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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
September 30, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 9:38-50
Pentecost 19B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: September 30, 2018 – Pentecost 19B

Mark 9:38-50


The Well-Seasoned Church


            Even the most inexperienced chef knows that food has little taste without seasoning. Or at least not as much taste as it otherwise could have. Salt, pepper, and different kinds of herbs and spices bring the most out of a dish. With the right seasoning, any meat, any vegetable, any grain develops a depth of flavor that it would otherwise lack.


            It’s clear from today’s reading in Mark that the disciples need more seasoning. They still lack the depth they need to bring the flavor of the gospel to a tasteless world. John, especially, comes off as rather tasteless when he jumps in with his complaint at the beginning of our reading. Remember where we left off. Jesus made his second passion prediction – words that went right over the heads of the disciples. They were more interested in figuring out which of them was the greatest: who would serve as secretary of state, who would be on the supreme court, who would have the million-denarii book deal. Jesus knows their ambition, of course, and reminds them that the greatest must be the servant of all. He takes a child, embraces her, and says that when they embrace someone like this child – someone vulnerable, someone weak – they welcome God himself into their midst.


            And the words sail over their heads yet again. John’s non-sequitur complaint is stunning if you see this as a continuation of last week’s conversation. He’s still in this “who’s in, who’s out” mindset. Without giving any indication of having heard Jesus’ lesson, he says, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”


            One of the commentaries I read suggests that the grammar and style in Jesus’ response to John reflects surprise and exasperation. I wonder if Jesus didn’t want to find the nearest hard, blunt object and try to soften John’s thick skull with it. But Jesus is still holding the child – the child that is supposed to be their lesson in true greatness and true inclusion.


            Who’s in according to Jesus? Anyone who’s not explicitly against him. Even if this exorcist is using Jesus’ name like a magical incantation, that doesn’t bother Jesus. “One who does a deed of power in my name will not soon be able to speak ill of me,” he says. Jesus knew that the disciples were probably still smarting a bit from their failure to exorcise the demon from the epileptic child at the bottom of the mountain earlier in chapter 9. John disguises his question as a “good order” question, but Jesus sees through it. John wants to keep all the power of Jesus’ name confined to the small group of disciples.


            And as we know all too well, whenever power is confined to a small group of people – especially men – the results are disastrous. People with such power feel entitled. People with such power fly into histrionics whenever their sense of entitlement is questioned. People with such power use and abuse others and cover up that abuse with a sick notion of brotherhood. Such folks are unaccountable to others. This script has played out in every conceivable organization, in every time, in every place. Governments do this. Private corporations do this. Hollywood does this. Even the church – the body of Christ, charged with living out the good news of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world – falls into these satanic abuses of power. Any time a small, unaccountable group wields all the power, great destruction will inevitably follow.


            Which is why Jesus gives some terrifying warnings to these disciples, telling them that if their eye or hand or foot causes them to sin – and I’m pretty sure this is sin that uses other people for one’s own gratification – it would be better for them to amputate that body part than go whole into hell. If they cause scandal to “one of these little ones who believe in me” – remember that Jesus is still holding a child – it would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with concrete shoes. This should give us all pause. Jesus anticipates the temptations that these disciples – and their spiritual descendants in the church – will face. He knows this grasping, clutching, sinful desire in us to take power and wield it against others. He gives them – and all of us – a heavy dose of law to bring us back to reality. So let’s be brave and look into the mirror Jesus offers. When have we misused the power and privilege we’ve been given? When have we tried to shut others out because they “weren’t following us” – religiously, politically, or any other way? And conversely, when have we failed to use our power and privilege for the good of others who don’t have it? When have we not acted on behalf of the vulnerable ones that Jesus holds? When we act like the world does in regard to power, we don’t season the world. We make it more and more tasteless.


            But Jesus wants a well-seasoned church. And Jesus is going to get a well-seasoned church. Salt does two main things. It flavors and it preserves. And while the English majors among us might be upset that Jesus mixes his metaphors a bit, salt is also associated with purification. “Everyone will be salted with fire,” Jesus says. The prophet Malachi, about five hundred years before the birth of Christ, wrote, “He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. He will sit like a refiner and purifier of silver.” Jesus himself is the fire that purifies us, that burns our subhuman sinfulness away, including our grasping and clutching at power to use against others. Jesus himself is the salt that gives the church flavor, that seasons the world. Jesus is our salt and our fire who comes to us in water, bread, and wine. He is the one who makes us more human, who cleanses us from our sinfulness, who refines the silver and gold within us. He is the one who showed us what real power looked like when he laid his life down for the life of the world. He revealed all human grasping for power as what it really is – a sham – and gave us the means to be salt and light in a tasteless, darkened world.


            When Jesus tells us to “have salt in ourselves and keep peace with each other”, they go hand-in-hand. When we remain in him who purifies, preserves, and seasons us, we are in the one who makes peace among ourselves possible. In Christ, we are free to be who God made us to be – people who are free from envy, free from grudges, free from hate. We are free to be the world’s seasoning.  


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, in a world made tasteless by misuse of power, make us well-seasoned to give flavor to the world. Help us to welcome and act on behalf of the most vulnerable, and to keep peace among ourselves, realizing that you are the one who gives us everything. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.