Monday, March 26, 2018

Swim like a salty rock on Tuesday in Holy Week

Tuesday's gospel from Mark's 9th chapter records Jesus's instructions to his dimwitted disciples who had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.

Holy Week continues to make trouble by warning whoever is listening that putting stumbling blocks in the path to believing is not a good idea.  You might as well try swimming with a heavy rock tied around your neck, an amputated foot and hand, and one eye poked out.  On top of that, you’re expected to have salt.  What the heck does that mean?  

Let’s take salt first.  Louis L’Amour, in his many Western novels, explained salt as the intestinal fortitude needed to get through whatever lay ahead regardless of obstacles, danger or personal fear.  The morally righteous must have salt, but so can the immorally unrighteous.  So by itself, salt is neither good nor bad, it is simply necessary.  To not have salt is to fail.  

How much salt do you need?  I have no idea.  We each seem to have different measures of salty courage.  Moreover, the quantity seems to change from event to event.  Some we can handle.  Some we can’t.  Some we once could, but no longer can.  What scripture teaches us is that those with more salt are to help carry the burden of those with less.  When conditions change, the roles may reverse.  It isn’t up to a hero, it’s up to the community working together.

So much for salt.  What about putting obstacles in the way of those who would believe?  We all do it.  Our varying theologies and liturgical practices are fences that, however permeable we think they are, can be seen as impenetrable obstacles by those outside.  It’s one reason why I like the Ionian invitation to Holy Communion, now used in many congregations.  The version I have goes like this:
This is the table, not of the Church, but of God.
It is to be made ready for those who love God
and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little,
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow Jesus and you who have failed.
Come, not because I invite you: it is Jesus, and it is Jesus’s will that you who want him should meet him here.

It neatly sidesteps controversies over baptism and the real presence of Christ by extending the invitation from Christ himself, just as he did for the five thousand, for tax collectors and prostitutes, and for his own disciples at the Last Supper when even Judas was fed.  Yet it sets standards: a desire to have faith (I believe, help my unbelief), a little effort effort (stand up, take your mat and walk), and a desire to be fed by God’s presence in the bread and wine. 

Nevertheless, obstacles abound.  The damage done to children and women through physical and sexual abuse to which the church turned a blind eye has been given wide publicity.  It has destroyed the nascent faith of many.  But there’s more.  I can’t count the number of would be believers who’ve told me their stories of being chased or run out of the church by damning theology, watery theology, preachers who use guilt like a bludgeon, and preachers who have nothing useful to say.  It comes in all shapes and sizes.   

As for me, when I come across Psalm 69 in Morning Prayer (Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts...), it causes me to pause and consider how my words and actions don’t always present the way of discipleship as they should.  I have caused offense.  I have not loved people I don’t like.  I have demeaned religious practices with which I disagree.  In other words, I’ve been adept at strewing little obstacles in the pathway of faith, almost always without thinking about what I was doing.  That’s me.  I’m sure you’re much better.  God’s not going to shove me off a dock in a bucket of concrete, but the warning gets my attention, reminding me to pay attention to what I say and do.

Maybe Wednesday will be easier.


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