the one about our human response...
July 1, 2019, 10:00 AM

Sermon from June 30, 2019

Text: Luke 9: 51-62

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, remember last Sunday when I mentioned that the Gospel of Luke was my favorite gospel to read? My favorite because it seems to emphasize our Lord who is willing to go out of his way to share the truth of who he is and the truth of God’s love for all to everyone. With no exceptions. In all the gospels, but especially in Luke’s iteration, Jesus is willing to sacrifice his place and standing among the culture he’s grown up in to really drive home the point of God’s radical love and hospitality to all in creation.

Yet, as much as I enjoy almost all of Luke’s gospel, there are still some parts that make me squirm. They make me scratch my head. They make me sigh in exasperation, of ‘Why Lord are you like this?’

Have y’all experienced that in the world? Where it might be someone you truly love and agree with, you get along extremely well with them. Most of what they say you can nod your head along to and be like, “Yep, that’ll preach y’all!’ And then… and then there’s that one thing they’ve done. Or, they say something really questionable in your opinion, and you just sigh heavily? I think we definitely are experiencing that now as our country once again ramps up into the election season. No matter who you agree with or what party you identify most closely with, we always seem to have those moments where someone does or says something that just makes us shake our head and think, “This isn’t going to win over anyone for you…”

This morning we are encountered by what appears to be two instances of people putting their foot in their mouth. Where they miss the point, they jump to conclusions, and they seem to derail their whole mission and point.

First up are James and John. Yikes.

They respond so unequivocally human in this story shared by Luke. As they travel with their and our Lord Jesus, they are confronted by a group – who have a not-so-great history with the Israelites during this time – that refuses Jesus’ entry into their village. Why? Because it seems like he’s more concerned with Jerusalem (you know, the seat of power of the people that treat them so harshly).

They may have heard the story of Jesus going to the land of the Gentiles (people like them!) and healing and proclaiming God’s love and truth. Yet, they hear now that Jesus has firmly set his gaze and march to Jerusalem. It appears he doesn’t have ‘time’ for the Gentiles now.

So, they refuse him. They don’t want him to come to them.

And James and John ask Jesus if they should pray for fire and brimstone to wipe them out. They pray if they might ask the Almighty God to smite them for their rejection of God’s son.

That’s a pretty human response isn’t it? You don’t want to play with us? Be done with you! Burn it down! You don’t agree with us completely, then you don’t deserve to be around anymore. We can’t deal with the likes of you anymore.

We do that too. We do it a lot. Our nostrils flare when someone doesn’t agree completely with us. We setup stances and statements and arguments that discounts everyone if they don’t line up with everything that we believe. The line is drawn thick in the sand. We desire uniformity so much in our world. If you’re not completely with me/us, then you aren’t one with me/us at all!

Yet, it doesn’t help to shove out those who don’t agree completely with us. It doesn’t help to build relationships. It doesn’t help to find places of agreement and compromise.

And perhaps Jesus knows that too. We aren’t told what Jesus said to them exactly, but we might be able to fill in the blanks a bit. He spoke, ‘sternly’ to them and they went on to another village.

I like to think that Jesus turned to them and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Have you not been listening to me all this time? When have I ever wanted to do what you’ve asked? What in – my name – are you thinking? Let them be and we’ll go to the next village over. Sheesh. Seriously? Fire from heaven? Bless your hearts. Let’s go.”

And that response kind of turns us on our sides, right? Knocks us down, doesn’t it? Because truth be told, we as humanity love to call down fire and brimstone when someone doesn’t agree with us. I think at times we relish in it. That fire burns behind our eyes when given the chance to burn the bridges that we have attempted to construct between one another.

Yet, here his Jesus, saying – ‘Let’s move on. Leave them be. I’m still looking towards the future here.’ And, I like to think that that future still includes those Samaritans who refused to welcome him into their village. Especially since in a few short chapters, Jesus will use a Samaritan man as the epitome of a what being a faithful neighbor is. I don’t think Jesus gives ultimatums, but meets people where they are to proclaim that love to them and for them always. Jesus doesn’t stop doing that.

Jesus does not say, “Get with me or get out.” But, boy do his followers love to say that at times. I know that I’ve held that mentality before. More often than I care to admit.

So, Jesus – I believe in great love – chides and sternly deals with his disciples who wish to call fire down upon those who refuse their Lord. And I’m thankful for that. It gives me hope, that when I fall victim to that very human response, Jesus still loves me too.

And then… and then what comes next. Jesus talks to a few other people and it seems like the whole message gets derailed.

