Year C — The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

Commentary for June 30, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Ahhh. The “chariots of fire!”

For those of us who can actually remember the 1980’s, the Vangelis tune from the movie of the same name immediately begins playing in our brains. And from Sunday School, we may remember the dramatic story of Elijah, the prophet of fire, riding those chariots up to heaven.

Except, that he didn’t — exactly.

Elijah actually rides the whirlwind (tornado?) up to heaven, while the chariots of fire serve as a sort of heavenly imperial guard — separating Elisha and preventing him from breaching the barrier Elijah has been called to cross.

Two things suggest themselves to me from the reading: first, be very careful what you assert as being “in the Bible!” Like the apple that Eve took from the devil, and the donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born — some things just aren’t in there, my friends!

Second, and more important for the task at hand: when God calls us to a ministry, God always provides just exactly what we need to accomplish that ministry. Elijah had become weary from his years of confronting Ahab and Jezebel (Jezebel, especially.) God provides “relief” for him in the form of young Elisha (see the optional Kings text below.)

And for Elisha — God signals that God will be with him just as powerfully as he was with Elijah. The mantle serves to part the waters for Elisha, just as it had previously done so for Elijah.

“You’re good, Elisha; I’m going to be with you. Let’s get to work.”

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
If you’re going to talk to God, go ahead and be sure that God can hear you! I love the “aloud” that is emphasized in v.1. 

When there is an urgent need in our lives — when our emotions are ripping us apart — go ahead and yell for God. Of course, God hears quiet prayers, too; but it just seems that there are those moments when the more vociferous tone does us a lot of good!

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
This tag is “the rest of the story” from the dramatic encounter Elijah had with God in the cave on Mt. Horeb. After Elijah heard the voice of God — not in the storm, or the earthquake, etc. — but in the silence, he is sent by God back the way he came.

And, it is there that he discovers a younger Elisha, who is to be his successor. Just as Elijah complained to God that he was tired and felt all alone, God revealed what God had in mind. 

“Here’s your retirement plan, Elijah; you take care of this boy and teach him what you know. Then, I’ll take care of the rest…and I’ll take care of you!”

Psalm 16
There are echoes in this psalm of God’s provision for Elijah, as well as for Christ. It is an encouragement to all of God’s faithful, as well, to place trust in God for the provisions of life. 

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Don’t go back!

Paul has struggled to teach the Galatians (he affectionately has called them “foolish” elsewhere in the letter) the importance of staying on the path toward righteousness. The issue of sin drawing Jesus’ followers back into its clutches was something Paul was certainly familiar with (cf. Romans 7.)

There might have been a few who were claiming ignorance of what constituted sin, so Paul breaks it down with a couple of fairly plain-spoken lists. “If you’re doing these things — fornication, carousing, getting drunk, etc. — that’s not Jesus in you, okay? But, if you are doing these things: loving, being patient, giving generously, and so on — well, then you’re getting it right!”

Luke 9:51-62
Like Elijah, Jesus is going to be “taken up.” Like Elisha, there are some who are called to follow who are tempted to stay down on the farm and take care of the family business, instead.

Jesus is pretty straightforward: the way you are called to go with me is ahead, not behind. Don’t let your past failures OR successes hold you back.

Mmm, okay?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

For about ten years, I did a lot of traveling. One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to pack right for a trip. What clothes do I need? What things do I need? What ministry resources for workshops and what extension cords and phone chargers and computer attachments and other electronics and then there’s the prescription medicines and the over the counter medicines and, well; it sometimes got very complex and confusing. What should I take? What should I leave behind?

Today’s Gospel lesson was written to teach the first Christians what it meant to follow Jesus; in particular, how to prepare for the trip. It’s about what to take and what to leave behind. This is a lesson in spiritual packing.


The story the Bible tells us is pretty simple, it’s like a scene out of a musical movie or play.
Imagine Jesus striding down the road, with a crowd on either side of him and the disciples following behind him, music playing in the background. As he walks along, people come out of the crowd and he has conversations with them about what it means to be “On the Way to the Holy City.” In the midst of these encounters there are several lessons about what to take and what not to take on this journey.

The first encounter involves a village of the Samaritans. Jesus sent messengers to the village to let them know he was coming and the people sent back word asking him not to stop in their village, they didn’t want him there.

We don’t really know why not except that the Bible says it was, “because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” Does that mean they were opposed to the ministry and message of Jesus? Or does it mean that since they were Samaritans they were already hated by the leaders in Jerusalem and they didn’t want to tempt any more trouble by giving hospitality to a person those same leaders were after? We don’t know.

What we do know is that two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, got angry and wanted to call down destruction from heaven, wanted to ask God to destroy this little village the way God destroyed Sodom in the time of Abraham and Lot. And Jesus said no, leave them alone.

What can we learn about “spiritual packing” from this part of the story? Just as messengers went in front of Jesus on his journey, anywhere we go with the gospel, God has already been working. Sometimes the people are ready, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they receive us with open arms; sometimes they turn their backs. But that is not our concern, we are to neither condemn nor punish those who aren’t ready; nor are we to take credit when we and the gospel are received. This part of the story teaches us that when we pack for a journey with Jesus, we leave out our egos, our pride, our anger and our judgment of others. We put into our pack: humility and love, gentleness and kindness, and a deep awareness that God is with us, all the way, all the time.

In the last part of the story, people come out of the crowd to talk with Jesus as he walks along past the village. All these encounters have to do with excuses, or reasons, people think they don’t have time to follow Jesus.

A man says “I’ll follow you anywhere.” Jesus responds by warning him it’s a life without a permanent home. Foxes have holes, etc.

Jesus then invites a different man to follow, but this man says he has to bury his father first. It’s important to know his father is very much alive. What he means is, “Let me fulfill all my family obligations, then I’ll follow you.” Jesus tells him “Let the dead bury the dead.” .”

Next, someone says, “Let me first go home and say good bye.” Jesus replies with famous words about not looking back while plowing.

In these three encounters, Jesus calls us to leave behind one set of obligations and duties in order to take on a different set. Jesus calls us to unpack and leave behind nationalism and racism and social propriety in order to embrace a kingdom that includes all people of all races and colors and languages from all over the world.

He invites us to leave behind selfish and narrow and localized devotion in order to put in our pack a sense of love and duty for the salvation of the entire world, not just our little corner of it.

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he turned his back on Nazareth, on the land around the Sea of Galilee, on his life as a carpenter and small town teacher and preacher.

When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew he was going to his death, he knew he was, from that very moment, walking to the cross.

And he invites us to go with him. He invites us, calls us to follow him to Jerusalem, to the Cross. He invites us to unpack all the small but heavy and burdensome things that keep us from loving God and each other completely and fully and passionately.

Jesus invites us to drop the burdens that weigh us down, to throw aside the cares and concerns that hold us back, to cast away the judgments and hatreds that turn us away from God and toward the world.

Jesus invites us to empty our hands of all that so that we can take up our cross and gladly follow him. When we have empty hands, we can reach out to others. When we remove the hate from our hearts, we have room for love. When we take the judgment out of our eyes, we then see others as God sees them, as precious children in need of love and forgiveness.

The way of the cross is not easy, but it is the way we have been called to follow. Can you hear Christ calling you now? Saying in the still quiet of your heart; “Drop everything that is holding you back and follow, follow me to Jerusalem, follow me to Love.”

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

  1. Pingback: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C, Proper 8) | The Lectionary Lab

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