Congregations all over MS, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Methodist, are commemorating today the events of some particular September days 50 years ago. On September 30, 1962, a deadly riot broke out after James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss.” It was Meredith’s fifth attempt to enroll. Our own Bishop Gray II was there; standing at the base of the confederate monument. Will Campbell (“And Also With You,” p 3) brings us to the campus:
“Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” Those were the only words the thirty-six year-old Episcopal priest could hear from a clamoring throng beneath him. He was clinging precariously to the side of the Confederate monument at the entrance to the [Ole Miss] campus, trying to address a mob gathered beneath where he struggled to steady himself.… Kill him! Kill him! Over and over…. ‘Please don’t do this. Please return to your homes,’ the priest yelled.” It was to no avail. Our Bishop was jerked from the monument and flung to the ground. He was “roughed up,” but lived through a long night.
Today we hear about salt. Salt in our ancient world was used to preserve food, to keep it from spoiling. Salt was a preservative, and it had great value in our world. When our Lord told his disciples they were ‘the salt of the earth,’ Bishop Gray tells us, “He was attaching great value to their lives and their role in human history.” Salt “flavors us … distinctly as Christ’s own people.” (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2012/09/14/18-pentecost-proper-21-b-september-30-2012/, the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek)
Having “salt in ourselves (Mark 9:49),” then, carries with it an honor and a responsibility. It is an honor to be set apart from the world as protectors of a just society. There is a great responsibility to be set apart from our own culture (by virtue of having salt in ourselves) in order to guard against our own self-centeredness, greed, and indifference. The “the salt of society is those persons who will resist and overcome the corrupting forces of decay.”
The extent to which the events of September 30, 1962 affects each person in this room differs greatly. Some of us may have been in the crowd, or in a neighboring town, or listened to the radio as the events unfolded. For others of us, the events are stories from history, part of someone else’s life. We think that we are far removed from Oxford, MS.
We are not at all removed from our responsibility to be the salt of the world. What we do in our lives and in the world matters. “But,” we say, “I am but one.” Yes, and a tiny seed grows into a haven for the birds of God’s creation. Did you ever have a stone in your shoe? One pebble rubs and irritates; we shake our foot and limp and hop – our whole pattern of movement is changed by one tiny rock. Imagine if that rock was the good news of our Lord and Savior, and our movements were forever changed by that rock. We are called to have salt in ourselves and to be the salt of the world.
Certainly MS has made great strides in racial reconciliation; we are still not a perfect people in race relations or any other issue. I admit that I am saddened that we are still talking about the color of a person’s skin, that a piece of biology is still a subject of conversation, discourse, disagreement … news.
From Bishop Gray:
As Christians, we will have the continuing duty to see that this new student if accepted and treated as a person; that he is not exposed to badgering, torment, or ridicule; that he is given the opportunity to stand on his own merits as a student among students, person among persons, regardless of the color of his skin. Ultimately, this is where the real test of our Christianity will come. This is where we will know if the salt has kept, or lost, its savor. (“And One Was a Priest,” p. 13)
Honor this day. Honor one another. Be salt in the world. Amen.