People coming to Jesus ask for what I think are very reasonable requests. Let me bury my father – let me say goodbye to my family.

And Jesus’ response? Are you kidding me? Let the dead bury themselves? Those who put their hand on the plow and look back are unfit for the kingdom of God?

Yikes. Those are some harsh words. They make me uncomfortable. They make me a little angry. That burning desire to burn this all down starts simmering. All because of a few strings of words and what I believe are ill chosen statements from our Lord.

And yet, I breathe. And yet, I think. And yet, I pray.

What might Jesus be getting at? What might Jesus be trying to be telling those around him that day? What might Jesus be trying to tell us today?

We pause and question because what Jesus says in response to those who follow him are counter to what we would consider to be good and thoughtful things to do.

To the first, Jesus is saying that if you follow me – you won’t have a home. Even the animals and the birds will have better accommodations than I or you will. The mere fact that we side with Jesus means we are against much of what the world proclaims. The life of faith that is lived in service to others, the life of faith that stands up against the powerful voices and forces of the world, the life of faith that puts us at odds with many things and people and ideas. Jesus is telling this follower that life isn’t going to be easy. Be prepared.

The second individual asks to bury his father and Jesus’ response borders on uncaring and rude. How could the one who calls for the care of those in need not ‘allow’ someone to mourn? A few years ago, I heard an interesting interpretation to this. Typically, during this time when someone dies, they are buried within 24 hours. The mourning process and the rituals surrounding death didn’t really allow people to just ‘go off’ at will. So, there are some who think that this man is essentially saying, “Jesus – I want to follow you, but first I’m going to wait until my father dies and I have to bury him.” Yes, he could die in 10+ years, but he could die tomorrow – so let me bury my father first.

In that light, what Jesus says still seems cold, but not nearly as frigid as before. Following Jesus and the life he proclaims isn’t about when ‘you’re ready’ to do it – it isn’t done on our terms. It is Jesus who calls us into this life and when you are called – you’re called. The life that Jesus calls each of us into is not one that is lived on our terms.

Finally, the third individual wants to bid his farewells – seems pretty reasonable. Wouldn’t want your family to worry that you dropped off the face of the earth and disappeared. Yet, Jesus’ response again seems cold and harsh. But, even in his response we can see some truth. For those who have ever farmed – especially in the way that the farmers of this time would have – those who didn’t have the luxury of plotting a course in a machine and sitting in an air conditioned cab, but relied on an animal to move them – you couldn’t look back. You had to stay on task, looking forward; making sure that the animal in front of you pulling the plow stayed straight and true. If you looked back constantly, your field wouldn’t be able to yield the fruit of the harvest to its fullest.

In every response that Jesus gives, he gives us a small parable to interpret. And I don’t believe parables are to be taken literally, they are intentionally stated to put us on edge, to make us uncomfortable, so that we can truly see where Jesus is coming from. Where in those frayed moments we are able to see and hear what Jesus calls for us.

And what Jesus is telling us is that the life of faith we are called and claimed into is different from what the world proclaims. It isn’t easy. We don’t respond with death when some disagrees with us, we hear that the life of faith will force us to prioritize our lives in ways that seem counter-intuitive to the world.

And yet, we know that when we are confronted by the ‘otherness’ of Jesus’ life of faith for us; we are not alone. We are not removed from God’s love. That even when James and John respond in such a terribly human way, Jesus doesn’t send them packing. He doesn’t cause calamity and hardship to be inflicted upon those who don’t welcome him.

In fact, he’ll use the Samaritans as an example of true and caring faith as a neighbor soon in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is all about subverting and overturning what we and the world around us thinks is ‘right.’

I also think, that Jesus responds to those who wish to follow him out of love – love that causes them to understand what they are seeking, what they are asking, what they desire to get themselves into. This life of faith isn’t easy. It is challenging. It causes and compels us to see things through a different lens. Challenges us to confront our own hesitancies and ‘excuses’ to not follow our Lord’s call.

Yet, in love Jesus doesn’t cast us out when we stray, when we dawdle, when we arrive at the incredibly wrong conclusion. Jesus walks with us because Jesus is firmly faced towards Jerusalem. He knows what comes next. He knows – out of his love for the world – what he’s about to do and what it will usher into the world.

Jesus’ love for us and for the world covers over the short comings in our lives. It doesn’t remove us from God’s love, but challenges us to live for others, to live not always thinking about ourselves first, to live knowing that God is at the top of our list of priorities.

It’s challenging. It’s difficult. It makes us squirm.

But, God is still there with us – in love – every step of the way. Amen.

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