“Do not look back”
Pentecost 6C – Proper 8 – June 26, 2016
A sermon preached by Rev. Beth Orling (Lutheran) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In church here last week we heard an eloquent and profoundly disturbing description of fear from Father Wayne (Nicholson). This week the word “cancer” struck fear into the hearts of my sister’s nieces and nephew, and into the hearts of her siblings: my brother, myself and our spouses. Fear permeates the political rhetoric we hear these days. Fear spawns the nightmares of a young child whose father threatens violence. Fear drove to some degree the Brexit vote. We even heard last Sunday the Gospel story of a whole village afraid of Jesus when he cured their mentally ill neighbor. Destroying their herd of pigs, of course, didn’t help.
We hear people say, “You can be killed anywhere anytime,” or “Even if you get a restraining order, you can be threatened,” or “You can’t trust those people because their religion is violent.”
And there’s the PTSD of our veterans, the economic terror of unemployed people, the chronic anxiety of people who like Jesus “have nowhere to lay their heads”, the tragedy of racial and sexual identity prejudice, the immoral economic gap between the 1% and the rest of us. There is a lot of fear going around these days. And when you are caught up in it, it’s hard to see or feel anything else.
Paul proclaimed in our second lesson, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” And last week, “… you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. … that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Paul links fear with slavery to negative behaviors: strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, and so forth. We could add violence and hatred. And Paul links freedom from fear with the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Seems like a preacher could just say “Amen” and sit down. We would all agree that these words are good, true, beautiful.
Problem is: it’s not so easy to live them.
Look at today’s Gospel story. James and John, who have been with Jesus three long incredible years of ministry, want to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who refuse them hospitality. Sound like any recent history? The disciples’ fear and anger have overcome what Jesus has shown them of forbearance, forgiveness and love. Falling into the belief that power and control can solve the problem, the disciples’ fear and anger justified to them calling down fire to destroy those deemed to be “the other.”
The “other” for James and John were the Samaritans who worshiped differently from them and refused them hospitality. People of color were the “other” for the demon-possessed man in Charleston a bit over a year ago – a member of my own denomination. The “other” for the Orlando shooter was a group of Latino gay men and women and their friends. You and I no doubt have our own version of the “other,” whether it be a friend we think has turned against us, a despised politician, adherents to reviled laws or so-called “rights,” or a relative or friend who thinks our religious beliefs or life choices worthy of ridicule or criticism, or, more troubling yet, simply unworthy of comment.
Sometimes anger and fear tempt us to despair. Tempt us to give up faithful prayer. Tempt us to turn from friends and family rather than attempting dialogue.
And Jesus turned and rebuked James and John.
And rebukes us when we would act on feelings of anger and fear.
And he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Luke’s readers knew — and you and I know — what that means. Jesus set his face to go to the cross. To the horrible suffering that awaited him there. But along the way, he cared for “the other” – a whole raft of “others” :the hypocrites, the rich fools, the worriers, the 70 he sent with a mission, and those who did and did not receive them, those who didn’t know how to pray, the Pharisees, the lawyers, the woman who hadn’t been able to stand up for 18 years, the so-called “lost sheep,” the tax collectors, the blind beggar, the rich ruler. And he wept over the beloved and chastened city of Jerusalem with its temple, its injustice, its poor, its Pharisees and its on-coming terror on the hill outside the walls.
Jesus set his hand to the plow of this journey and did not look back. Not even the come-lately, would-be followers were able to slow him down. He would not delay. He wasn’t against funerals; God knows we needed them this week and God knows they offer us some comfort in times of grief. But Jesus was not going to wait for a come-lately follower’s personal needs; they could catch up with him later perhaps. He was moving forward.
He was showing immense courage and trust. And – even in his harsh-sounding words – compassion. Once again he models for us how courage, compassion and trust can overcome fear and distrust of “the other.”
What is the message for us this morning? To plead with the Holy Spirit to give us such courage, compassion and trust. To bless us with faith – enough for each day, for each hour, for each conversation. The Holy Spirit gives us the faith that says we do not have to give in to the fears that threaten to consume us: fear for our personal safety, our economic security, our children’s well-being, our country’s right-doing, our health and the health of loved ones. We can face these fears with courage.
Recall the angelic words throughout scripture, “Fear not!” and remember Father Wayne’s encouragement last week to “Speak less, listen more; fear less, love more.”
The young mother who stands before a judge to plead for her daughter’s safety has faith and courage. The motorcyclists who escorted grieving Orlando families to their funerals so they could be shielded from hatred had this courage and compassion. YOU who support the sick, encourage the troubled, provide food for the community, and welcome everyone – show compassion and trust. We have compassion and courage when we heed (Episcopal) Presiding Bishop Curry’s call to follow “the principle on which Christians must vote…[:], Does this look like love of neighbor?”
We pray to be the beloved saints who put hands to the plow and don’t look back. Those from St. Paul’s who attended the College of Congregational Development this week: do not look back. Those who will hear and learn from them: do not look back. Those who face trials: do not look back. Those of us who pray for courage and compassion and trust: do not look back. Those of us who pray to be forgiven and sustained by the Lord’s table this morning: we do not look back because the bread of heaven and cup of salvation offered by Christ himself strengthen us.
0Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. To sign and seal that God’s purposes carry us through suffering to LIFE. Life in this world and life in God’s kingdom which stands no matter what people may do to oppose or undermine it. It’s all about Jesus, the Christ. It’s all about his pioneering life, death and resurrection.
For this we give thanks. Amen.
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25