I wonder how each one of us comes to be sitting here this morning in All Saints Clevedon? Each of us could tell the story of how, by a mysterious mixture of chance encounters and choices, we have arrived to be here this morning. Perhaps we were raised in a family where coming to church was just what you did. If that is your story you still made a choice to go on coming despite all the things you didn’t care for or like. To hear and to share our individual faith journeys and our responses to God’s love, nudging and leading would be a really interesting and I suspect an inspiring thing to do. So don’t pass up those opportunities to share a little of your journey when you can.
The account of our individual journeys with God will not be all rose tinted. For most of us there will have been difficult and sad times as well as times of great joy and happiness. For some of us, there may have been times when we gave up on the Christian Community, the Church any church and stayed away. If that has been part of our history it is worth remembering what it was that drew us back into a worshipping community, drew us into this community.
Today a number of churches in the country are keeping “Back to Church Sunday”. For us in this Benefice we are beginning our round of Harvest Festivals, which in themselves provide a great, old and attractive tradition of thanksgiving and an opportunity for inviting people who are on the edge, so to speak, to come to church. For those of you who have been at All Saints for years, as you look around you will be aware of people who have left or drifted away. Have you ever thought of asking them - encouraging them - to come back? Sometimes people would quite like to but are not sure about how to find their way back in. Inviting them is a bit of a risk for you and for them. The risk is even higher for people who only ever come to church for weddings funerals and baptisms. People are seeking meaning for their lives but don’t know how or where to go about it.
There is an unusual link between today’s reading from Numbers and Mark’s Gospel. In both you have the disciples of Jesus and Moses complaining about those not part of the “in crowd”, doing things like prophesying and casting out demons. The others were not part “of us.”
Jesus replies to what appears to be John’s not unreasonable concern about the man not “following us”. He says “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” There are many occasions in life when we find ourselves talking about “them and us.” Those who we think of as being on our side, those who agree and support our point of view and those who think differently, them. The “us” can be those who are of the same faith, denomination, churchmanship, political party, have the same standard of behaviour, taste etc. What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is not concerned about “his copyright, his school of thought or his way of doing things.” What Jesus’ primary concern is, as always, people and their care and setting free from what binds them. Jesus is more concerned that people show love and care of each other rather than he, or his followers be the sole mediators of it. There are many people in the world, Christians and others who are about showing God’s love and care for others and we can rejoice in that and work together to bring healing to our world and local community.
Jesus goes on to describe, in verses 42 - 48 what is destructive and works against him and the Gospel. “If you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea.” It goes on to talk about it being better to enter life, the kingdom of God, without limbs and eyes if they cause you to stumble.
Who among us has not at some point caused someone to stumble by failing to do the right thing, by standing up for what we knew in our hearts was right but we just didn’t want to be unpopular etc. The text talks about “little ones” who believe in him, but there is an understanding about how by our behaviour, our failure to live up to the demands of the gospel we “scandalise” both other believers and those outside the church who expect us to have Christian standards. We have all heard people say I used to go to Church but I found they were such a lot of hypocrites saying one thing and doing another, that I gave up going.
Earlier in that same Chapter 5 as our epistle is taken from, James talks about the rich holding back the wages of the poor they employ. If the rich are Christians then apart from the injustice, others will think it is all right to do this. Children copy how their parents and the adults in their lives act, especially when they are young. How we behave, how we act, influences them and other people. We are all aware of the excuse over some infringements “Well, it’s all right because everyone else does it.”
The last verse in today’s Gospel :”Salt is good but if salt has lost its saltiness how can you season it? Have salt in your selves and be at peace with one another.” As followers of Jesus we are called to be salt, called to be yeast in our world and community. Not salt in the wounds of people’s lives, but the seasoning that brings out the flavour and fullness of life. In order to do that we need to build up our life together as the church the body of Christ in this place. Jesus calls us to stop and examine the quality of “our salt”, the essence of our relationship with God. Has our relationship lost its zest because of the passage of time and perhaps the lack of attention? Salt in this context is an image of integrity and wholeness. We need to nurture our integrity and wholeness in ourselves and for our community.
As followers of Jesus we know that we fall short of the gospel he calls us to live by. We all fail, we all sin but we go on trying to live out the good news of God’s love. Earlier in verse 41 it reads: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward”. Doing all we can to help and support each other in small ways, little acts of love and thoughtfulness for all the people in our lives helps to build God’s kingdom of love, respect and justice. A caring loving community which reaches out and welcomes others into their midst is attractive to people outside, especially if they don’t find a message of them, referring to those not signed up members of the church, and us.
As we seek to deepen our relationship with God in our individual lives and seek to build up the integrity of our church community we are aware we can’t do it on our own or by our own efforts and we don’t have to. We pray for God’s grace to help us to grow and deepen our relationship with him and for the grace to be open and able to spot the opportunities to share the Good news of his kingdom of love and justice with those we meet. As we as a faith community meet week by week we are fed and nourished by God in this and every Eucharist and enabled by God to be his people, bearing witness to his love for all.