Lectionary Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
September 27, 2015
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.” Numbers 11:4-6
Oh, if only…
Think about it for a moment. Have the three little words, “Oh, if only…” (or some variation), ever crossed your lips? Do you occasionally pine for “the good old days”? Do you hear folks in the parish lament about the way things used to be: The stores were closed on Sunday, children didn’t play school sports on Sunday, the pews were full, the coffers were bulging, the Sunday schools were lively, the world wasn’t spinning out of control, and life was all puppies, rainbows, and unicorns? Well, if this sounds even remotely familiar, take heart. You are in good company.
Yes, long, long ago, God’s chosen people were wandering in an unfamiliar desert wasteland — on the way to the promised land but definitely NOT there yet. The journey was hard. The terrain was foreign. The food was, well, weird–this flaky stuff on the ground. Suddenly, the old ways and their lives of slavery in Egypt didn’t seem quite so bad. Hey, at least the food was good and life was predictable. We know what happened; God’s people complain loudly. And then….
Be careful what you ask for. Be wary of your expectations. The Children of Israel got their meat all right. Moses got his helpers, and then some. The disciples learned that the “discipleship club” is considerably bigger than what they had assumed. Yes, be careful what you ask for. Don’t get too comfy with the way things are because they probably really aren’t exactly what you think at all. Expect that God can work beyond the safe confines of your own personal vision and do amazing things, either with and through us or in spite of us. Remember James’ reminder in his letter to ground everything in prayer. And finally, through doing this you’ll probably work up a little discipleship sweat and keep your salty flavor. What a lesson for today!
Yes, we contemporary disciples complain and grumble and pine for the good old days while at the same time resisting change. One might rightly assume we are more content to wander in the vast wilderness of our own changing religious and cultural landscape, looking back and longing for bygone days and ways, rather than setting our eyes on the horizon and making a beeline for the promised land of God’s kingdom come here and now.
We may say we want new people or to reach the unchurched, but do we really want to draw the circle bigger, open the door wider, pull up more chairs to the table, and let the “God times” roll? We might get manna or ministries that stretch our imaginations. We might get quail or more new folks that we can handle.We might ask God for help, and then, well, get help in unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways. We might have to hand over our illusions of control and make room for new leaders who see things in decidedly different ways. We might get a whole lot more than we ask for, so get ready to savor the flavor and be at peace with the winds of change.
The Holy Spirit is always up to something new and calls us to be part of the in-breaking of God’s reign here on earth. We can’t do that if we’re pining for the past, grumbling about the present, and digging our heels in against change. So dear friends, fellow disciples, and stewards of God’s abundance, take a deep breath and be careful in what you ask for if you must. Better yet, challenge one another to ask God to guide you to the preferred future God has in mind and get ready to have your soul revived, your hands put to work, and your faith enlivened! Blessings on your teaching and preaching!
Jesus’ message to his disciples “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” (Mark 9:30) are wise words for us today. Peace seems in short supply as refugees flee Syria and other parts of the world in hope of a better life, as strife rages in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, and even in the United States as presidential contenders hurl barbs at one another. Closer to home, we sometimes see other congregations and houses of faith in our community as “competition” rather than companions on the journey. We do need peace, and we do need to be salty saints, emboldened in prayer and worship.
Consider adding prayer petitions today for finding ways to work collaboratively with other people of faith in your community and for peace and unity in all walks of life.
Consider singing “Peace, to Soothe our Bitter Woes” by Nikolai Grundtvig. Here’s a version with music by David Cherwien, published by GIA.
In the gospel lesson this week Jesus says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” His disciples are upset that others are casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus reminds them that his name is what gives power and that we shouldn’t be jealous or concerned when others do work in Jesus’ name. Think about how this plays out today. How can we as Christians be more collaborative and cooperative with others? Youth will probably find it easier to share examples of when people don’t collaborate and cooperate. You might want to play some games that stress teamwork without winners and losers. For example, divide youth into small groups. Give each group a puzzle, but in advance switch out a few of the pieces with other groups. The youth will soon learn that everything they need to solve their puzzles is in the room, but they will have to cooperate.
Jesus talks about salt in today’s gospel lessons, saying it is good. And he’s right! Salt not only improves flavor, it intensifies it, reduces bitterness, and enhances sweetness. Salt provides balance. It is a natural preservative. Salt helps bread rise, and you need it to make ice cream. Salt is essential for health, too. Salt is critical for blood, sweat, digestive juices, and nerve transmission. Even animals need salt. We use it on our roads in winter to help keep us safe. (Here’s a good salt information website.) So if Jesus says we need to have salt in us as disciples, what does that mean?
Maybe the salt in us makes people feel more welcome, maybe the salt helps us to take care of people who need help, and maybe we sprinkle the salt of our faith stories in a way that helps others find joy in Jesus.
Give the children a coloring sheet with the outline of a human that they can color. Print Mark 9:50 at the bottom of the sheet. Pick up a few of those little restaurant salt packs and have each child glue the salt pack inside the outline of the human–showing in a visual way “having salt in us.” Invite them to look for ways to season others’ lives with joy, hope, love, and Jesus. Finish with a short prayer.
Photos: wsilver, Alan Turkus, and bana gurl, Creative Commons. Thanks!