September 27, 2015 “ 18 Pentecost, Proper 21B
Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Everyone will be salted with fire (Mark 9:49)
Each of us grows up with a little hole inside us, a hole of unfilled needs. And life, though it is mighty hard at times, is full of healing. Grace and the love of God eventually fills that hole within us but we have to go through a lot of hardship before that hole gets filled. Some people describe what I am talking about as the wounded child within each of us. We grow up with a pretty desperate need for love and we hit a lot of brick walls trying to find that love. We start with our families of origin, our parents in particular. We depend on them to love us and make us feel valuable. Parents do the best they can, some better than others, but no parent can do it perfectly. So that’s one of the first brick walls we have to deal with: we expect our parents to love us well enough so that the hole within us goes away or so that our woundedness is healed but parents can’t do all that. One of the works of growing into maturity as an adult is to be able to forgive our parents for what they were not able to do in their attempts to love us. We may go through a period of anger but we come to see that our expectations were pretty unrealistic and that they indeed did all they could. We begin to learn that the hole inside us really can’t be filled by other human beings, though we usually try to find someone, anyone out there, who can fill that hole.
We fall in love and the hope that the hole inside us will be filled is rekindled. My parents couldn’t quite do it but I think she can! I feel so complete around her, I am at my best around her, she makes me feel whole and good. And so we imagine that the hole inside us has been filled, the wounded child has now been made well. But eventually we come to see that not even the romantic and self-giving love of a soul mate can completely make us whole. We’re making progress in our search for wholeness but there are usually still a few other steps to take, hard ones, sometimes life-threatening ones.
We look for a career, a vocation, into which we can pour ourselves and find satisfaction. That vocation becomes our entire focus and we rise and fall on our successes or failures there. But in our work we hit another wall. It fills some of our needs but not all of them. That little hole is still there.
Sometimes we have children and think our love for them and the love we receive from them will fill that hole. That may help explain some of the desperate over-parenting we see in our society. We see our children as extensions of ourselves and we can’t let them fail at anything because it may reflect poorly on us. Or we cover up their mistakes and rescue them repeatedly because when they hurt the pain that is inside us gets unmanageable and we try to make their pain go away so we won’t have any. How many parents have very nearly fallen completely apart when their children go to college? When we’re overly dependent on our children for our identity, trouble is brewing.
Most of us get through all these things a little beat up but a little wiser. Life is mighty hard but God’s grace is gentle and thorough and we get through somehow. We learn some lessons and then many of us hit yet another wall. At some point we hit some sort of mid-life crisis. We have basically recovered from childhood, matured some in our romantic relationships, and figured out how to work and parent in more balanced ways. We kind of solve some of those problems and get to a place where we really have it going on. We get to the top of our careers, our children are functioning pretty well, and people look up to us. And then it hits again: that little hole inside us is still there. We pretty much have everything we thought we wanted or we’re on track to gain it and yet we still feel empty inside. Mid-life crises sometimes lead to childish forms of acting out where we crash and burn. But almost always mid-life crises lead to a spiritual awakening, that place where we finally realize that truly only one thing can fill the hole inside us, God himself. So we turn to God in a deeper way. We let go of our childish views of who God is and how God works and we find a deeper sense of God’s grace and love.
Part of life seems to involve identifying this deep need inside each of us and finding a healthy way of asking for help. On the way to finding a healthy way of asking for help, most of us go through a number of unhealthy ways of asking. But grace, being what it is, uses those times to lead us and heal us. Our mistakes and failures help us find something that truly does heal us.
We see some hurting going on in our lessons today. And we see the grace of our Lord working to do the healing that only God can do.
Moses, in the Old Testament lesson, desperately asks for help but exhibits a less healthy way of doing it. Hey, I just wish I was dead. Why did you give me all these people to take care of? I think the world would be better off if I just wasn’t here. Maybe you’ve heard a desperate cry for help like that or cried out that way yourself. God responds by anointing others to help Moses lead. Maybe another way of understanding the story is to see that all those elders were already in place to help Moses with his burdens but that he had not yet learned to allow them to work with him. Here he seems to get it. Support is around him, newly chosen or newly recognized, and Moses embraces it. Sometimes that hole inside us feels like we’re the only one who can manage our situation. We get overwhelmed and come to that place where we see we just can’t do it all ourselves. We ask for help and it comes. Amazing isn’t it that the very worst feeling we can imagine, the one of being completely overwhelmed and desperately out of control, leads to a brand new view of the world and how God works. We’re not alone. We never have been and never will be. But we sure felt alone and it took feeling that overwhelmed for us to come to the place where we could see all the ways God was using things around us to save us.
The Gospel lesson has a similar sort of feel but with a little different situation. The disciples are gathered around doing cool miracle stuff and they hear someone else is doing that too except they’re not with the disciples. Oh no, they think. We’ve got to stop them or they’ll ruin everything. When we’ve got that unfilled hole inside us, we get resentful of anyone else doing something good because we view it as competition. We want to keep the good stuff just for ourselves, even if others having it doesn’t cause us to have less of it ourselves. Not only do we want more; we want others to have less. Because somehow in our wounded little place inside we think that will help us feel better.
But Jesus says no to that. It’s okay if someone else is out there doing what we’re doing. God’s work isn’t limited to us.
Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt was pretty valuable in the time before refrigeration. It was even used as currency. Fire was and is used to transform things. Solids can be turned into liquids and then be recast as another solid form. Everyone will be salted with fire. Maybe one thing we are to hear today is that each of us suffers and is wounded by this earthly existence but that all of those hard times are used to transform us and connect us to the great love of Christ which fills that hole inside us and heals us, saves us and brings us true joy. Your pain and suffering are being healed by God’s eternal love. This we celebrate in the proclamation of the Word and receiving the Sacraments of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.