By The Rev. Sherry Deets
6 Pentecost, Proper 8 – June 30, 2013
At the turning point of C.S. Lewis’s beloved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, several significant characters encourage each other with reports that Aslan, the great lion and true ruler of oppressed Narnia, has reappeared to fight the evil witch. Their words of encouragement to each other are as potent as they are succinct: “Aslan is on the move.”
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, something similar is happening as these verses, which open the second half of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry, herald Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Having preached, taught and worked miracles, Jesus suddenly hears, like a silent clarion, the call to turn toward Jerusalem, and the rest of Luke’s narrative depicts his steadfast journey there. In short, Jesus is on the move. While Jesus’ face may be set to Jerusalem, he does not take the most direct path.
There are two scenes in our story for today – one in which the Samaritans seem to reject Jesus. Luke give no reason why the Samaritans would not receive Jesus – whether he is rejected because he will not stay to perform miracles or because he defies their sense of what a Messiah should be or even because he is traveling to the disputed center of Judaism – we don’t know. What is central, apparently, is not the Samaritan’s rejection, but , rather, Jesus’ single-mindedness of purpose.
This focus provides a link to the next vignette. At first glance, it is difficult to tell why the requests of Jesus’ followers evoke such a harsh rebuke from him. After all bidding farewell to family and honoring one’s parent by burying them hardly seem extreme. So again, what seems central is Jesus’ single-mindedness of purpose. What he is doing makes a difference. Jesus has a commitment to embrace the cross for the sake of the world. Perhaps the heart of these passages is neither the road of discipleship nor Jesus’ heroic courage in facing the cross. Rather it is a single-mindedness of purpose that is prompted by God’s profound love for humanity and all the world.
What does Jesus mean by saying, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”? Anybody who has plowed a field knows you have to watch carefully in front of you to keep the furrows straight. Look backward and you will swerve one way or another.
How ironic it is that the disciples did exactly that in the despair and confusion following the crucifixion and resurrection. They looked back and resumed their previous occupation of fishing (John 21:1-14). It isn’t until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowers them, that they begin their true work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus all around the Mediterranean.
These verses jar us into asking, “How are our lives different as followers of Jesus than what they might have been otherwise?”
Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives? Or to put it another way, does the grace, mercy, and love of God made incarnate in Jesus trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives that we have already planned?
If we’re honest, I think that many of us will identify with the latter option because we recognize that we harbor a deep-seated desire to be in control, to maintain some semblance of order in a rather chaotic and confusing world. Yet Jesus in this passage is clearly not willing to concede: he demands that his mission come before all of our plans, even those that seem most reasonable.
Why? Because he knows that we really aren’t in control, that it’s an illusion, and that a rainstorm, or tornado, or illness, or loss, or tragedy, or any one of a hundred other things may dash our hopes as well as our plans and bring us to ruin. And so he … what? He invites us to give over control to him?
As tempting – and as pious – as that might sound, I’m not sure that the passage in front of us invites the choice between us being in control or Jesus being in control. Think about it: Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem to assume command or take charge. He goes to Jerusalem to thrust himself fully and completely into our out-of-control lives and comes out the other side.
So perhaps that’s the promise – not that we can be in control, but rather that God in Jesus joins us in our out-of-controlness, holds onto us, and brings us to the other side.
That may not always seem like all that much of a promise, but after a few days without power … or a few months on chemo … or a few years of addiction … at least it sounds real and therefore trustworthy.
I mean, look around: We invest a lot of time, energy, and money in being in control. And plenty of religious folk invite us to invest lots of time, energy, and money to surrender to God’s control. Yet the world is still a chaotic and unsettling place. So what if the deepest calling of a Christian disciple isn’t to be in control – ourselves or vicariously through God – but rather to give up the illusion, to take some risks, and to throw ourselves into this turbulent life and world God loves so much trusting that God will join us in the adventure, hold onto us through all the ups and downs, and brings us in time to the other side.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s faith. And when we, like Jesus’ first disciples, fall short yet again, then all we can do is give thanks that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem not just with us but also for us, taking on our chaotic lot and joining us in our turbulent lives that we may know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing! God loves us with a radical, all-encompassing love.
And, so, on this St. Cyril’s day we remember a coming together of two churches, of two congregations. We’ve come a long way, in faith. Jesus, through the Spirit, is still on the move. The Spirit is on the move, the Spirit is blowing. So, what’s God been doing your life lately? Amen.
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