being threatened by actions and words that demonstrate the power of God—we would do better to remember the salt in ourselves and be at peace with others. The characters of these stories provide a reason for Moses’ and Jesus’ ministry and witness. But Moses and Jesus are with their followers for more than a reason, they are there for a season and in that time they work deeds of power and offer words that expand their followers’ knowledge of God.
The truth of it is, that though people might come into our lives for a reason, or even stay for a season, they change us for a lifetime because they have flavored us and given us salt in ourselves. That’s what transformation is—becoming flavored by other people and experiences such that you are well seasoned. And I think that is a great description of my time here at St. John’s. I have been flavored by all of you—granted some more than others—but you have shaped me in Women’s Bible Study, LEVs, Acolytes, Sunday School, and so many other experiences and opportunities we have shared together. I can only hope my influence upon you has been as positive and transformative as yours has been upon me.
And, of course, I have learned so much from the staff and clergy at St. John’s—how to have a servant’s heart, to look out for one another, to celebrate one another’s joys and be there for them in their sorrows, to know the simple joy of life and share it as often as you can with others. I have so much to be thankful for when it comes to the staff and clergy of St. John’s. But, most especially, I am thankful for spending this season of my life with Robert who has taught me so much. So here is my top ten list of things I’ve learned in this season of my life, affectionately known as “My time with the Wis”:
- There is no ministerial or pastoral situation that has not been covered by a Seinfeld episode.
- Irreverence is a virtue (at least if you are Robert Wisnewski).
- Modern purity laws can only be achieved through the use of microfiber towels.
- The “slip-out”—which is where you keep moving through the crowd at a social function, offer the blessing, and then “slip-out” the door without anyone noticing. Of course, this only works, if your mentor does not call you out in front of everyone as you are slipping out the door.
- Never drink water in the pulpit.
- Liturgical whims are a perfectly appropriate approach to Sunday morning worship.
- Never take yourself too seriously (and most of the time, don’t take others too seriously either).
- Your best ideas are not necessarily the ones that wake you up at 2am.
- Job security is really only week to week. (And the number one thing I’ve learned in my time with Robert Wisnewski, )
- People are no damn good.
And that last thing I learned—the people-are-no-damn-good thing—is probably the most important thing I’ve learned. It’s not a judgment on people, but a judgment on clergy.
For me, the sentiment that people are no damn good is a constant reminder of our brokenness and need for grace and redemption. It is a reminder that we are easily threatened because we forget that we are flavored with the salt of Christ. Joshua was being no damn good when he felt threatened by Eldad and Medad instead of recognizing the power and glory of God manifested on those of God’s choosing. John was no damn good when he complained about the man casting out demons in the name of Jesus because he wanted to exclude anyone who was not a disciple from performing deeds of power in Jesus’ name. And we aren’t any better when we want to exclude others because we have decided they don’t belong or when we are threatened by another who is at least as good as we are if not better.
People are no damn good and that is why I am called to love people, because God loves us anyway—no matter how many times we screw up, no matter how dark our hearts or thoughts become—God loves us. And if God loves people, then maybe you and I ought to love people too regardless of how good they are or not.
We come into one another’s lives for a reason and sometimes we stay for a season, but always our purpose has lifetime implications. You have had that for me and I am most grateful for each and every one of you. Amen.