Pentecost 3 June 30, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 3 Proper 8  Year C

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

 

 

From the beginning,

God created us for freedom . . .

 

. . . spread out before our first parents

Adam and Eve

the infinite possibilities

of a blessed and bountiful and holy life

in the Garden of Eden

 

and entrusted them with the freedom

to live in the promise of such a life.

 

And thus was revealed

a seeming flaw in God’s plan . . .

 

 

There was only one bad choice

in all of Eden,

and yet Adam and Eve

used their freedom

to choose it . . .

 

to take the one thing

that God had not given them,

 

that blasted apple.

 

 

And so the very first story

in our scriptures

poses the problem

that underlies all of scripture,

and all of the continuing story

of God and us:

 

our willful failure

to responsibly use

our freedom as God intends.

 

The wide-open, generous, creative, loving

human community envisioned by God

corrupted by our turning away time and again

from the freedom of God

to live in thrall to our own desires.

 

 

Religious law,

in its mission to protect us

from ourselves,

hasn’t solved the problem.

 

Coming, as it does,

from a place of

negativity and fear

it only stunts our spiritual growth.

 

It may keep us

from going astray,

but it also keeps us

in a state of

spiritual immaturity,

 

and the greater possibilities

of an expansive life with God are lost.

 

 

For freedom Christ has set us free,

for only in freedom,

can we grow into the full stature of Christ.

 

This new freedom in Christ

comes with its own

parameters –

 

not set down as laws,

but revealed in the person

of Jesus,

in his words, his actions, his choices.

 

 

Jesus,

who was like us in every way,

except that he was not enslaved to

what Paul called

“the desires of the flesh.”

 

 

“Flesh,” as Paul uses the term,

does not mean the good pleasures

of bodily life

given us by God to enjoy,

but “the flawed human condition,”

our susceptibility to sin.

 

The “works of the flesh”

are distortions of physical, emotional, spiritual life:

 

Yes, physical abuses of freedom

(such as impurity and licentiousness),

but also emotional abuses of freedom

(jealousy and hatred for instance),

and spiritual abuses of freedom

(idolatry and self-indulgence for instance)

 

all of them

coming from and reinforcing

the “flawed human condition.”

 

When the works of the flesh

have power over us,

they corrupt and divide,

damaging and destroying

individuals and communities.

 

 

War in Yemen,

the greed of large corporations,

the failure of governments

to care for the sick, weak, impoverished,

our desecration of the environment.

the treatment of migrants and their children

at our southern borders,

human trafficking,

ethnic, cultural, and religious intolerance.

 

These are the works of the flesh.

 

Who among us has NOT struggled

with at least one of the powers

in Paul’s list of human frailties ?

 

We can all share in

his lament

in his Letter to the Romans:

 

“I do not understand my own actions. . . .

I can will what is right,

but I cannot do it.

For I do not do the good I want,

but the evil I do not want

is what I do.  . . .

 

Wretched man that I am!

Who will rescue me from this body of death?

 

Thanks be to God

through Jesus Christ our Lord!”     [Romans 7:15, 18b, 19, 24-25]

 

For freedom Christ has set us free.

 

Through our baptism,

we have died to self in order to live to Christ;

By our baptism we have been born anew

into the freedom of the Spirit.

 

Redeemed human nature,

freed from bondage to sin and death,

(including bondage to self),

living in the power of the Spirit,

produces the fruits of the Spirit:

love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

gentleness, self-control.

 

 

This freedom is not license

to do whatever we please,

but to do whatever pleases God.

 

Jesus himself

had all the freedom in the world,

and yet, he chose a life

of self-offering service of others.

and,

“When the days drew near

for him to be taken up”

he “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

 

 

He knew it was a fatal decision.

He was free to choose

not to go,

but how could he proclaim and enact

God’s kingdom

if he could not proclaim and enact it

at the very center of the worldly powers

that opposed it?

 

He chose what would further

God’s intent for the human community,

what God would have him do,

he took the risk inherent

in revealing a way of life

opposed to the ways of death . . .

 

a risk that led to his own death . . .

 

and to his resurrection.

 

For freedom

Christ has set us free . . .

