‘Act like salt’ – 26th September 2021 – Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

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21 09 26 17th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

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The Readings

Numbers 11.4-6, 10-16, 24-29
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.’
So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’


Mark 9.38-50
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 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.’
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org 

The Sermon

By Canon Dr. Alan Billings

One of the things I very much enjoy doing is cooking. What my wife calls messing about in the kitchen. Which is why I particularly like to watch those television programmes where chefs show you just how easy it is to prepare something wonderful – as long as you have oodles of patience, which I haven’t got, and one crucial ingredient, which I usually haven’t got either - and neither has the Co-Op at Crookes. So I improvise. As my wife says, I mess about in the kitchen. Guilty as charged.
But as I cook, I always hear in my head those professional chefs saying – as they always do – don’t forget to season well. Season well. And they sprinkle sea salt with a great flourish and from a great height over the ingredients. Strangely, even though we all know the importance of seasoning well, time and again, in those cooking programmes that are competitive, one of the aspiring chefs will often fail, because he or she has forgotten to season.
The professional chefs are quite right, of course, if you season well, the meal is transformed. You bring out the flavours. On the other hand, if you over do it, if you add too much salt, it’s a disaster.
So I sat up and took note of today’s gospel when Jesus said, ‘Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’
I find those words very instructive. We are to be salt. If salt enhances the flavour of the meal, our role, as followers of his, is to do something similar in our lives - in the places where we live and work. It is to enhance what is already there, to bring out the best in our families, our circle of friends, our workplaces, our communities. We are to be like salt. If we don’t bring out the best, we are like salt that has lost its saltiness.
We are to bring out the best in what is already there. This is why when the disciples come along and say, ‘We saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not following us’, Jesus is not pleased. Don’t forbid it. Be glad. Welcome this. Because they are doing what the Father wants. They are beating back whatever is evil and promoting whatever is good. If they are not against us and the things we think matter, then they must be on our side, on the side of good. So support them. Help others bring out the best in our communities. Act like salt.
And if you follow this thought through even further, this idea of us being like salt gets even more interesting.
It means first, that we don’t have to get up tight about the numbers of people who are Christians or members of the Church. We are not trying to make everyone salt. Our task, whatever our numbers, is to help bring out the best in others.
And second, the point about salt is that it is the one ingredient that mustn’t draw too much attention to itself. It works its work unobtrusively. If the salt were to dominate, it would in fact ruin everything.
I remember once trying to get the plastic top off one of those round canisters of Cerebos table salt after it had jammed. I finally put a knife between the round plastic top and the cardboard side of the carton and yanked hard. And I did it while standing over the stove. Great mistake. The result was inevitable, half the carton of salt finished up in the lamb tagine. It was ruined.
We should take all this to heart.
If our task as Christian people is to be like salt in the meal, enhancing what is already there, already good, then that is not about dominating or pushing ourselves forward. It’s not to say, Look at me. Perhaps note even, Listen to me. We are salt. Our job is to enhance the good in the human groups we belong to. To praise the generosity of others. To support the good works, the charity of others.  We don’t have to do it all ourselves. On the contrary. The vocation is not to be the meal, but the seasoning. Not a noisy vocation but rather a quiet one. Not calling attention to ourselves but rather drawing attention to what is good, and lovely, and true, and worthwhile already in the groups we belong to.
That is what the Church is for. That is the vocation of the disciple. And that, it seems to me, is something that Christians in parish churches, at their best, understand and do rather well.

The Prayers

Prepared by Siobhan H

In today’s gospel, Jesus warns us that God, our Father will judge us, not only on our own actions but on the influence for good or evil we have on others.  We pray that in our lives, by our words and actions, we reflect the goodness and love of Christ, our Saviour.
We pray for all those who work for the reform and renewal of our Church, so that our inheritance from Christ be a beacon of hope and love for the troubled, the poor, the hungry and the homeless of this world.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
We pray for all followers of Christ throughout the world, that they be inspired and united in faithfulness to his Word and be living examples of his message of love and forgiveness to all mankind.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
On this World Day for Migrants and Refugees, we pray for all those who are forced  to flee from war, injustice, hunger and poverty that they may travel safely and be received generously by those who are blessed with peace, prosperity and a better life.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
In this month of September, when our Christian churches celebrate the Season of Creation, we pray for a greater awareness of our responsibility to be guardians of the wonderful world bestowed on us by our Heavenly Father and to oppose all actions that threaten our natural environment.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
We pray for those who are sick, in mind, body or spirit. Comfort and heal them and restore them to health and strength.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer. 
We remember all those we have loved who have died.
May the Lord of life raise them up and welcome them into their heavenly home.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers.
Merciful Father
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Prayers adapted and credited to https://acireland.ie/prayers-of-the-faithful-4-2-2/
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2000