I was shocked, thrilled and horrified to be asked to preach at Holden Village. I had just a day and a half to write a sermon, which I balked at, but that Holy Spirit showed up and she kind of rocked my world.
The lectionary texts were Galations 5: 1-25 and Luke 9:51-62, The Galations reading deals with Christian freedom and the workd of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. When folks entered the worship space they were met with a table with two bowls filled with bits of paper folded in half. The bowl on the right was filled with the fruits of the spirit "Take one" the bowl on the left, the works of the flesh "take one" above the bowls was written: Simul iustus et peccator (Simultaniously sinner and saint) "reflect." So every one got a random paper from each bowl. My favorite was Pastor Eric who got "fornication" and "faithfulness". hmmmm.
Here's the manuscript:
Grace peace and mercy to you from the Triune God. Amen.
So Jesus is kinda harsh in this gospel reading, but
Honestly, I love these Gospel texts like this one which are called “problematic texts”, which is greek for “ones we’d never voluntarily preach on but which come up in the lectionary so we’re stuck with them. But the Hebrew translation of “Problematic text in the lectionary” is just “guest preacher”, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Pastor Eric for the invitation to preach today....i think.
It’s kind of a weird little story in Luke...
At the beginning of this chapter Jesus has just given the 12 power and authority to cast out demons and to cure diseases and has sent them out to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. This is kind of an important point. Jesus gave them power and authority, power and authority did not come from them- they weren’t born with it, they did not stumble upon it and the certainly didn’t earn it. It was given to them from Jesus.
So, what do they do with this freedom and this gift they did not earn? If we put this text in conversation with the Galatians reading, we could say that the disciples used their freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence an certainly did not become slaves to one another. Instead, It totally goes to their heads, they forget that all their mojo comes from God and not themselves and so they start arguing about which one of them was the greatest. ok so that’s strike one. Strike 2 is that soon after this they come to Jesus and say "so we were out using our power to cast out demons when we came across some guy who was also casting out demons in your name....and we don't know who this guy thinks he is, but we tried to put a stop to that real quick." to which he answered “give me a break! whoever is not against you is for you.” The very next verse is where we enter in today’s text.
So he’s stuck with this ridiculous band of followers who are totally full of themselves and acting like jerks while he has set his face to Jerusalem and what awaits him there, namely the cross. The passages about the would-be followers we just read are a bit harsh because come on, let’s not forget that Jesus was fully divine AND fully human...the guy has to be already a little irritated: he gives the 12 power to heal and proclaim the kingdom which immediately goes to their heads and they end up arguing, of all things, about who is the greatest when in fact the only greatness they might have comes not from themselves but from Jesus who granted them power in the first place, so it’s kind of no surprise when in our gospel reading for today strike 3 happens: James and John come back rejected by the Samaritan village and ask “ so, should we rain fire down from heaven to consume them?” Jesus just had to of rolled his eyes. These guys were a real piece of work. I read this and thought “so exactly when did raining fire down to consume the villages of folks they don’t like become an option for them"? I even went back to the first verses of the chapter to check...power and authority to cast out demons is there, healing and proclaiming the kingdom is there, but strangely enough, incinerating an entire village because they made you look bad...hmmm...strangely absent.
So maybe in these harsh proclamations about what it takes to be a disciple: - that you won't have a place to sleep and can't bury your poor old dad, or even take a minute to say farewell to your family... maybe what we see here is Jesus indulging in a bit of hyperbole in order to knock some sense into his disciples about what it means to be a follower of Christ. So he responds to these three would-be followers we meet in today’s text by raising the bar for what it means to live a radical discipleship and I kinda like to imagine that he did this with his voice raised just enough so that he was sure James and John were in earshot.
Barbara Rossing talked this week in Bible study about our society’s escaltology...the ideas of the fullness of life, what is the culmination of human potential, which for us might be that that I should buy Loreal shampoo because I’m worth it, that the right car can bring me to the height of what it means to be human, that the fulfillment of all my wants will bring me all I need, that immortality can be obtained through consumption. She then showed us images from the Roman Empire which portrayed their escatology: a belief that they would always have dominion over other nations as a imperial force, that they had the Gods on their side and they were living into the eschatological fulness of life where they had forever been destined to be the victors and other nations had forever been destined to be the conquered on whose backs and labor the empire rightly stood ... victoriously in the fullness of time - world without end.
