Psalm 16 1st Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Galatians 5: 1, 13-25
John is 97 years old. He knows that the end is near. But as he lies in bed, he sniffs the air. “Yes,” he thought to himself, “I do smell my favorite chocolate-chip cookies being baked by my wife. I must have one last cookie before I die.” He struggles out of bed. Walks very slowly down the stairs. It takes a long time. He is very weak, every step is painful. Gasping for breath, he wheezes and coughs as he enters the kitchen. He walks toward the table and sees a moist chocolate chip cookie. Just as he reaches for it, his wife whacks his hand with a spatula. John stares in amazement, “Why did you do that?” His wife replies, “Those are for the funeral.”
How often are we told to plan our days that we may be more productive? Sometimes, well-planned days have to be transformed. Sometimes, we are called to change our plans when a special need arises. Sometimes, interruptions, detours and unexpected demands take the place of our plans.
In First Kings, we hear of Elijah’s unforgettable exit and Elisha’s taking up his prophetic mantle. Elijah’s duty was to find his replacement. He responded by finding Elisha and ordaining him. We can feel the drama of Elisha wanting to tell his family goodbye and being sent off with a grand barbeque. Actions speak louder than words. Elijah performs the symbolic action of throwing his mantle, which is the symbol of authority that is passed on. The cloak was the most important article of clothing a person could own. It was used as protection against the weather, as bedding, as a place to sit, and as luggage. It could be given as a pledge for a debt or torn into pieces to show grief. Elijah put his cloak on Elisha’s shoulders to show that he would become Elijah’s successor.
Psalm 16 responds by expressing unyielding faith in Yahweh’s capacity to give counsel, instruction, guidance and deliverance. The ancient rabbis understood this psalm as David writing about himself. It is human nature to make our plans and then ask God to bless them. Instead, we should seek God’s will first. By constantly thinking about the Lord and his way of living, we will gain insights that will help us make right decisions. This psalm is often called a Messianic psalm because it is quoted in the New Testament as referring to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both Peter and Paul quoted from this psalm when speaking of Christ’s bodily resurrection.
In the Epistle, we find Paul urging his readers to walk under the banner of freedom in Christ and to live in freedom as slaves to one another. Freedom may destroy a sense of community. We are cautioned not to allow our freedom to become “an opportunity for self-indulgence.” We are to live a life of loving service to each other and be reminded that this is the essence of the law. This text warns us against an overly individualistic interpretation of freedom. Defined freedom becomes the relentless pursuit of the individual with no moral commitment to others, and eventually becomes inhumane and self-destructive. Freedom can easily be abused. We move from the extensive list of vices into God’s gifts of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I resisted the urge to preach on fornication, and talked about love.
In the Gospel, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, warning those who would follow him that such a pattern of life comes wrapped in the demands of drastic obligations. While Jesus’ face may be set toward, he doesn’t take the most direct path. The route he takes makes little sense for geographic or narrative purposes. Luke is concerned with the theological, in sharing the stories he reveals the character of Jesus and in turn, the Father who sent him and the mission Jesus has been sent to accomplish.
The two scenes grouped together in today’s reading offer insight into Jesus’ call. Both occur almost immediately after Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop and attended by Moses and Elijah in the sight of his trusted disciples. The first scene depicts Jesus’ rejection by a Samaritan village and the righteous anger of James and John, expressed by their request to call down fire from heaven to consume the villages. While the disciple’s reaction seems a bit rash to us, we recall that Elijah twice called down fire to consume opponents, and it may be that, having just seen Jesus in the company of Moses and Elijah, James and John took an example out of his playbook.
Only verses earlier he had told his followers to receive hospitality where it is offered and, if it is refused, to shake the dust off their sandals and move on. Vengeance and violence are not part of Jesus’ vision. Strangely, Luke doesn’t give us reasons for the village to reject Jesus. Whether he is rejected because he will not stay to perform miracles in this village, or because he defies their communal sense of what a messiah should be, or even because he is traveling to the disputed center of Judaism matters little to Luke. He does, however, link the Samaritans’ reaction to Jesus setting his face for Jerusalem. What is central is not the Samaritans’ rejection, but Jesus’ single-mindedness of purpose – toward Jerusalem.
Jesus chooses to avoid violence, to embrace suffering for the sake of another, to refuse comfort, privilege, status for the sake of fidelity to God’s vision and mission. Those who would embrace Jesus and his mission must be under no illusions of what it will mean for them. There are a lot of things going on in this gospel reading. I think the most important thing is God’s profound love for humanity and all the world. At the beginning of his account, Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, offering a link not merely to David or to Abraham but to all of humanity. By the ends of Acts, Luke has extended the trajectory of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and the whole world. Those who would embrace or be embraced by the radical love of God made known in Jesus and his cross must necessarily see this love as contrary to all human conceptions of love. Everything – friendship, family connections, piety, discipleship – looks different when viewed through the lens of God’s sacrificial love.
I heard a story about a woman in need coming up to a church. She saw a line of cars parked at the church at noon on a week day and thought there might be some help available. She rushed inside, thinking they were giving out food for those experiencing hunger. She was told that she had come to the church on the wrong day. The food giveaway was scheduled for next week.
The woman was embarrassed for interrupting the Bible study. But she replied that her family needed food that day, not next week. They apologized and said that she would simply have to wait until the twice-monthly food giveaway came around again. With a look of disappointment, the woman backed out the church door and walked away empty-handed.
Then a transformative opportunity occurred. Several people got up from their Bible study and followed the woman out the door. They did their best to meet her needs from their own resources. A couple of women even offered to give her a ride to the grocery store and then back home with the food they had helped buy for her and her family. Somehow, they were able to hear in the distressed woman’s voice more than a plea for food. They heard God’s invitation to partner in the work of making the world that God loves whole again. They responded in love with action.
Opportunities bless us – if only we can take time to discern the presence of God. When we sense God’s presence, those distractions often detour into invitations to work with God – for God in the healing of the world. No one should fault a church for scheduling a food give-away on a certain day. After all, it does not have a limitless supply of food to pass out. But the people who stopped their own Bible study, followed the woman out the door, and tried to meet her needs are to be celebrated. Opportunities have a way of forcing us to see - and hopefully to participate in – God’s transformative actions in the world. Those folks realized that faith is an action word.
We got the news this week that the Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade. It has been a place of discord for many people on both sides of the issue. I want to direct folks to the long-standing opinion that the Episcopal Church has held around abortion. We have affirmed it again and again as a denomination. It does allow room for abortion in some circumstances, but clearly couches it as a spiritual matter of paramount importance, and not an option for run-of-the-mill birth control.
The Episcopal Church has long-held that at the end of the day the government should not infringe on a woman’s right to choose. There have been subsequent strengthening or clarifying of sub-positions, but the 55 year-old resolution from 1967 is still our core doctrine around this matter.
Our Bishop directed the clergy to respond to this as a pastoral need and not a leap into politics. We are in this together, no matter where we fall on this spectrum, and are encouraged to be faithful to our tradition and the many years of prayer and theological work that underpin it. We will all have our personal, emotional, responses to this, and we also need to balance it with our faith in God’s promise for our lives. We are all called to be the hands, heart and feet of Christ in our families, communities, church and the world. Amen.