Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:13-25
Messiah’s, from Jesus to Lebron James, all have that one moment when the followers are called together for, “the talk.” This is no ordinary rah-rah speech. Legacies are created from what happens next. I am sure last Sunday as that star laden plane flew toward Oakland, Lebron gathered the faithful around and said, “This is no longer about us. This is for Cleveland.” Likewise Jesus gathered the disciples and offered these words, “Boys, we are headed to Jerusalem. Are you sure you are ready?” Well they thought they were. Of course anyone can get fired up by a sermon.
Luke, who must have been directionally challenged, sends Jesus and the disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem by way of Samaria. When it came time to rest, they entered a town and were not received well. The disciples, prepared to conquer the world, were rebuked before they could even get started. Furious, they asked Jesus to send fire from heaven to prove the townsfolk had snubbed the wrong guys. But Jesus was only looking toward Jerusalem. He got up and started walking. Hurrying to catch up the disciples said, “Jesus, you know we will follow you anywhere. All we wanted was a display of your power.”
Jesus replied, “Before we reach the next fork in the road some of you will find a reason to leave. You are no different than the folks we just left. Soon you will all run home to your families. Should I rain fire down on you?”
Richard Shaffer comments, “Faith can be expressed and experienced in a variety of ways, but there comes a time in each one’s journey when it is necessary to clearly declare the depth of that commitment. God’s place in our lives is neither a matter of convenience nor something that can be taken for granted. Far too often, we resist the difficult journey Jesus would have us take.”
I applaud Shaffer for his insights. But I might also suggest few of us wake up every morning with our faces toward Jerusalem. We certainly have our “Holy Grails”, our burning issues, that cause us to wail unceasingly against the diminishing light, but for the most part our lives are subject to the routines that have crafted who we are. If everyone had the perfection of Jesus, Christ would not have been necessary. Therefore each generation points to Christ-like figures who bravely march forward while we perform the necessary rituals such as caring for families and burying our dead. We are not the Holy One but rather disciples, a dedicated but flawed collection of followers caught in a precarious juxtaposition in which emulating the perfection of Christ seems truly impossible. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. God has blessed us with an inalienable right, a freedom beyond any constitutional declaration or legislative decree. God’s grace liberates us to follow the footsteps of Jesus. Picking up the cross is always on God’s horizon. But what are we called to do during our ordinary days?
The book of Galatians is worth reading in its entirety. Some have called it the Magna Charta of Christian Liberty. It is a serious conversation asking if we are saved by God’s grace or our righteous acts. This question has followed the legacy of the Christian faith for over 2,000 years. Are we capable of saving ourselves? I don’t think we are but unfortunately many who agree with me proclaim if God saves than we have no other responsibility beyond believing.
This answer becomes quite convenient should one desire to separate faith from life. For these folks church becomes the place one attends to escape the pressing issues and burdens of the day. They enter to pray for righteousness but hardly understand what the word means. They desire peace but are only referring to the restlessness of their own souls. As Paul writes to the people of Galatia, this picture of an isolated community is the last thing he imagined. As much as anyone who has followed Christ, Paul knew what it meant to submit to the mercy and grace of God. As Jesus had his eyes on Jerusalem, Paul extended that vision toward Greece and Rome. Paul suffered and died for what he believed. But Paul also realized everyone was not cut out to be Timothy or Barnabas. We the church, we the disciples of Christ, often have a vision limited to our families, our church, and our communities. But that restricted vision should never limit what we are able to accomplish in the name of Christ. God’s grace frees us to be more than we ever imagined.
Early in my ministry I realized I was not prepared for hospital visits. I like to celebrate life. I like to challenge folks to expand their thinking. When one enters a hospital, something has gone wrong. A routine has been disrupted. Decisions are being made that are life changing. The person in the bed is often in no condition to comprehend what is happening. The family sits quietly while a thousand questions and fears bombard both their intellect and emotions. Into this conundrum I entered, clueless.
Fortunately I encountered a surgical nurse who knew how absolutely worthless I was. When I entered her hospital room she greeted me with, “Louie, I am going to die. I know you don’t have a clue what to do, so I will help you. I will do the dying and you do the listening and the praying. Begin by praying for yourself. I suspect you need God’s help a lot more than I.” Three times a week I visited her. I learned to listen. I learned ignorance unspoken was a lot more important than limited knowledge shared. I learned how to pray, for both us. After a month she walked out of the hospital, fully recovered. It was not a miracle. She had misdiagnosed herself. But a miracle did occur. She dedicated what she thought were her last days helping me learn how to sit with both the living and the dying. Her eyes were not on Jerusalem. They were clearly on me.
Paul said to the people in Galatia, “You have been freed by the grace of God to be more than you ever imagined. Now you can clearly see the pain incurred when our lives are ruled by anger, factions, envy, drunkenness, and jealousy. Set your eyes on something higher. Practice the gifts of the Spirit.” Practice love, joy, peace, gentleness and kindness.
This week, we had a group of youth and adults representing our congregation in Guatemala. While some of us made a valiant attempt to prepare them for what they would encounter, sometimes experience is the only teacher. Each evening as they came together to evaluate the day and share their feelings, their devotions began with the group repeating a very simple phrase.
Gather us O God, Body, Spirit, Soul, and Mind.
Gather us O God, One in union now with You.
Christ would prefer our eyes to be set on Jerusalem. This is a frightening world and we need Christ-like vision to believe in what folks tell us is impossible. This is an extraordinary congregation and I believe some of you possess the vision to help the rest of us move closer to realizing the kingdom of God on earth.
As for the rest of us, we are called to have our eyes on each other. We are called through acts of compassion, through the willingness to listen, through patience, gentleness, and self-control to exhibit the joy bestowed upon us as faithful recipients of the grace of God. Regardless if your eyes are on the world, or each other, let us be completely gathered in union with the Spirit of God. Our freedom in Christ is not evidenced by results but by our character being defined by the fruits we bear.
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; there is no law against such things.” Amen.