I am not sure I believe it, but I am told that when I was a kid, I was known to wander off in strange directions and disappear. Can you believe it?
Well, if such a thing did happen I am sure that I never considered myself lost…just curious. Like the time as a kid when my family went to the Washington National Zoo and I wanted to see the white tigers, which was fine except that my family was over by the giraffes.
So, it’s a little ironic that my vocation is one where distractions are all part of the job, and I am happy for it---It’s one of the things I love about priesthood! People drop in. People start spontaneous conversations on-the-fly. People have crises. People get sick or have needs that need to be addressed. People have ideas or concerns or stories they just want to share. But this is not the problem.
Our Gospel and our Epistle today are both lessons in the kind of spiritual and emotional resistance that can distract us from living and doing the heart of what Jesus calls us to be as we follow him.
In the Gospel, Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem, which means that he is headed for the cross. He is going to Jerusalem to die. He is going to the cross.
As Jesus nears a village, he sends some disciples ahead as an advance party. The village refuses to welcome Jesus because they believe that the center of worship is not the Temple in Jerusalem but some other mountain. James and John are so incensed by their apparent stubborn error that they want Jesus to call down divine punishment on the town.
But Jesus won’t play. He tells them that despite everything you may have heard, this not how God’s kingdom works. So, they move on.
Then someone else runs up volunteering to follow Jesus, but he has no clue about what that will cost. Jesus warns him that even wild animals have more worldly security than God’s son. Notice that we don’t know if this person turned away from Jesus or came along anyway. I wonder what he chose?
Two other people each want to follow Jesus, but they first need to fulfill some family duty. Nope, says Jesus, proclaim the reign of God now. Nothing else matters. Jesus says you can’t plow a field while looking backwards.
Luke’s Gospel today shows Jesus starting a down a new path. Jesus had been gathering followers and doing amazing things but now he is headed towards Jerusalem. He is going to do what God sent him here to do. Reconcile the world to God…and die on a cross. Of course, we know what that death means and that it will be followed by resurrection. But at that moment, all anyone knows is that he is going to Jerusalem and things will get serious.
Jesus is confronting the tendency all humans have when they respond to God with a “yes, but….” Yes, I’ll follow you but only if you worship on my mountain or look, dress, and act like me and my people. Yes, I’ll follow you, but first let me take care of business first. Yes, I’ll follow you but first I have to say good-bye. Yes, but; yes, but; yes, but. It is a litany we are all familiar with.
Saying a simple “yes” to Jesus will mean that we will set aside, even for a moment, our resistance to God. And the chief way we resist is when we try to mold God in our image, according to our preferences, and then judge people’s faithfulness accordingly.
In the Epistle, the Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Galatia, that they have a new liberty as followers of Jesus. They are no longer bound by whatever rules, traditions, prejudices, and barriers that they lived with before they followed Jesus. But he cautions them not to let their newfound liberty become an occasion for sin.
They want to follow Jesus, and yet their Christian community is in conflict because they not only can’t agree on how to do that but they also berate and belittle each other for not following Jesus ‘their way.’
Paul tells them that instead of eating each other alive, they are to love each other. Instead of taking on the divisive spirit of their old life, they are called to put on the gifts of the Spirit. He tells them that the fruits of the Spirit-- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-- are so central that there is no law against it! It is how we know that we are being changed from the inside out as followers of Jesus!
Paul says that instead of devouring one another, they are to love each other. Instead of taking on the divisive spirit of their old life, they are called to put on the gifts of the Spirit.
What’s important, it turns out, is not that they always win every argument but that they love each other, especially the ones they most fervently disagree with!
This has been another very tough month this week, hasn’t it?
We have seen in two Supreme Court rulings the most divisive issues of our day kicked back into public play—guns in a time of violence, and the hard questions of beginning of life care and women’s autonomy. For fifty years, like it or not, we thought we knew where we stood… now, like it or not, everything is now in play.
|Chuck (left) and Andrew|
at my ordination to the
diaconate in 1982.
