First Congregational Church
June 26, 2022
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So it’s after the resurrection and boy is Jesus in the mood for some partying. He gets the disciples together and heads for the club! They hit the dance floor, but something is wrong - Jesus just can’t seem to get in the groove with the music. He tries and tries, but finally yells out. . . Help! I’ve risen and I can’t get down! (Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!)
This morning I welcome you to the church season of Ordinary Time. We mark it here with the front cover of the bulletin, as the designated Sunday after Pentecost. In today’s case, it’s the second Sunday. We also mark it with the color of the paraments - the altar cloth and sometimes the pulpit banner - when they match. It’s the longest of church seasons, being nearly six months, so the designation of “ordinary” is quite appropriate.
Lectionary-wise, we are in year C of AB and C, which means that we will spend the next months - until the first Sunday in Advent - in the book of Luke. In terms of chronology, Luke 9 contains the sending out the 12 disciples for missionary work, feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves and two fish, Peter declaring Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus predicting his death, and then his transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
If you look at the inside of your announcement sheet, I’ve included a little map, and Mount Tabor is south of the Galilee name rectangle, to the left - or west - of the river that runs through the map - the Jordan River.
From Mount Tabor, I ask you to keep going south, into the region of Samaria, to find Mount Gerizim, and then on down from that, to Jerusalem - the underlined city, also to the west, but of the Dead Sea. Mount Gerizim was the holy place of the Samaritan people as Jerusalem was to the Jewish people - and even though both groups worshiped God, they would get to more than fisticuffs over their opinions. This morning’s passage begins somewhere around Mount Tabor, which is roughly 65 miles by car southwest or 22 hours by foot to the area of Samaria. At the usual walking speed of 2.5 to 4 miles a day, it was not an overnight journey. I point this out, because that sort of travel was likely to make one tired, and everyone has had experience with tired, hangry travel that distances you from your best self.
The other contextual element is the reminder that the brothers, James and John, were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,” which spoke to their character as nicknames are sometimes want to do.
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them ?" 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them,
56 and they went to another village.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59 He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family." 62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Thank you, Phil. In my meanderings for today’s message, I came across a Rev. Stacy Sauls, bishop in the Episcopalian church, doing a good share of his ministry to the Appalachian poor. Fr. Sauls was reminiscing about his grandfather plowing, which got me thinking about my dad. Don’t tell him, but I’ve been recording Dad when he starts telling stories from his past, because, 1 - I’ll never remember them all - and 2 - there is great sermon material in some of his stories!
Rev. Sauls talked about how his grandfather once chewed him out for talking while he was plowing, distracting his grandfather and potentially causing a crooked row. Dad didn’t talk about crooked rows, but he talked about being eight or nine years old and plowing behind two horses. And he remembers that on clear nights, they might be in the field until 11:30 or midnight, and then walk the 25 minutes across the 40 acres that separated Grandpa’s far-field from the homestead parcel.
Apparently, there was great joy when Grandpa got a second tractor, allowing for work to be accomplished faster, eliminating the potential of running into the fence and having to tell Grandpa about it. It was probably the early version of distracted driving - driving a team of horses….
Fr. Sauls also thought that this passage was more about Jesus being cranky - interpreting the replies to offers of discipleship as being snarky. After all, regardless of ethnicity, denying hospitality to a traveler back then was widely considered a deep, disrespectful insult. That sort of hospitality is an interesting thought, thinking about all the travelers that will be coming to Benzie County in the next couple of months.
Maybe he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but in Luke’s gospel, it wasn’t all that long since Jesus’ mountain top experience of divine affirmation, and if anything, I think that an argument of Jesus being a little softer might be made.
Regardless of his mood, I had to smile at Steven Garnaas Holmes take on the Thunder boys. He paraphrased it to sound like a couple of mobsters, “Boss, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Actually, Rev. Holmes’ point was in a piece he sent out earlier in the week. He wrote, “Don't you just want to slap James and John for being such idiots? In fact, why stop there? Why not command fire to come down and consume them?
Funny how (a) we want to destroy people who disagree with us, (b) we imagine we can do so, even if just by insulting them, and (c) we assume Jesus likes that. Wrong all three times.
