17th Sunday of Trinity – Peace

Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ from Pixabay

Readings

James 5:13-end (NLT)

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Mark 9:38-end (NLT)

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.

42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’

49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

Well Jesus seems to be in particularly strident form in today’s reading, and for some of us it can be difficult to hear. I sometimes think that the challenging passages in the Bible are a bit like the teacher who shouts at an entire class of children. The ones causing all the problems utterly ignore the teacher, while the ones who are really doing their best worry that they aren’t doing well enough. I also think such passages must always be read in the context of the whole life of Jesus. This was the Jesus who was to give himself on a cross for you and me that we could be freed and forgiven from sin. Jesus is not an irascible teacher, but someone who cares passionately about us and the lives we live.

So if Jesus is speaking so strongly, there must be a good reason. He wants the very best for us, and we would be wise to take heed of what he is so worked up about. I think that the clue is in the final line – you must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live at peace with one another!

Salt is a potent symbol in the gospels. The first disciples were encouraged to be like salt. Salt had very important properties. It gave food flavour, bringing dishes to life. It was used as a preservative to keep food edible for longer and prevent decay. It was also used to heal as an early antiseptic. So, as God’s children, we are to bring flavour to life – live life in all its fullness. We are to preserve the society around us from decay – caring for the overlooked and powerless, speaking for what is right and just. We are to bring hope and healing. We are to be people of peace.

Peace in the Bible is not the absence of conflict but a state of such shared well-being. It is a rich word, full of possibility and flourishing. We are to be people who live that way, point to that way and make that way possible for others. But we cannot do this if we sin – or worse, cause others to sin.

The trouble with such passages is that we don’t always have a clear idea of what sin is. A certain health programme counts syns as a way of keeping track of treat foods, but sin is not about having an extra Kitkat. Other people say sin is about putting ourselves first – “sin is when we put I in the middle”, as one cheesy Christian catchphrase went. But actually, I don’t think that is particularly helpful either. There is nothing wrong with attending to our own needs or maintaining healthy boundaries – we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, the assumption being that we do love ourselves!

But it is helpful to go back to the great commandments. At the root of everything are those two commands: love God with all you are and love your neighbour as yourself. Love of God, love of self and love of neighbour make a triangle of relationships which allows everyone to flourish – to live in peace.

I was sitting at the back of church with my family last week. I won’t do that again, as one of my children has started quizzing me with interesting theological questions. Last week’s one was “How could Jesus be without sin if he got angry in the temple and worried his parents sick when he stayed behind in the temple?” These are good questions. My answer is that sinlessness is not some human idea of perfection, but rather an authentic commitment to loving relationship with God, self and one another. What that will look like in different contexts may look challenging at times. Sometimes it will look like flipping tables in a temple! Conversely, sin is anything which breaks that relationship with God or one another, or gets in the way of someone else loving and knowing themself loved by God and others. We don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of sin’s ruptures in our own experience and in wider society.

Sin is heartbreaking. No wonder Jesus warns us against it so passionately. We need to take seriously the things that get in between us and love. But, remember there is always grace. Dear old James reminds us that we do not attempt to live this life alone. There is always help: help from God to who we can turn to in prayer and help from one another.

So take love seriously. Take sin seriously. And by the grace and love and equipping of God, live as salt in this world of ours and be at peace.

Prayers

The Church

O Lord God, who has called us to be your witnesses, strengthen us to make your Word known to others, through our own words and our lives, through our prayers and our gifts.

Make your church an instrument of peace, of love and of healing. We ask you to heal the dissensions which divide us from each other, and bring us back into a unity of love which may bear some likeness to the example you have sent us in your Son. And, as you are above all things, make us one through the bonds of affection so that we may be spiritually united through your peace, grace, mercy and tenderness.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

The World

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.
Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows,
and give peace to your Church, peace among nations,
peace in our homes and peace in our hearts.2

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our Community

Dear Father in heaven
let us be peacemakers:
more ready to call people friends than enemies
more ready to trust than to mistrust
more ready to love than to hate
more ready to respect than to despise
more ready to serve than be served
more ready to absorb evil than pass it on.
Dear Father in heaven
let us be more like Christ. 

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Human Need and Suffering

Lord, we place in your gentle hands those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Ease their pain, and heal the damage done to them. Be present to them through the support of friends, and in the care of doctors and nurses, and fill them with the warmth of your love,  and your peace in their hearts.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Communion of Saints

We give you thanks for the victory of our Lord over death, and for the gift of eternal life. We pray for friends and loved ones, who are with you in glory.

May peace be within our walls and within ourselves: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

(Prayer from Layanglicana Blog: http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2012/09/19/peace-intercessions-for-16th-sunday-after-trinity-proper-20/?doing_wp_cron=1632421295.7748100757598876953125)

Closing Worship

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