On some things we agreed: we both were deeply committed to following Christ; he was an avid environmentalist, active in his local town government; and he worked hard to serve the poor and the outcast.
But where we disagreed… hoo-boy! Not only was he Baptist and me Episcopalian, that was the easy part! In secular lingo, he was fervently pro-life, and I am functionally pro-choice in a via media kind of way, especially because of my experience in health-care, I just don’t think a bunch of male politicians and preachers ought to be seeking to control how women manage their health and their bodies, and until we make the same demands on ourselves as men as we do with women, then we should just, well, step back.
Plus, my experience as a Chaplain in a Roman Catholic hospital and serving on their Biomedical Ethics team and studying medical ethics at West Virginia University gave me first-hand experience in the knottiness of the issues as I was required to apply The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare in a real world, real time setting with real patients often making impossible decisions on the fly. The more I worked on this on a daily basis, the more I saw the wisdom of the Episcopal Church's nuanced position and approach. (Read more here.)
Needless to say, we debated that one… a lot!
Chuck and I tended to see eye to eye on guns and gun-control, if anything, I might have been more hair more conservative than he on this point, at least from a policy standpoint. But he was opposed to same-sex marriage especially in the church, and I am in favor of full marriage equality in both civil and church settings.
He wasn't afraid to take on his own "tribe," as he called them, either. He wrote a book called "The Intimidation Factor," about how right-wing politics and personality cults centered around both preachers and politicians were, in his view, ripping the heart out of the evangelical movement.
The thing is, even as we disagreed, we could talk and more importantly… we could listen deeply to each other.
Chuck saw Scripture through an evangelical lens. I see scripture as God’s word mediated through the church’s tradition and read by the faithful endowed with reason.
And yet… very often when I had a tough choice and needed clarity, it was he that I would pick up the phone and call. And when he was struggling with his cancer and the loss of his voice, or some pastoral issue in his congregations, I found myself answering the phone or an email from him.
I honestly don’t know how he’d feel this week after the Supreme Court ruling… my hunch is that while he’d agree with it most of it, neither would he rub my face in it. Although I'll bet he would point out the internal contradictions and the pastoral and everyday ethical implications. My experience of him is that he would understand the pain, the hurt, and the confusion being felt right now by many. He was that kind of a guy.
Because Chuck taught me, over and over again, where the heart of the matter was… Jesus.
The thing that the Church must witness to right now is how to find our unity, and our wonderful diversity, is grounded in Christ. If we really want to show, as the song goes, that they’ll know we are Christians by our love, then we must in fact practice that love and give up the world’s corrupt dead-end need to “own” our opponents. I believe that the Church has a responsibility to model to society how to live a life of on-going loving reconciliation especially on the toughest issues.
Yes, we do get distracted, and, like a certain young boy at the zoo, we wander. We from thing to thing, looking for what feels good or interesting or novel. We especially get distracted by the things which stir up our passions the most. We are by nature competitive, and we love to win, and that can be a distraction, too! And we get distracted the most when we start to believe that only people who act like us or agree with us or vote like us are somehow the true church.
Following Jesus means reorienting how we think, how we connect, and how we relate to one another. As our focus becomes more and more on what God wants for us—to love neighbor, to listen for God in prayer, to live intentionally and ethically—then we will find our built-in resistance falling away. Then we see our hand-made intellectual and political silos crumble as we gather before Jesus and with each other at his table.
Yes, following Jesus will transform our ethics and that will affect how we interact with society, and probably even how we vote—but probably not in the way we expect! Because, as both Jesus and the apostle Paul both teach us, our transformed ethics is first, last, and always grounded in love. That is the main thing that we need to keep the main thing. Let’s never get distracted from that!
So, when we gather at the baptismal font and the communion table, remember what unites us is Christ. Through his ministry and teachings, his death, resurrection, and ascension, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is giving us the grace of a unity grounded in love. Let’s never be distracted from that.
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Here is a link to the Scripture readings.
Here is a link to a video of the sermon.
Here is a link to a video of the liturgy.