Reflection on the local Church
30th September 2018, Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
James 5.13-20 & Mark 9.38-50
As some of you reading will know, Marlborough is currently without a Rector. It is a strange thought that the local Church is currently without a leader. However, todays readings remind us that being the local Church, being the Body of Christ in a place, is a responsibility in which we all share. We all have a role to play in the local Christian community, each in our own way, as well as together in relationship.
Starting at the end of the Gospel reading, I’d like to work back toward the reading from James’ letter, making some observations on the way. The Gospel reading set for today ends with the phrase ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another’. At the face of it, two competing principles. Having salt in ourselves: standing up for what we believe in; and yet being at peace with one another: making sure that relationships are harmonious.
However, when we think about it, we need both. We need both our individuality, and our capacity to relate to each other to flourish at human beings. If we would all agree, we would not have the capacity to learn and to grow. On the other hand, if we become too convinced of our own right, we may indeed lose our saltiness, as we lose the capacity to disagree. So, maybe not so much a juxtaposition here, but more an admonition to steer the middle path between stubbornness and complacency, finding a way of steadfastness. That search for a balance is what holds the previous two parts of the Gospel reading together as well.
If we are able to find that middle way of steadfastness, we see that what others may have to offer, may be of equal value to what we give. We may disagree on the particularities of our beliefs, but as Jesus says, all who do good in his name, are ultimately on the same side: working towards that which is right and just. As soon as we cease to do so, as soon as we start diminishing the efforts of others, especially those who may be thought of less than ourselves, we are working against God, and against his plan for us. Again, it is navigating the path between arrogance and ignorance, finding the way of righteousness.
And that comes with a great responsibility: a responsibility we hold individually, and a responsibility as a Church. James is very clear about this in his letter: it is not just the leaders of a community who hold that responsibility, but each of us. Are any suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should give thanks? If anyone strays from the way, we should bring them back – of course again keeping in mind that we will not hold the whole truth ourselves.
So yes, Marlborough is without a vicar at this point. We are without someone who is there for us vicariously: who prays for us daily, who teaches, who cares and who loves. Therefore it is incumbent on each of us that we should continue to do precisely that. As Jane Williams writes: ‘We have been given a share of God’s saving and healing power, everyone of us. It is not something reserved for heroes and saints, like Moses or Elijah, but is poured on us all, through Christ and the Spirit.’
That that means we have a responsibility. Towards ourselves, but also towards each other. But we need not to worry that this may be too much, because that responsibility comes with an authority and reassurance. The authority of the Spirit and the reassurance of Christ’s redeeming work. Each of us in our own way is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That means that we all have it in us: that is the one thing we can and we must trust.