Scripture - Luke 9:51-62
Luke 9:51-62 (New Revised Standard Version)
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
I remember the days when the internet was a fairly benign place. Sure, there were the dangerous places, but for the most part it was a place to share cute cat videos with your friends...to forward chain letters to everyone in your address book….to build and share Geocities websites all about your hobby of choice and find others who shared your interests and passions...to take meaningless quizzes about which Disney character you are or which era in history you should have been born into.
Ok, so the internet still functions in some of that capacity, and if that continues to be your experience of the world wide web, more power to you.
However, most days, when I sit down at my computer to check Facebook or Twitter...or even to read a news article...there’s one important safety rule that I inevitably break - and that is….Never Read the Comments.
It’s always a bad idea. Have you just read the most heart-warming story about a group saving baby whales in the Atlantic ocean? I guarantee you there will be at least two or three people who have taken to their keyboards and shared where they’ve found offense in the story. What about a parenting article about the best places to take your child this summer? The sanctimommies will be out in full force, shaming anyone who disagrees with their parenting philosophies. And forget about it when reading something even remotely controversial or political - the comments section will be a dumpster fire of hatred and vitriol against anyone who expresses a viewpoint other than their own.
Social media feeds this instinct within us and preys upon our lizard brains - that part of us that feels threatened whenever our values or beliefs are perceived to be under attack - and the internet allows us an outlet to express ourselves in a knee-jerk fashion -- We don’t have to have an actual conversation with the person we feel threatened by, we can share our thoughts relatively anonymously, we can fire off words and statements without really having to think very hard about what we’re saying. Even if we never write out our thoughts, we can share a quick “like” on a picture talking about a political opponent “getting what’s coming to them” or “like” someone’s outrage over someone else’s ignorance or hard-heartedness. We can remain entrenched in our own way of thinking without having to truly engage with a different point of view. We can rain down metaphorical fire upon our foes without having to think twice.
Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to the internet - we all have a tendency to react defensively or out of anger when we come up against an opposing viewpoint, or when we interact with someone who gets under our skin, or to act or speak without thinking through our response. This is what we see going on in our passage from scripture this morning, as Jesus walks with his disciples toward Jerusalem, his ultimate destination. Along their way, there is a Samaritan village, and so they send messengers ahead to prepare the village for their arrival - to get everyone ready to receive Jesus and his teachings, his ministry of healing - and most likely to arrange for lodging. Except, the Samaritans refuse him because his ultimate destination was Jerusalem -- a place that represented pretty much everything that the Samaritan people despised. Remember there was a long history of hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. So when James and John - known also as the Sons of Thunder - hear that the people of this village didn’t want them - they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to burn down the village. I mean, isn’t that the natural consequence for someone rejecting Jesus? Fiery judgment and punishment? Except Jesus doesn’t think so; he instead rebukes James and John -- the Samaritans don’t deserve death for their refusal to welcome Jesus and his disciples - and they continue on their way.
Jesus interrupts their reactive behavior because it had clouded their hearts against the people of this village. It was a way for Jesus to refocus the disciples - shifting their attention away from taking out their outrage on the people of this village and toward a way of kindness and compassion. The call is to bring life and not death, as Jesus reminds the disciples, to those who choose a different way than what Jesus offers to them; a lesson that they will learn many times on the road to Jerusalem. What matters to Jesus is learning to operate out of a different center, even when we’re wounded and hurting, even when we feel threatened or under attack, even when we’re incensed that someone doesn’t see things our way. It’s about learning to respond with gentleness and kindness, of forgiveness and love -- of making that the goal and priority as we follow Jesus as opposed to living out of our own sense of self.
Jesus continues this theme in the second part of the passage, where various people are given the opportunity to follow Jesus, and each person gives an excuse as to why they are unable to respond to the invitation. In the first case, presumably the person is unable to accept the reality that following Jesus will not result in an easy or comfortable life. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” We want to live comfortably and securely - Jesus gives no guarantee of this.
In the second case, the man wants to bury his father before joining up with Jesus, and Jesus tells him to let the dead bury their own dead. It suggests that Jesus knows that there are times when following him will go against cultural and societal expectations, will cause us to disappoint our families - norms that we all conform to as part of living in this world. Jesus speaks to our burning need to fit in, to conform to the expectations of others around us - and challenges that very desire to say that if that is our priority, we cannot follow Jesus because discipleship will make us look different, will disrupt our families and friendships, and will cause us to shake things up, and we have to be able to deal with the fallout from that because the kingdom of God is more important.
Lastly, one man wants to say goodbye to his friends and family before following Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, to which Jesus responds with: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Again, Jesus challenges our temptation to make following him an item on our to-do list - something to get to after we have finished all the important projects we think take precedence over anything Jesus might want or demand of us.
In all these four cases - Jesus interrupts our self-centered, ego-based responses and gives an opportunity to choose a different path - a path focused on Jesus and his responses and priorities - a path that takes us out of our selves and our programmed habits and patterns that reside in that lizard brain part of our being - the part that craves safety and security, that lashes out without thinking, that wants to fit in and not rock the boat, that doesn’t demand much of us beyond basic survival, that makes decisions based on threats and fear. Jesus invites us into a different way of being and living - of love and forgiveness, compassion and peace.
Jesus comes and interrupts our programmed responses to remind us of the calling of the kingdom -- like when we find ourselves aggravated by what someone posted online, or what we overheard someone say on the boat, or when we start to feel complacent in our relationship with Jesus and our lives look no different than that of our neighbors, or when we’re tempted to take the easy way out when making a decision about the future. Jesus invites us to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit instead of jumping to follow our own instincts and desires.
For Jesus - it matters whether love or fear ultimately governs our hearts. It matters if we follow our own notions of retribution and justice or the love and righteousness of the kingdom of God. It matters that we pattern our lives and our hearts after that of Jesus - who didn’t condemn the Samaritans in our passage for not welcoming him, who didn’t condemn those who chose not to follow him either, but simply offered a path of love...knowing full well how hard and demanding and challenging and urgent it was….knowing full well that it would require us to die to ourselves to be able to truly live...knowing that our hearts are in desperate need of transformation so that resurrection can happen in our lives and in our world.
That’s the invitation Jesus makes to us in this passage - whenever we are faced with a decision to make - whenever we are faced with how to respond to someone who we disagree with, who doesn’t share our beliefs or values - whenever we are challenged - as individuals and as a church - to make decisions based on fear and scarcity, security and comfort, status quo or fitting in - to stop instead - listen to the voice of the spirit, and base our full selves on a life in Christ together.
We live in a time where that kind of life in Christ is needed - It’s needed in our own backyard with new neighbors seeking asylum in Portland. It’s needed on the southern border with the conditions children are living in. It’s needed in the way we talk to and with and about each other - online and in person.Our community and our world yearns for the church to be the church - the living embodiment of Christ on earth - and for the people of God to live in a way that bears witness to the great love God has for each and every person, that demonstrates what a life of forgiveness and compassion and mercy looks like, that points to God’s restorative and redemptive work in the world.
My prayer for us here is that we be that people for this island. That we move beyond focusing on the things that serve us here in this space, and that look toward creating a community around us that is more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate -- because we as a people have chosen to take Jesus’s invitation to be about the kingdom of God instead of our own kingdoms….because we have decided to keep Jesus’s priorities as our priorities and not get distracted by the little things that drain us of energy and resources and life….because we have decided to serve our neighbors instead of serving ourselves.
And so may we go forth from this place - focused on Jesus and his work in this world, in this community, and in our hearts - that we also may be inspired and challenged to join him along the way - to choose the path of love and life...for the sake of a broken and hurting world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.