September 26, 2021: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky
Proper 21, Year B The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
As a little girl growing up in the nineties with many “girl power” stickers, posters, and tee shirts, I loved the movie, A League of Their Own. Which depicted a fictionalized telling of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed from 1943 to 1954. I rejoiced in 2012 when it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. I loved this movie so much I recall one fateful afternoon where I had a complete meltdown at our local library because despite my many thoughtful assertions as to why I should now be called “Kit”, like one of the characters in the movie, my entire family refused. There. Were. Tears. To be fair, I have never played baseball or softball and have to this day never successfully made it through watching an entire game. Thus, I remain “Katie”.
This movie made such an impact on me. I loved the way they started out competing and showing off in the tryouts with some light trash talk. Their bumpy start in becoming a team paired with how they found ways to be for one another, especially when so many were against them. And in doing so, in coming together despite their differences and various styles of sportsmanship, became a cohesive and rather effective team. I got a sense from this film of what it means to find your way through the bumps of relationships to a place of support and comradery. At one point in the film, Kit leaves to go play for another team. While it is hard for her sister and previous team at first, in the end they are able to cheer one another on. To truly be for each other. And it makes me wonder… What does it mean for us to truly be for each other?
This week in Mark we pick right up where we left off last week, when we considered the call for the first to be last. We reflected on Civil Rights martyr Jonthan Daniels and the call to serve those with less power than ourselves. Today, the disciples’ journey of misunderstanding continues, again, sort of a theme for them, and perhaps so too for humanity (TBC, 318). And this is indeed a confusing set of scripture, though it is clear that we are being taught more about what it means to follow Jesus. We are presented with the question of who gets to do what in the name of Jesus. This is a question of community and hospitality. When the disciples share that they tried to stop someone who was not in their group, “Jesus rebukes them: they are not to exclude people” (TBC, 318).
And yet this is a deep tension of inclusivity that we live in constantly as the church. We have shared values that we hold important as ways in which to be followers in community. Where is the point we draw the line? Or is it that we are being encouraged to draw less lines? How do we keep the integrity of our own community without isolating ourselves from others? (FOTW, 118)
Preserving the power of his own group is not a priority for Jesus. If good were being done by others, their actions were to be affirmed (FOTW, 118). We find ourselves considering, “that not only are followers to serve those in need rather than serving the powerful in order to become a bit more powerful themselves, but also they are to accept such a basic service, (a cup of water) from others graciously” (TBC, 318). An important piece of the story to hold on as we consider what it means to be for each other while living in an empire that holds fast to systems of unjust bias and preference.
We are clearly being told not to be a stumbling block by discouraging people (JANT, 81), and to be gracious, welcoming, and hospitable instead. We are being invited to, “ponder the risks for us if our failure of love, our distortions of the way of Christ, our too narrow understanding of the truth, our quickness to pronounce judgement cause others to stumble when they are trying to find the way of faithful living” (FOTW, 120). Again, I will note this is a tension we sit in as we ponder ways to do this while being authentic to who we are called to be in the world. Jesus promised it would be hard to follow him, and this is one of the weeks we get to wrestle with just how hard it is.
As we move from Jesus rebuking them, we move into these rather graphic and gruesome images of what our own stumbling might lead to. I appreciated one writer in the commentaries this week who noted that as opposed to Dante’s Inferno, perhaps these jarring images of hell are more like, “self- destructive resistance to the eternal love of God” (FOTW, 120).
In addition to this reframe of how we might read, or reread, these illustrations, we can also take into account that our modern understanding of the word “stumbling” is a bit lost in translation here. Perhaps a more clear understanding of this point would be a sense of being scandalized by our sins (FOTW, 219). To be so dismayed by our sins that we change course and never return. True repentance and reconciliation.
So, we have these instructions: to not deter others in their good work in the name of Jesus, our need to be aware of and move away from the things that cause us to stumble or sin, to the instruction to be salt. As a modern day reader of my generation this last one catches me off guard, as we have the slang that someone being “salty” is to be upset over something little. Like, “You are being so salty after losing that round of Uno.”
Here though, I must pair the ancient understanding with what we know of the salt we cook with. Salt was a precious commodity in the ancient world. It was recorded that at times, Roman soldiers were even paid with salt (FOTW, 121). We know that salt preserves and enhances, in this case community (FOTW, 120). Salt seals or preserves covenants with God and one another: “Their saltiness involves being humble in their relationship with each other, giving themselves for others, reaching out and accepting all the people around them (FOTW, 120).
You might recall at the end of A League of Their Own, many of the folks get together as a special exhibit is being opened in their honor. As they walk the halls and see images and artifacts, the players and their families get to reflect on all they were able to accomplish once they learned how to be for one another. One of my most profound truths as someone who tries to follow Jesus, is the promise that in doing so I am transformed time and time again. Working to be for one another will surely be transformational. So, what stumbling blocks is Jesus asking you to put down? How are you being called to be for one another? And how will we do so together?
“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Resources: Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Theological Bible Commentary