Standing as we are in the 21st century knowing the rest of the story, namely the deterioration of the Roman Empire ... we snicker at them, knowing it is a farce and that they are just the dead burying the dead... that they are simply whistling in the graveyard. From there it's almost effortless for us to turn to the empires of our day, the multinational corporations, the military industrial complex, Halibuton, Pepsico etc..Do you, like I, recognize Rome in their flawed and deceitful message of victory, entitlement and dominion? We see environmental devastation and know that the planet cannot possibly sustain this empire for much longer. We know that these empires are not the life giving gospel but are the death dealing forces. They, like the village in Samaria are rejecting Christ and the Kingdom of God. They are the works of the flesh on a global scale. And with fingers pointing to these death dealers we too say “Absolutely, let the dead bury the dead". We see Rome burning and we want to hurry the process asking “do you want us to command fire down from Heaven and consume them? “ And I wonder if we listen for the answer... if we might also hear Jesus rebuking us. Because to turn from empire we turn not to a victory party of righteousness where we, like the disciples,, can become drunk on self-congratulations, but we are called with Christ to turn our faces to Jerusalem and what waits there.... namely the cross. Yes we are called to let the dead bury the dead and to turn from Rome and our yoke of slavery to the lies of our culture's escatology - but I guess I wonder if, like in our Galatians text, we simply are trading one yoke for another, if maybe we become slaves to self righteousness because by having our fingers pointed to the obvious evils we are drawing a line between them - the works of the flesh and us, the fruits of the spirit. When in reality, we are all simultaneously sinner and saint.
Jesus is calling us, like the would-be followers in this text away from comfort and security perhaps even the comfort and security of our own confidence in our righteousness. But that calling is not just from something but is also to something. To a life of radical discipleship where we are free from the bondage of self and this freedom allows us to be slaves of one another This Christian freedom is in self-giving in which we receive much. This freedom allows us to love one another as we love ourselves.
This all sounds kind of nice and fluffy, doesn’t it? A Christian community of folks who are all self-giving slaves of one another? How exactly does the math work on that? If we are all set to serve one another, then who is getting served? How exactly do we, as Paul suggests, “through love be slaves of one another”? what does that look like? “you go first, oh no you go first, oh no really you go on”
In my blog I recently wrote about Christian love and how we are called to this radical loving of one another which is transformative and how this is so beautiful and I'm totally onboard with the whole Christian love thing except for one little problem: and that is the annoying people. Seriously, being slave to the annoying or the mean or the manipulative....this is a problem. But Paul is pretty clear on this one: “Through love become slaves to one another” So when it comes down to it, I just don’t think I can muster up that much love. Seriously. When it comes to Love and for that matter we might as well include joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and (for sure) self-control, I and perhaps you can come up pretty short. But here’s the good news - these are not the fruits of Nadia. These are the fruits of the Spirit.
Maybe that love is not from us but from Christ through us. If our faces are set towards Jerusalem, then they are set towards the cross and God’s reconciling and redeeming work in the world, not our work in the world...so maybe the love by which we are to be slaves of one another is already accomplished and thankfully does not rely on our own efforts.
Perhaps is this new economy of sinner saint servanthood we all fall short to be fit for the kingdom. I mean seriously. Look at the poor would-be disciples in our text who wanted to follow Jesus - the bar gets set pretty high: it's a bit of a set up really, there's no way to pull it off through our their own efforts, and maybe that's the point, because the good news is that we don't have to. God's redeeming work through the cross provides for us a source which is an endless source. Truly world without end. If Luther is right about Christian freedom and that we are lord of all subject to none and at the same time dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone, then - this source, this power we have is a spiritual source....and it comes from ascribing glory and honor not to ourselves, but to God which then reckons us honorable and glorified through the beautiful paradox of II Corinthians that “Power is made perfect in weakness”
So while we should by all means turn from the bondage of empire and the death dealing powers of society with the false eschatology, the false messages of what it means to be fully human, we should have faith that we are also free from the bondage of self - from idolatry, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy and the like. So here’s the other word of good news: I not only cannot overcome these death dealing forces within myself, but I am not expected to because it was Christ who set his face to Jerusalem and the suffering of the cross. He says Follow me...he says to us, come and see. He does not along this road ask us for directions or ask us to lead the way and thanks be to God for that, But he set his face to Jerusalem and the inbreaking of God’s reign on earth through the suffering on the cross - where the false eschatology of earthly empire was inverted by the perfecting of true power in weakness. So if we are called to "Through love be slaves to oneanother", then the good news is that this redeeming work of God and not ourselves is the source of love that makes it possible that we might be free from self and slaves to one another. This source from which we drink is an endless source, truly world without end. And this table to which we are about to come is simple bread and wine, but is the most abundant feast. A feast in which we are called to freely partake. And the good news is that we don’t all have to show up with our own bread. And we don’t receive amounts in accordance with our goodness...we are all fed this broken and poured out Christ which gives us freedom and nourishes us to be as Luther says the most free lords of all and subjects to none; and the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone. Christian freedom brothers and sisters- come and taste, come and drink, come and see.