Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62
En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
I want to begin with a shout-out to Jae, our Organist-Director of Music, for the music he chooses for us every Sunday, but especially this Sunday. The hymns today are replete with phrases and concepts to pray with and ponder. I have done so this past week preparing for today and I commend them to you to enrich your prayers this week.
We pray that Teddy is continuously surrounded by the body of Christ wherever he is so that he is encouraged to discern his unique gifts from God, nourish them in the body and blood of Christ, and in his community of faith, so that he may serve God and neighbor, held in grace, prayer, and the power of love, all his days.
I want to hold up one phrase from our Sequence Hymn: “Where generation, class, or race divide us to our shame, [God] sees not labels but a face, a person, and a name.” (H-603, v 3) It connected immediately for me to our gospel story where Jesus has his “face set to Jerusalem.” Jesus was immediately personified for me. His labels of Messiah, Christ, God Incarnate – fell away and he became a face, a person, and a name.
Jesus had disrupted the status quo and the powers that be were about to set it back again – and he knew it. Yet he went anyway.
The phrase “setting your face” to something was a commonly used idiom showing commitment and resolve to do something. It’s one of several idioms used by Luke in telling this story.
Another one is: “to bury one’s father” which specifically refers to a son’s duty to remain with his parents to care for them until they die. This phrase offers a variety of ways to understand it. Given how Jesus teaches, it’s probably all of them, so let’s take a quick look at a few of them.
First, this might have been an excuse, ‘I’ll follow you soon, but not now,’ kind of like St. Augustine’s famous wayward prayer: “Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet” as he continued enjoying his roguish lifestyle.
It may have been that Jesus was reminding his listeners that, "No ministrations could help the dead. [It is the] living [who] need… the proclamation of God's kingdom" as theologian James Horn said. Source: Horn, James G., Lectionary Bible Studies, "The Year of Luke," Pentecost 1, Study Book, (Augsburg-Fortress, 1976), 46. Jesus followed this admonition with a suggestion to go and proclaim the kingdom of God instead.
Finally, in response to the follower who wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Jesus, Luke employs the idiom "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." That was a hard “no” from Jesus. A more understandable example in our time might be a driver who tends to turn around to check on those in the back seat while driving. That driver risks veering the car off the road and crashing, killing everyone in his car. That person wouldn’t be fit to drive.
The Spirit calls us to go where we are led not to look back and cling to where we have been. As much as we’d like to think we’re all good at multi-tasking, we aren’t. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. We can switch back and forth, some more quickly than others, but Jesus is asking us to stay focused on just this one thing: proclaiming the kingdom of God on the earth through Jesus, the Christ.
In Jesus’ time, the man asking about saying goodbye to his family would need their permission to go. Go where? Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." No responsible elder would let a young man follow a prophet to nowhere. This might have been a face-saving excuse, or it might have been Jesus re-prioritizing a cultural-religious norm: not even family takes priority over God’s call on your life.
I remember when I finally decided to go to seminary, getting yelled at by family members who said I was being irresponsible asking Steve to leave his job, the kids to leave their friends, and risking financial ruin – all of which happened. But you need to know that my whole family supported the choice to risk everything to answer the call God had placed on me. It cost them a lot, but the choice was clear for all of us. This is the kind of choice Jesus is asking the man in the gospel story to understand.
May we always trust the Spirit, in all Her wild whirl-windiness, to empower us and lead us as we love and serve in the name of God who is Trinity in Unity. Amen.
(Invitation of the family to the font for the Baptism)