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The Advent Breakfast is postponed to Sunday, Dec 8.

Jesus Calls (All) of Us: The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 30, 2019

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

To the first person, Jesus warns: if you want to follow me, there’s no rest.

To the second person, Jesus challenges: rethink your obligations.

To the the third well-meaning would-be follower, Jesus chastises: change your allegiances. Leave your family; there’s no looking back.

I’ll admit that there’s some irony in preaching on this passage the day before a month of me unplugging from everything and taking off for holidays.

All of the readings today come together in complementary ways, but also with some tension. Jesus comes across as uncompromising in the episode from the gospel, meanwhile, but in that Old Testament story about Elijah calling Elisha, the latter asks to say goodbye to his family, and the former — while apparently the original Hebrew is a bit mysterious — his “go back again, for what have I done to you” response probably means something along the lines of “I’m not stopping you.”

Meanwhile, Paul describes the Christian life as one of freedom, after having set aside “the yoke of slavery.” Freedom might not be the word that comes to mind when Jesus says “those who look back aren’t fit for the Kingdom of God.”

So we have some difficult texts to wrestle with today. We might begin by approaching the gospel not as plain lessons to be unthinkingly applied to our lives, but as what it is — a challenging story containing these difficult proverbial sayings that, in our wrestling with them, have the potential to re-orient our lives in light of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about. Scholars will point out that the early Christians still buried their family members, and they still buried people in general reverently. So that warning “let the dead bury their own dead” seems not to have been understood literally. If it had, it probably would have become a mark of the Christian faith to not have any rites of mourning and burial whatsoever. (This might serve as a healthy reminder that, while we are called to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” scripture, this is a deeper, and more complex and sometimes confusing and speculative process than just “following the Bible.” And so we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, rather than with pride and self-satisfaction. Rather than with the kind of attitude we see in the apostles James and John (the “Sons of Thunder” they’re called elsewhere) who deal with inhospitable people by sidling up to Jesus and saying “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Perhaps we could approach this story as describing the call to follow Jesus not as consisting in being constantly busy, and stripping us of our previous relationships, but instead, as a call that embraces all of who we are. As a monk I once knew used to put it, “when God calls us, God calls all of us. God makes use of every part of who we are. God can even make use of those parts of us that we don’t like, or that we’d rather forget. Even those unfortunate bits from our past that we call ‘sins.’ God calls that person, and even those sins can somehow be used in God’s work of salvation.”

I recall, about three years ago, our then-new Bishop Linda came to meet the clergy of our area. And we went around in a circle and said a few words about ourselves. I said that I’d left behind a job managing a CD and DVD store for work in the church. Unlike my coworkers I didn’t go into teaching, or insurance, or technology. From one place that society says is going the way of the dinosaur, to another place that society says is going the way of the dinosaur. I made a joke about how job security hadn’t factored into my sense of following a call. Everyone laughed. And that was followed by a brief period of existential panic. But the principle stands, that our values are re-oriented in light of the coming Kingdom that Jesus spent his time talking about.

And the ‘me’ who followed a call from the record store, I wrestle with today’s gospel making use of what I picked up there. And what comes to mind is how, in the entertainment industry, if someone wants to be hugely popular, or even if someone just wants to make their living as a musician, the amount of albums and tickets that you need to sell is dependent on having millions of what we’d call ‘casual’ fans who like that song they keep hearing on the radio. If you want to put bread on the table you can’t depend on just your most devoted hardcore fans. You need the entire nation to buy in. And that can work for a while. But in five years when tastes change, all those casual fans move on to other things. And bargain bins fill up with what once seemed like ‘the biggest thing.’

The Jesus of today’s gospel speaks in radical terms of how, to change the world, what’s needed aren’t casual fans, and followers who are there one day, and then gone the next. This Jesus is “set[ting] his face to go to Jerusalem.” By which the narrator is saying he’s setting his face to go to his death on the cross. Jesus is knowingly heading to the offering of himself entirely. A “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world,” as the BCP puts it. He gives himself over fully to the Way of love and forgiveness; he gives himself fully to others; and he gives himself fully to God.

Even in our day, Jesus still calls. And though our sacrifice will be imperfect, there is grace in that Jesus still calls, and calls all of who we are. It’s a call to a re-oriented way of life marked by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And these fruits of the Spirit involve, and transform, or transfigure all of who we are… when we answer ‘yes’ to the call to follow. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter