Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
There are lots of “isms” around these days. We are hearing a good deal from the media outlets about “isms”. Some of them are popular so you know what some are: socialism, communism, capitalism, totalitarianism, racism, sexism, and ageism. These are only a few. These “isms”, to be put into place and practiced, require some “ists”. Socialism needs socialists. Communism requires communists. Capitalism needs capitalists, and so on. Depending on your own thoughts, views, and opinions, some of these “isms” may be seen like bad things and some of them may seem like good things. correspondingly, if you like the “ism” you’re more likely to be drawn to the “ist” who puts the “ism” into practice.
There is a particular “ism” that is prominent in today’s gospel and it is sectarianism. The “ists” practicing the sectarianism are the apostles and particularly the Apostle James in the Gospel and Joshua and a young man in the book of numbers. Sectarianism in both cases is sinful because it is the preference of a particular sect or group to another based on the sect’s religious views.
In the face of this blatant sectarianism is the counsel Jesus gives to the disciples. Jesus corrects John the Apostle when John forbade a man from exorcising devils in Jesus’ name. The man was not part of the band of disciples whom Jesus originally called. He is not one of us, John declares, and he’s using your name. John is one of the disciples of James and John fame: The so called “Sons of Thunder”. They were brash and bold. They spoke and preached with great confidence and made no bones about being with Jesus. This may have been part of what led to their sectarian attitudes. John’s attitude is, “unless this man is one of us, he ought not be casting out devils in your name, Jesus, so we stopped him”. Jesus would not have it. Jesus corrects James and John with these words, Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. As if to say, “For crying out loud, John, leave some room for the Holy Spirit to operate”. If he’s casting out devils in my name, then he’s doing our work.
This is this same kind of sectarianism we find in our Old Testament lesson for today. This is probably why we get both of these lessons on the same Sunday. The sin of sectarianism is prominently displayed in both readings. Again, the Holy Spirit is being allowed to operate outside of a specific group. The seventy that God ordained to help Moses, when the people in camp were grumbling due to lack of meat, were ordained at the Tent of Meeting. Two of the seventy, Eldad and Medad, were ordained by same spirit, but they were not at the Tent of Meeting. They remained in the camp and even though they were not with the others the Bible says, … two men remained in the camp…and the spirit rested upon them;. Eldad and Medad began prophesying in camp and a young man told on them. Even Joshua the Son of Nun, Moses’ own minister asked Moses to forbid them from prophesying. Moses refused and even said, Would that all the lord’s people were prophets, that the lord would put his spirit upon them! Have faith that the Holy Spirit can and will operate; not just inside the Tent of Meeting, but in the camp and on Eldad and Medad too. The ultimate goal, according to Moses, is that all the people with us would be prophets and his spirit would be on them too!
How do we avoid the sin of sectarianism? Use salt. That’s right. Use salt and be salt are our instructions in combating that sin. If we are using salt the way that Jesus instructs us then we are to “Have salt in ourselves.” Come to be the kind of Christian that is entirely dedicated to Christ by the purifying that fire provides and the preservation that salt provides.
I really wish our lectionary would include the last two verses of Chapter Nine in today’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark. The lesson stops at verse 48, just two verses short of the end of the Chapter. Here are verses 49 and 50 that really need to be included if we’re going to know how to be part of the kingdom and stay there. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. It is really all about being wholly dedicated to Christ. When our love of Christ is to Him alone and that dedication is salted, that is preserved, and strengthened by fire, that is purified, then we will not need to worry about falling into sectarianism. We will be loving God and our neighbors as we should. All the works done by those dedicated to Christ will be accepted by him. The people will be part of His Kingdom. All those works done by those not yet dedicated to Christ will direct people to Him so they can be brought into His Kingdom.
The Holy Spirit needs to be allowed to bring people to Christ. Are there ways that I hinder the Holy Spirit? Do I commit the sin of sectarianism by being a little sect unto myself? In The Letter of James there is a warning about making sure our choices in this world side with having us in the Kingdom of God and not on the side of the Devil. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. The choices that we make steer us into or away from the Kingdom of God. Speaking evil against a brother or sister in Christ, acting as a judge, complaining about the Law of God, any boasting, an inordinate love of worldly goods, holding back from others what they truly deserve. These are all ways that hinder or block the Holy Spirit from guiding us while we’re in the Kingdom of God here in the world. All the more reason to be dedicated to Jesus.
Uniting ourselves to Jesus now and staying with Him is our life’s purpose. That is why He’s put us here. According to Jesus it is so urgent, so pressing, so precious, that whatever sacrifice it takes to get there, then we should make that sacrifice. In the Gospel for today Jesus is, of course, not literally saying to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the sea, or lose your hand or your foot, or pluck out your eye, but He is saying that you want to be in the Kingdom. Life without Christ is dangerous; dangerous for your life with others and dangerous for the sake of your soul. Bring whoever you can into Christ’s Kingdom and allow whoever is doing the work of the Kingdom to do that work. It’s that important. Leave lots of room for His Holy Spirit to work inside and outside His Kingdom. We need to do whatever we can and be the way we need to be to get into His Kingdom and stay there until we are part of His Kingdom in heaven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.