 

not for self-indulgence,

but for self-offering,

not for seeking safety,

but for taking risks,

not for our assuring own comfort,

but for assuring the well-being of others . . .

 

for living in the pattern

of Christ’s own life in this world,

for love of God and humankind.

 

 

On the journey to Jerusalem,

this section in Luke’s Gospel

we now enter,

the contrast between the way of Jesus

and the way of the world

and the consequent cost of discipleship

is continually revealed.

 

As he set off,

Jesus intended to stay

in a Samaritan village.

 

Samaritans and Jews

were age-old enemies,

at odds with each other

over whose worship was the true religion

of the ancient Israelites –

 

The Samaritans wanted nothing to do

with Jesus and his followers

and would not receive them,

despite Middle Eastern rules

requiring hospitality to all.

 

“Lord, do you want us to command fire

to come down from heaven and consume them?”

asked James and John,

remembering perhaps stories

from Israel’s history

of false prophets and flaming punishments.

 

 

For freedom Christ has set us free:

 

for love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, generosity,

self-control . . .

 

not for rejecting one another,

enslaving one another,

raining down fire on one another.

 

 

And then there were the

three would-be disciples.

 

The first,

the gung-ho “I will follow you

wherever you go” disciple,

swept up by

the excitement of the moment

as Jesus and his followers passed by.

 

But momentary enthusiasm

would never

support a lifetime of discipleship.

 

Jesus gave him a hint

of what that would be like:

Even the animals have nests and burrows,

but “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

 

 

If you would be a disciple,

you must be prepared to give up

creature comforts, security,

living in the manner to which

you’ve become accustomed –

 

You are free to choose.

 

What would the gung-ho disciple do?

 

 

The second would-be disciple:

the “yes-but” disciple.

 

Jesus saw in him

something he could work with –

“Follow me,” he said.

 

The yes-but disciple was willing,

but under Jewish religious law

he had a sacred obligation:

“Let me first bury my father.”

There was nothing wrong with that.

 

But this was a still higher call.

 

“Let the dead bury their own dead,”

said Jesus bluntly,

“Your invitation to another way of life,

life in the kingdom of God,

is now!”

 

 

If you would be a disciple,

the kingdom comes first:

any other obligation

is secondary.

 

You are free to choose.

 

What would the yes-but disciple do?

 

 

The third,

the dutiful disciple:

the “I will follow you,

but first let me say goodbye to my family” disciple.

 

Like the gung-ho disciple,

he volunteered;

like the yes-but disciple

he valued and honored

family connections and obligations.

 

But, “You can’t look back,” said Jesus.

“If you focus on the past,

the furrow you are plowing into the future

will be crooked.”

 

If you would be a disciple,

you must be willing

to let go of attachments

material and emotional:

the ties that bind,

nostalgia for the way things used to be,

expectations for your future.

 

 

Discipleship means having but one desire,

a desire for God’s kingdom.

 

You are free to choose.

 

What would the dutiful disciple do?

 

 

For freedom Christ has set us free.

 

It’s a paradoxical freedom,

as this gospel shows –

 

Christ draws us out into

the wide open spaces of redeemed life

where the demands of discipleship

will set before us

difficult choices.

 

How much easier it would be

if we had a set of rules to guide us,

to help us know

if we are on the right track.

 

But life in the Spirit

is not a question

of definable right and wrong,

but whether what we are deciding

and what we are doing

is consonant with God’s will.

 

How can we know?

 

We can only ask ourselves,

 

Is my life consonant with God’s work in creation?

 

Does my life fit the pattern of Jesus’ life?

 

Does my life manifest the fruits of the Spirit?

 

We could crouch in a corner
focused on a checklist of rules,

marking which we have kept,

which we have broken,

and add up the score –

 

What a safe and minimal life we would live.

 

Or we can risk the open road,

the daring, larger life,

keeping our eyes on Jesus and the Kingdom,

relying on God’s grace

and the guidance of the Spirit

to bend our lives to the pattern of Christ.

 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,

faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

 

Giving our selves away

to dwell in the abundance of God.

 

What should we do?

 

We are free to choose.

 

 

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