Proper 21B 2018

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

The Rev. Dr. Kathy Dunagan

My grandmother grew up on the Eastern Shore on a big farm and then went to Mary Baldwin to become a teacher in the 1920s and then took a teaching job in Lee County where she met my grandfather.  His name was Alonzo Kelly but she just called him Kelly, or usually just Kell.

She used to say about my grandfather that he was a “salty man.”  As a kid I didn’t know what that meant but I loved hearing her say it.  And she said it often.

To this day I’m not sure but I’ve come to understand this saying as an Appalachian way of saying someone is earthy, and grounded, and full of faith in God.  That would be a good description of my grandfather.  And so, I have spent my life hoping that I too would become a salty woman.

Jesus is still teaching his disciples with a child in his lap.  We have picked up the story where we were last Sunday when Jesus suggested we need to be like children to enter the Kingdom.

Today we hear Jesus use some strong words to teach his disciples about the seriousness of discipleship.  It’s not easy.  It takes sacrifice, or at least the willingness to let go of some things we think we need but can live without.  And he suggests that living a sinful life would be like harming the child he is still holding.

Years ago, during a particularly stressful time, I ended up at a John McCutcheon concert at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon. John McCutcheon is a lesser known musician who was living in the Charlottesville area at the time and I had seen him in Atlanta and had been listening to his recordings. I was under a great deal of stress at the time. It was my Senior year of seminary. 

John put a basket on the stage at the end of his first set at the Barter that night and let us put requests in it for the second set.  I was impressed with his courage to take requests.  I wrote down that I wanted to hear his rendition of “Satisfied Mind.” I added the phrase “I need one!” to the bookmark sized form the ushers passed out. 

While others mingled during the intermission, I walked all the way down the aisle from my seat in the back and I placed that piece of paper in his basket like I was placing my heart on an altar.

After the intermission, I waited to hear my request.  John didn’t sing it.

The song Satisfied Mind was written in 1948 and recorded by Porter Wagner and was his #1 hit in 1955. Lots of other great singers have covered it, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Glen Campbell,  Bob Dylan and even Ella Fitzgerald. It was written “by a couple of Texas guys” as Darrell Scott put it - Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes.

Hayes once explained the origin of the song in an interview this way: "The song came from my mother. Everything in the song are things I heard her say over the years. I put a lot of thought into the song before I came up with the title. One day my father-in-law asked me who I thought the richest man in the world was, and I mentioned some names. He said, 'You're wrong, it is the man with a satisfied mind.'" Hayes added more to his story.  He said, “(The song) has been done a lot in churches. I came out of the Opry one night and a church service was going on nearby. The first thing I hear was the congregation singing 'Satisfied Mind.' I got down on my knees.”

The song, Satisfied Mind is about greed and our longing for more - more stuff, more consumerism, more freedom - the freedom we think we would have if we just had more money and more stuff.  The kick line is, “But I'm richer by far with a satisfied mind.”

Satisfied Mind

How many times have

You heard someone say,

“If I had his money

I would do things my way?”

How little they know,

That it's so hard to find,

One rich man in ten

With a satisfied mind.

Once I was waitin’,

In fortune and fame,

Had everything that I needed

To get a start in life's game.

Then suddenly it happened,

I lost every dime ,

But I'm richer by far

With a satisfied mind.


Money can't buy back

Your youth when you're old

Or a friend when you're lonely

Or a love that's grown cold

The wealthiest person

Is a pauper at times

Compared to the man

With a satisfied mind


When my life has ended

And my time has run out

My friends and my loved ones

who have gone on before

One thing is for certain

When I’ve done my time,

I'll leave this old world

With a satisfied mind

The fact that John McCutcheon didn’t sing “Satisfied Mind” for me that night 20 years ago was a strange gift.  I was disappointed.  But ever since that night, I have wondered why I made the request.  What about that song drew me to that particular altar that night? Do I need to let go of my own longing for more money?  Am I greedy? What does it mean to be satisfied?

I would have missed all that pondering if he’d just sung the song. If he had sung that song that night, I would have felt validated, listened to, loved in a way.  I would have felt that I got what I had coming to me, that I deserved to have my favorite song played because I bought his recordings.

I would have felt satisfied, I guess.

But he didn’t sing it. Instead he unknowingly gave me the gift of living since then with these questions. That’s one understanding of why God sometimes says “no” to our prayer requests.  We need to live into the prayer request itself a little longer - maybe a life time. Why is it that you asked God for that thing, or action, or advocacy?  Do you really need it?

