A sermon for Proper 8: 2 Kings 2:12, 6-14, Psalm 77:12, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
We live in highly contentious times. Daily we hear about Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ disruptive ways. Friday morning, we learned the surprising results of the Brit-ex vote for Britain to leave EU. It makes one wonder if Donald or Bernie followers have renewed hope? Locally times are contentious. We have strong industry; at the same time, we know the impact of cheaper gas as several hundred perhaps as many as a thousand jobs are gone, temporarily, we all believe – hope. The City of Blytheville has budgetary concerns. We need to do something about the county’s Court physical facilities. Violence is increasing across the Delta. There are continuing changes in our schools at the state level. Local changes hold great potential, but they are still change on top of change. There is continuing change in health care as Arkansas moves from Private Pay to AR Works. Times are changing, and it is contentious.
But the world has been here before. In his column, Another Age of Discovery Thomas Friedman draws on Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna’s book Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. The years from 1450 – 1550 are known as the Age of Discovery. The changes, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus, and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics, and geopolitics, were highly disruptive. Today the technological change is the web and smartphones. Then Gutenberg’s printing press was the technological driver of change. In the Renaissance, as today, key anchors in people’s lives; like the workplace and community; were being fundamentally dislocated. Then as now, the pace of technological change was outstripping the average person’s ability to adapt (Friedman).
Actually, we have been here even before then. Chapter nine in Luke is a story of transition. It is the beginning of the travel narrative when Jesus resolutely heads towards Jerusalem (Parsons). We are so used to scripture, and so unused to the traditions of 1st century Palestine we don’t see the radical social change Jesus is creating. Any other Jew would have gone around Samaria. Was Jesus saving time? Not really, he goes through Samaria because his purpose includes those folks (Hoezee). Insulted by the Samaritans’ rejection James and John want to follow in Elijah’s tradition and call down divine fire to consume them (2 Kings 1:9) (Parsons). Jesus rebuffs reprisals for rejection.
If we take his encounter with would-be followers the other way around, we hear Jesus overturn expected family behavior to say goodbye, discard the social obligation to bury your family member, tell a would-be follower expect to be homeless. These are not the expectations of a faithful Jew or a want-to-be wandering rabbi. Everything in this story is highly disruptive.
It is important to hear clearly that this is not a story of worshipping Jesus, rather it is a story about following Jesus. Two thousand years later, we habitually worship Jesus and talk about belonging to Jesus and believing in Jesus. We are not so used to following Jesus and being transformed along the way. It has been a while since the norm for following Jesus, was to walk humbly, love mercy, and do justice (Bates).
Following Jesus is hard. It requires change and none of us like change. All my working life I’ve been something of a change agent. You don’t install a new computer system and not change things. And all my ministry has been in the midst of congregations in change; and truth be told, the whole of the church has been in the midst of change for the last half century – depending on how you count. And even I don’t like change; ~ well I don’t like the change I don’t like.
In order to change, to be vulnerable to transition, we have to be honest with ourselves as we ponder two simple questions:
- Are we looking beyond our own self or family interest?
- Do we see God’s way of life in our way of life (Epperly)?
An example: Years ago the churches where we lived had a Christmas party for the kids who lived in the projects. One year someone noticed that as Santa walked in the front door, the parents walked out the back. One of the volunteers, not a minister, a volunteer, realized that we are doing this for us. The next year the churches still collected toys; however, they opened a Christmas Shop where parents could buy toys at .25 on the dollar, and if needed, they could work to earn what they needed. The moment of revelation was realized as kids started sharing their excitement that their parents were “going to get Christmas for us.”
Paul provides additional clarity in the letter to the Galatians. He writes do not use your freedom for self-indulgence; love one another (Gal. 5:13) For Paul Christian freedom, is freedom from the confines of legalistic traditions, guilt, and shame, ego and individualism and freedom for life transforming behaviors, that inspire us to bring greater unity and create a healthier community here and throughout the world (Epperly). Jesus and Paul point us to a freedom that reveals the Kingdom
which really does contain the cosmic power for salvation [for] all people and all creatures (Hoezee).
Karoline Lewis writes
What are you waiting for? For someone else to speak justice? To call for righteousness? Or will you embrace the moment and proclaim the promise of God’s favor (Lewis)?
Embracing the moment is risk on risk. Friedman cites Goldin:
More risk taking is required when things change more rapidly, both for workers who have to change jobs and for businesses who have to constantly innovate to stay ahead.
when the world gets this tightly woven, America “needs to be more, not less, engaged, with the rest of the world,” because “the threats posed by climate change, pandemics, cyber attacks or terror will not be reduced by America withdrawing.” … [from 1450 to 1550] as now, walls stop working … make you poorer, dumber, [and] more insecure (Friedman).
In our own way, Blytheville and Mississippi County have known this for – well, a long time. In the last 14 years, including the projects in process, economic development investment has added some 1750 to 2500 jobs and something like $110 million in annual payroll. Still, all is not as it should be. Nearly 6,000 of our neighbors are neither employed or on any type of government assistance. That is a lot of people. That is a lot of unused human potential. That is a lot of despair that could be transformed into a mountain of hope and renewal (Chitwood).
We could, as some do, simply say it’s the result of some sinful things they have done, it’s a form of divine punishment. This has a ring of tradition, and some see scripture behind such thinking. It’s not following the way Jesus walks, it’s not the love of neighbor Paul proclaims, and it is not ~ what is happening here.
The cooperative arrangement between ANC, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mississippi County Economic Development called WORK, is helping all the people it can reach, walk the path from no job, no hope – to a good job with life expectations. It’s a journey that is as simple, and as difficult, as showing up (Chitwood).
This effort has great potential; to the extent, we have been honest with ourselves. Are we looking beyond our own self-interest? Are we walking God’s way of life in our way of life? I know some of the folks involved and believe many are choosing to walk the disruptive road through Samaria towards Jerusalem. I know that just as life begets life, so transitions beget transitions. Jesus’ desire is to invite the Samaritans to journey with him into the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ desire is for them and all his followers to be transformed and know the freedom of God’s Kingdom. I believe I see our desire to invite everyone in Mississippi county to be transformed together as jointly we journey to the Kingdom of God that is right here, right now.
Bates, J. Barrington. “Enigmatic Jesus, Sermon Proper 8 (C) – 2016.” 26 6 2016. Sermons that Work.
Chitwood, Clif. “Opinion Column: Where are we, and what’s next?” Blytheville Courier (2016). <www.blythevillecourier.com>.
Ellingsen, Mark. 26 6 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 6 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Friedman, Thomas L. “Another Age of Discovery.” The New York Times (2016).
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 9:51-62. 26 6 2016.
Lewis, Karoline. Every Moment Counts. 26 6 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 9:5162. 26 6 20016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.