First Congregational Church
June 30, 2019
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Independence Day Sunday
Luke 9:57-62 & Galatians 5:13-25
“The Good News and the Hard News”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Once, in the 1820's, a little boy named Sam was playing in the yard behind his house. During his pretend fighting game, he knocked over the outhouse. Sam was so upset and worried that he would get into trouble, that he ran into the woods and didn't come out until dark. When he arrived back home, his father was waiting for him. He asked suspiciously, "Son, did you knock over the outhouse this afternoon?" "No, father," Sam lied. "Well, let me tell you a story," said the father.
"Once, not that long ago, little Sven received a shiny new axe from his father. Excited, he tried it out on a tree, swiftly cutting it down. But as he looked at the tree, with dismay he realized it was his mother's favorite cherry tree. Just like you, he ran into the woods. When he returned, his father asked, “Sven, did you cut down the cherry tree?' Sven answered with, 'Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did indeed chop down the tree.' Then Sven’s father said, 'Well, since you were honest with me, you are spared from punishment. I hope you have learned your lesson, though.'
So Sam's father asked again," did you knock down the outhouse?" "Father, I cannot tell a lie any more." said the little boy. "I did indeed knock down the outhouse." Then his father sat the boy down for a time-out in the corner. The boy whimpered, "Father, I told you the truth! Why are you punishing me?" Father answered, "Because Sven's father wasn't in the tree when he chopped it down!”
In the middle of what was probably a long session of rattling off parables, Jesus gave the one we have today from the Gospel of Luke. When the second passage from Galatians is read, try to keep one part of your brain wrapped around the fact that it was written over 1,700 years before the holiday we will celebrate this week.
The Cost of Following Jesus
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 dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he 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 a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Thank you, Paul and Clark. These two passages are so perfect for this particular week. The first tells us the what and the second tells us the how.
While I was pondering upon these passages, I got to thinking about the music world. In orchestras, the oboe is the one who plays the tuning note before the orchestra begins - so that all the woodwinds tune first to that one source. (The oboe is used because it is the least affected by humidity and other weather conditions.) Then all the brass and lastly all the strings - all tuned to the one (same) oboe and its player. Incidentally, most oboists today use little electronic tuners as they set the pitch. Before electronic tuners, they used tuning forks. Before that, it was more or less like a tuning free-for-all.
Anyway, Jesus’ words for the man who has to bury his father are probably not ones we immediately associate with Jesus, especially as that man was probably encased in grief - at some level - in needing to bury his father. We can get Jesus’ point of setting our sights on Christ’s path and sticking to it. And who knows? Maybe Jesus was having an “off” day, or maybe he’d eaten some bad goat stew earlier in the day, or maybe the phone kept ringing with familiar numbers and in answering it, was connected to the person who was deeply concerned about repaying his student loans or replacing his roof with a metal one. Or maybe it was Jesus’ version of fish or cut bait.
Whatever was behind the energy and statement, Jesus’ point, was that the disciples most important job was to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Essentially, that was the message of his life - to the disciples, certainly, but just as much to us in this 21st century. Jesus showed us and told us how to go and proclaim - in dining with outcasts, contacting with the unclean and providing for widows and children, mainly, but to all who are not on the most popular lists.
It is a bit interesting that - time-wise - the earliest versions of Galatians pre-date the earliest versions of Luke’s gospel. If and when a version of Luke is found - tested to be written before 50 AD - it will still be ironic that Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us a job description that fleshes out the mission statement of “go and proclaim.”
It’s interesting, too, that the first big word in Galatians is the word, “free.” I wonder how many of us think about that word and almost immediately go the word “freedom,” especially this weekend.
Of equal interest is that the word “freedom” is not found in the Declaration of Independence. The Episcopalian priest, David W. Peters of Pflugerville, Texas pointed out that “instead of “freedom,” the Declaration highlighted “liberty,” along with “life” and the “pursuit of happiness,” as our inalienable rights. What makes this the most interesting is that, as Rev. Peters pointed out, “Over the years, the word “liberty” has fallen out of our national vocabulary, and “freedom” has replaced it.” Then I say, we get a passage like the one from Galatians, and now things start getting a lot more interesting.
“The most obvious meaning of freedom,” said Peters, “is the ability to do and say whatever we want, without interference from any authority or institution. With this definition of freedom, it is little wonder we often disagree on what it means to be a freedom-loving American.”
What the most marvelous and famous Rev. Dinah Haag says, is that we fail to include in definitions of freedom a sense of balance. Restrictions by city governments on blasting off massive amounts of fireworks in one’s driveway is not just about fire and safety hazards, but about the ability for one’s neighbors to live in an explosion-free environment. And in a day where we are becoming more aware of PTSD, our understanding of such “rules” that would appear to harness our “freedom” should be better understood laced with compassion. It’s not about one neighbor winning over the other, but both being able to compromise in giving a little and receiving a little - in freedom, safety, life and the pursuit of happiness.
The big deal is, however, that our freedom as followers of Christ is much older than the Declaration of Independence. It goes back to Christ, reminding us of the freedom that God saw for each of us since the beginning of time. Christ’s life and death and resurrection and ascension are all reminders of our freedom - to be for the world what Christ was for the world: an agent of reconciliation and love. We all have the freedom to choose that mission - or not.
For those that choose to take up that mission, that “Love your neighbor as yourself” thing isn’t really a suggestion. The Good News is that the mission is easy. The Hard News is that it’s also hard.
The Good News of walking in the Spirit is so simple. The Hard News of walking in the Spirit is that some days it is harder to do than others - especially when we feel contrary to that Spirit. We all have those days when we wake up and we wonder what grouchy bug bit us during the night. In sublime simplicity, there are days when we feel grumpy for no reason at all. In all our days, Christ calls us to love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t know about anyone else, but there are days, when I’m good with the first eight character traits, but that ninth one? That’s not always so much fun.
Those are the days when this passage becomes the clothing that we put on. Even if we can get just one of those “garments” of love, joy, peace or any of the others, to put on, they become, one day at a time, our comfy clothes. One day at a time the garments of impurity, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, and all the others make their way to the back of the closet.
Most of our nation will celebrate our political liberty this weekend. And more than a few folks sitting in pews will be reminded to celebrate our spiritual freedom in Christ as we put our pants on one leg at a time. For such honor and dignity and grace, let us pray.
God of Life and Grace, we thank you for those who have gone before us, who have lived lives so that we may sit here in relative peace and safety as we worship you in the ways you lead each of us. Thank you for your son, who has given and continues to give us pictures and lessons on how to go and proclaim the kingdom of God. We ask for your forgiveness when we are tempted to think that our way is the only way, because ever and always, there is your way first. So help each of us listen intently to you this week, as we tune our lives to you, enabling us to live in and through you all our days, as your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.