Hello, and welcome to our worship service for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2021! I know last week we had slight technical difficulties, but hopefully this week will be free of errors and complications! We appreciate you joining us for worship anyway!
The order of our service has been changed slightly to streamline the time spent indoors (for those who are in the church for worship), but you can see the changes in the bulletin that can be found here. Please note that the bulletin is mostly complete except for the lyrics to the hymns, and that much of the liturgy (like the responses that are the same week to week) will no longer be on your screen. This was intentional to make it an easier viewing experience for those in person as well as those participating online.
You might also notice that we don’t have a dedicated time for the Thanksgiving for Baptism. However, you may want to still have a bowl of water to interact with at home during the Gathering Hymn as you continue to remember your baptism. But we will be having communion of course, so you can have something small to eat and drink for that. And as always a lit candle in your space is welcome for the duration of the service.
May God’s blessing of grace and love be real to you this day and always!
Holy God, by the power of your Spirit, enlighten our eyes and instruct our minds, that the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m going to be honest with you all, I hate the fact that we’re still in pandemic. I hate that we had to make all these provisions around what we can or can’t do. I hate that we have to wear these masks and lose the ability to fully communicate with others face to face. And I really hate the fact that we’ve come down to having to show a vaccine passport just to be able to do the things that we’ve used to enjoy freely and without fear.
So yeah, I hate this pandemic.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this. It has been inconvenient, it has brought out the worst in some people, and it has really made us look at ourselves and perhaps discover who we really are. And I don’t know if I like what I’m seeing. Because really, this hate I have for the pandemic doesn’t mean that it’s not real or the guidelines put in place aren’t helpful. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t in any way mean that I shouldn’t consider others in how I comply to the guidelines. Just because it’s something different from what we’re normally used to doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for us moving forward.
At the same time, just because we don’t agree with those who don’t agree with us, doesn’t make them evil or wrong or even dumb. This division between the “us” and the “them” has been more bothersome to me than the pandemic itself. But everyone has their opinions, and some hold to them much stronger than others. And sometimes those opinions butt up against each other, and that is when the true ugliness of the pandemic comes out.
I think the disciples were facing a similar pandemic of sorts, or at least an epidemic, in today’s gospel lesson. See, this episode happens right after Jesus corrects them from arguing about who among them is the greatest and Jesus flips around what being “the greatest” even means. But in typical disciple fashion, they still don’t get it. Or maybe they did get it, but completely misinterpreted their stance in the whole thing. As in, “To be the first I need to be last? Well, good thing I’m already last with what, my huge humble heart and total contrite spirit. I guess I’m still first then.”
It’s clear that they don’t get something in what Jesus was saying, as right after Jesus tells them these things they go off and reprimand some random people for doing good in their community. Their excuse was that those randoms weren’t part of their exclusive club and so they needed to be stopped. They aren’t in the “Jesus in crowd” so they aren’t special enough to be doing these things. They clearly aren’t one of them, so the disciples had no choice but to exercise their right and duty to put an end to that nonsense.
And I imagine at this point Jesus gives them this huge face palm and maybe even an audible groan and perhaps one of those full body eye rolls that are kind of subtle but when we see it, we know exactly what it means.
So the disciples are still suffering from their own superiority complex, in that they are the most important people in the world and the whole world revolves around them. They continue the divide between the “them” and the “us”. They see these actions by these randoms as actual hostility against them and their cause, when it really is for them and their cause but just hurts their egos. They continue to try to hold their supposed positions of number one, thinking that they are the only ones who have the rights, the only ones with the inside knowledge, the only ones who have this exclusive connection with the truth that they are, in fact, the greatest(s).
And so to drill it into their heads, Jesus says something that is pretty harsh. He’s like if you cause someone to stumble, you going to die. If you cause yourself to stumble, you going to die. If you don’t take the drastic measures to cut out all that causes you to stumble out of your life, you going to die. Harsh, right?
And so of course the disciples think they know exactly what Jesus is talking about, probably just like how we think we know exactly what he’s talking about. We’d say that Jesus means we have to cut out the bad habits, avoid the bad triggers, shun those bad people who are unhelpful to us so we can ensure our place in heaven, right? I mean that is what seems to makes sense, that is perhaps what was taught to us in Sunday School and from the TV evangelists, and that what Jesus would probably say because Jesus was all about us saving ourselves, right? That we cut the crap from our lives and live our best selves for our own sake and our salvation, right?
You probably figured out by my overtly sarcastic tone that I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying here. I mean, if he was saying that, then he probably wouldn’t have told them to stop reprimanding those randoms, due to the stumblage they were apparently causing the disciples. He probably wouldn’t have told them to aim for last as last isn’t where the glory is. And he probably wouldn’t have told them that they were, still are, and will always be the salt of the earth.
Because really? These dullards? The salt of the earth? The backbone of everything that is good and flavourful and perhaps high in cholesterol (making it ironically even more good and flavourful)? Now that doesn’t make sense.
But Jesus isn’t saying they are the salt because they are good, or smart, or even anywhere near the greatest (which would be the last, which would mean the first, which… you know what I mean). The disciples didn’t will themselves to be salt just like how actual salt doesn’t will itself to be salt. But they were just created that way. They were made to be salt as actual salt was made to be salt. It is the doing of the Spirit’s fire that creates and recreates us, forms and reforms us, deems and redeems us all.
And salt, will always be salt. It cannot be anything else. Just as we are God’s children. We cannot be anything else, no matter what we say or do or even believe. We are God’s children.
So then Jesus wasn’t telling the disciples and us to be careful of those people who cause us to stumble and cut them out of our lives, but he is telling us to watch out for the ways that we cause others to stumble, and cut those attitudes or actions out of our lives. He isn’t telling us that we are powerless in our reaction to our triggers so all we can do is just avoid them, but he is saying that we need to realise why those triggers even trigger us, and deal with it at an internal (and not finger-pointing) level. He isn’t even telling us that this is how we ensure your place in heaven, but he is saying to recognise and be humbled by our being saved by grace, that our service and care for others can be pure and free of selfishness.
So this whole pandemic thing? Yeah, I can still hate it but by adopting these attitudes that Jesus talks about, I can accept it as it is and make the best of it even though I don’t have my first world comforts that I’m only lucky to enjoy in the first place. I can still not like my mask, but I will continue to wear it knowing that even if it isn’t protecting me, it can and will protect others and is a necessary inconvenience for the good of all. And I can still lament that we aren’t “normal” yet, but I can embrace the fact that “normal” is but a construct and that regardless of what is going on around us, that God will continue to be with us, God will continue to love us, and God will continue to salt us with the fire of the Spirit.
So as we continue in this pandemic through this season after Pentecost, may we be continually reminded that we are, by God’s grace, the salt of the earth, bringing not destruction and stumbling, but hope and good news for the good of all. Thanks be to God. Amen.