The readings this morning are difficult. There is violence and degradation and power struggle and the death penalty. There’s a lot of us vs. them. And there is some danger in that Gospel lesson!

It's interesting that Jesus lays bare the minefield of church, real dangers within Christian community. The followers who are closest to Jesus in these verses, ie, the disciples, carry a huge responsibility as a result of their intimacy with Christ. Others look to them, follow their examples, are susceptible to their claims and practices, are perhaps especially vulnerable to their critiques and conflicts. Carelessness in discipleship can do irreparable damage to those most vulnerable within the body of Christ. 

There are stumbling blocks, we are warned, that are part of us: hands, feet, eyes. Things we hold dear. Things we think we need. Through images of body parts, Jesus makes clear that stumbling blocks are not other people or things outside of us. They are part of us. These stumbling blocks might be events, practices, "the way we've always done it," or our own pet causes.

In light of these words of promise and judgment, Mark calls upon Jesus' teaching to be the salt of the world. If we, as the people of God and followers of Jesus, lose our purpose to honor and worship the Lord and serve one another, we are like salt that has lost its intended purpose and is only good to be destroyed: (“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?" 9:50a).

The closing admonition of our text is the claim and promise of God and Jesus' call to live as God's intended purpose in creating us for life: "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (9:50b). This is the call, identity, and promise of discipleship which is the peace that Jesus offers to all his followers. We are called by Jesus into a cosmic engagement against the powers of evil and injustice and to serve our neighbor in love.

The point Jesus is making about cutting off parts of our bodies to avoid sin is some serious business.  But it is a metaphor about division.  The disciples are worried about people outside of their circle performing miracles in the name of Jesus.  They want a clear line between who is in and who is out, between us and them.  And Jesus disparages them from thinking of the workings of God like a club.  For if someone is healed in the name of Jesus, then Jesus has been glorified regardless of which disciple did the work.

Yesterday, we had a wonderful day long event here at Grace in which 16 of us sat in a circle and shared scripture, prayer, bread, wine and thoughts.  And we did most of that through singing instead of talking.  We learned of ways to use song to enhance worship and fellowship and theology and faith and justice seeking and evangelism. 

But there was a tense moment when our leader Paul asked us to do a participatory exercise that was challenging.  We were sitting in a circle and had been together for hours at this point.  He asked us to each, individually stand in teh middle of the circle, make eye contact with each person and make a gesture of thanks.  Most people did a “namaste bow,”  all of us were uncomfortable.  We talked after about why.  We admitted to each other that we don’t like being thrust into the spotlight, forced to act in a required way while everyone is looking at us. 

I’ve talked from this pulpit recently about how much I hate participatory exercises like that. But we all eventually tried to exercise and we all experienced that magic that only comes with allowing oneself to become vulnerable among friends.  I talked about the importance of vulnerability for relationship in this pulpit last Sunday.  It takes vulnerability to enter into relationship with each other and with God.

So, I’m not going to ask you to do a participatory exercise this morning, but imagine how you would respond if I did.  Imagine if you will that there was an insert in the bulletin you have and imagine me asking you now to pull it out and write on it just one thing that you are holding onto that is keeping you from letting God lead you.  Imagine writing down that one thing that is a stumbling block for you.  That one thing you need to forgive.  That one thing that keeps you on the outskirts of your own community, your own family.  Imagine writing that one thing down and the walking all the way up here, past me, past the choir, up to the altar and laying it down.  Imagine that symbol allowing you to turn it over to God. Let it go. Move on.

What would you write?  Would you feel satisfied?

Satisfaction is that experience of “being at peace with one another.” A satisfied mind is one that has learned to rely on God, follow Jesus and recognize the nudging of the Holy Spirit.  A satisfied mind is one that gets out of the way of the heart of a Christian who worries less and serves God more.

But we think of satisfaction as that thing we feel when our bellies are full of good food, or our bank account is full of money or our enemies have failed.

Jesus calls us to a different sort of satisfaction, a different peace than that human nature stuff of winning.  Jesus calls us to live together in peace and that, my friends takes patience and listening and openness and sharing and gratitude.  To live together in community is to learn to pray together for each other and for the world.  To live together in Christian community is to learn to confess to each other and forgive each other.

As James put in today’s Epistle lesson, if someone is suffering, let them pray. If someone is happy, let them sing songs of praise. If someone is sick, ask the clergy to come and anoint them with oil and pray for their healing.

Confess your sins to one another.

Be reconciled.

Be renewed.

Be whole.

Be salty.