The 6th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 8C (6/30/2013)

Lessons:1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 (8) Galatians 5:1, 13-25 St. Luke 9:51-62

Semicontinuous Series: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 (15)

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  Deliver us from the death of sin, and raise us to new life in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

St. John 16:12-15. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

It Isn’t Easy!

I have a friend who is a successful businessman here in town. He doesn’t belong to a church. He would describe himself as a spiritual seeker; not a man who is likely to join a church any time soon, but someone who believes that there are deeper currents in life, and who suspects that it would be good for him to increase his awareness of spiritual matters. He probably would fit into the category of “spiritual but not religious” — a description that has less-than-positive connotations for many religious insiders. We meet for breakfast once each month to talk about life, family, work, bluegrass music, and from time-to-time even a little politics & religion. I look forward to my conversations with him, and am grateful to have a good friend who views life from a slightly different vantage than I do.

At breakfast this morning he asked me to describe what my faith means to me. I probably gave him an answer that was longer than he was hoping to receive, but in essence I told him that I believe in a powerful God, whose love I neither deserve nor could ever earn, who loves me unconditionally (even enough to die for me), and who invites me to show my gratitude for this love by giving of myself to the world that surrounds me. As I unpacked that for him I tried to contrast my point of view with the prevailing notion, at least in our country, that anything we add to our lives (be it consumer products, relationships, club memberships, or religious faith…) should make our life richer, better, more prosperous, or more successful. Christian faith, I told him, often doesn’t make our lives easier — in fact, it can be quite challenging to live as a disciple of Jesus (“Pick up your cross and follow me…). But it is a life I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world.

I wonder how James and John might have answered my friend’s question. How might they describe what their faith means to them at this point in the story? We get a glimpse of their answer in this weekend’s text. When they enter a Samaritan village, they become aware that the people there have no interest in Jesus. They are furious, and their first response is to consider “commanding fire to come down from heaven and consume them.” James and John fall to the temptation to imagine that they’ve got it all figured out, and everyone else is headed to destruction (a notion that is more prevalent among Christians today than I usually allow myself to admit).

Jesus, of course, rebukes this notion. Following him doesn’t mean to have it all, and to condemn everyone else to a fiery end. Following him means to live without a home, without a family, and with no longing for the certainty of the past, but with a willingness to walk into the uncertainty of the future. What’s more, following him means to live with one’s “face set towards Jerusalem” — with a determination to give whatever it takes to be a blessing to the world (even a blessing to those who show no apparent interest in Jesus).

This is the invitation that eventually changes the lives of James and John in ways that they never could have imagined. When they finally realize what Jesus has in mind for them they soon discover that it doesn’t make their lives easier — in fact, it is quite challenging for them to live as disciples of Jesus. They eventually do pick up their crosses and follow him, and they come to experience a life they wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem?”
  2. How does that orientation make it harder for the Samaritans to connect with him?
  3. What do James and John misunderstand about the situation?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does my faith teach me that is in contrast with what my society teaches me?
  2. How has my relationship with God changed my life?
  3. What signs are there in my life that I follow a man who was willing to die for the world?