An extemporaneous version of this sermon was preached on Sunday, September 30.
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
30 September 2018
St. Joseph-St. John Episcopal Church
Proper 21 / Pentecost +19
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s text is intense, isn’t it?
The disciples whine
about other people casting demons out in Jesus’ name
but he doesn’t play with them.
Jesus gives quite the dramatic lecture
about parts of our bodies causing us to sin
so that we don’t lead children or people new to the faith astray.
Then Jesus talks about us,
at least to an extent.
“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.”
Many of you know that I like cooking.
I like cooking,
but my first experiences of cooking
I’m familiar with leveling my measurements,
using the back side of a butter knife
up against the flat of my measuring cup or spoon.
Baking is chemistry,
and you don’t want the salt
to stop the yeast from working too soon.
Eyeballing seasoning and spices
is not something I’m great at.
No matter what I make,
Brandon almost always adds a little more salt
and a little more pepper.
No matter what I’m making,
I like to have a specific amount of salt and pepper in the recipe.
I am in awe of Charlotte, Teresa, and even Brandon
taking their ingredients and making a meal
not precisely measuring this or that.
Brandon is usually right.
The added salt doesn’t make the food salty
inasmuch as it brightens and brings out the flavors
of what’s already in the dish.
And Jesus today is calling the disciples,
calling us, to have salt, to be salt, to brighten what’s in us.
I’ve never held on to salt for so long
that it’s lost its saltiness.
But my biscuits have not risen
because my baking powder was older than I realized.
Whether it’s salt that’s lost its flavor
or baking powder that’s lost its oomf,
there’s only one thing to do when it goes.
Throw it out.
We’re at a place in our lives together
of asking what have we done in the past
that isn’t flavorful or effective anymore.
What do we need to throw out and get more of?
What do we need to replace?
At the last Bishop’s Committee meeting
someone talked about needing to find our heart.
They said something to the effect of we’ve lost our heart.
We’ve lost our saltiness,
we’ve lost the oompf that makes biscuits rise
and the salt that brightens the world around us.
We still do good work!
But the old ways of doing things
have gotten us to where we are.
If you find yourself saying,
“We’ve always done…” or
“We’ve never done….” try to say “Look where we are now.”
You can bet I will be!
Like with old salt or baking powder,
we're going to have to throw some of them out.
Last Sunday during coffee hour formation
we talked about two kinds of problems
and how different kinds of solutions have to match those.
Today we’ll be looking at problems we face
and asking whether they’re technical or adaptive problems
and how to generate technical or adaptive solutions
that match the problems.
Today we’ll be asking what’s lost its salt?
We’ll be asking what needs throwing out,
and what needs replacing with something new.
Simply cutting payroll expenditures,
starting with mine tomorrow,
isn’t a way of finding our heart or finding salt for our lives together.
It may get us through the short-term
but have salt in ourselves, and being at peace with one another
is going to take changing whole systems,
and that usually faces resistance.
That’s where our passage today starts:
the disciples resisting salt in the world around them
as someone who wasn’t part of their merry band
was casting out demons in Jesus’ name.
Jesus doesn’t want to hear those complaints though.
He’s not interested in winners and losers.
We heard last week that he’s not interested
in people fighting for power
or arguing over who is right.
This week we get more of that:
Casting out demons is a good thing.
Doing it in Jesus’ name is a good thing.
As Jesus says,
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
As we go through the next few months
finding new ways of being together,
throwing out salt that’s lost its flavor
I hope we’ll remember Jesus saying that.
What we’re working to do is cast out demons, beloved:
demons of hunger and loneliness in our community
and demons of despair, anxiety, and scarcity in our congregation.
I pray that we’ll listen deeply
and hear that whoever is not against us is for us.
I pray that we’ll hear suggestions or decisions as looking for salt.
I pray that in doing that,
we not complain to Jesus about someone moving our cheese,
but that we might have salt in ourselves and be at peace with one another. Amen.