(When fire actually does come down from heaven, as at Pentecost, it doesn't destroy people; it destroys our divisions, connects us, and helps us communicate when previously we hadn't.)
So when people won't listen to us or even won't accept us, what do we do? Instead of calling down fire, call up the fruits the Spirit has given you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Rev. Holmes ended his offering with “Practice this among your enemies and see how you are blessed.”
I don’t know that so many of us have out-and-out enemies, least-wise not those that spur us into keeping a loaded rifle by the back door. But most of us have people that wouldn’t agree with us if we dared speak aloud to particular topics.
It was interesting that a lot of the research I came across this week seemed to focus on the idea of obedience to being disciples of Christ - no matter what the cost or requirement. But that direction didn’t sit all that well in my heart. And I’m mighty glad to have been able to have the time to rumble around with the research this week, because when I came across Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt’s point, this passage finally made sense, at least to my brain.
Don’t get me wrong, we probably all have a little something we could work on when it comes to being a better disciple after Christ. But I also think we need to look at this passage within our own context, of this day and age, and the message it has for us contemporary disciples.
Rev. Hunt’s contention with this passage is that we have to make choices, sometimes between really good and honorable options. Specifically, she was talking about a decision she had to make over conducting a friend’s funeral or attending her Methodist Annual Conference, at which a big topic was to be entertained.
It wasn’t that she was choosing between a meeting or funeral and going on a shopping trip to the Mall of America. Both events were valid and needful, and she ended up choosing the friend’s funeral - not so much because it was all about her friend, but her choice, and I quote, “is all the more important in a culture which habitually and perpetually tends to deny and even run from death and grief and loss.”
She went on, “To me, these do not seem to be occasions when the 'dead are burying the dead,' but when those living in faith and hope are doing so. This way of thinking is so much a part of me that I find myself concluding that it surely could be dangerous, or at least profoundly irresponsible, to receive these words of Jesus as some kind of black and white expectation of you and I who follow him.” Yay, Rev. Hunt!
Rev. Dr. John Claypool is an Episcopalian priest who served several churches in the southeast, and he tells the story of a thunderstorm that swept through the farm where his forebears had lived for six generations in southern Kentucky. In the orchard, the wind blew over an old pear tree that had been there as long as anybody could remember. Claypool's grandfather was saddened to lose the tree on which he had climbed as a boy and whose fruit he had eaten all his life.
A neighbor came by and said, "Doc, I'm really sorry to see your pear tree blown down."
"I'm sorry too," said his grandfather. "It was a real part of my past. "What are you going to do?" the neighbor asked. His grandfather paused for a moment and then said, "I'm going to pick the fruit and burn what's left."
"That is the wise way to deal with many things in our past," says John Claypool. "We need to learn their lessons, enjoy their pleasures, and then go on with the present and the future.” "No one who puts a hand to the plow while looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Sometimes we get distracted, sometimes we need to live through our discipleship commitments and our integrity in attending to responsibilities. Other times, we need to follow the Spirit’s call. If it were a simple matter of throwing everything down to follow Christ, it doesn’t seem very responsible to abandon all that is present in our lives that reflect God and our discipleship of considerate discernment of priorities. I don’t think distracted discipleship would make it on a new set of commandments, because most of the time, it’s simply that we are human, and sometimes tired and hangry and really just want to put our head down for a while.
Being human was how we are created, and it makes no sense that God would chastise us for being distracted, being responsible, or being honorable. It makes more sense that we open our arms as often as we can, to the travelers that need a little respite, whether they are strangers, family or friends. And God knows, too, there are some personalities that don’t do well together, so we don’t always need to force such issues of hospitality. Sometimes, keeping the hand to the plow is allowing others to come into our realm of influence, that we might become better disciples for their inclusion in our lives. And so we pray.
Holy, Welcoming Spirit, we are aware of the idea of ‘to whom much has been given, much is required.’ We are also aware that you call us in so many different ways, to serve as agents of your love. Today we are reminded again that we also need balance in our lives, that allows us to embrace all that you have, for us and all your people. When we fall short, forgive us. When we need both hands on the plow, make it evident to us. When we need to rest, give us the peace to do so without guilt or embarrassment. And when we are distracted, Great Creator, help us to enjoy the view. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.