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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 30, 2013

I had been talking to my rector about the possibility of entering the ordination process for quite a while. We had planned for me to do it in 1993. Then word came down from on high that they were putting a moratorium on the process and there would be no one approved from Atlanta the following year. I remember my rector saying, “You can wait a year,” and I remember responding, “Yes, I can”. But it was not to be. The time for going to seminary was now, and I knew it just as soon as the Holy Spirit literally shoved me in the back and pushed me forward. It was a turning point. From then on, I was a woman with a mission – to go to seminary, even if I did not pass the ordination process after I was through. I talked to the bishop, who said it would not give me a leg up on others, but that it would not hurt me either. Then I got recommendations, applied to the seminary and was admitted. Finally I resigned my job. It was scary going to seminary with no certainty I would ever be a priest, but that is where I was called and that is where I went.

Our gospel passage today marks a literal turning point for Jesus. God has told him that it is time to go to Jerusalem; it is time for him to be lifted up, which means it is time for his death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus has sent out the twelve disciples to heal and to proclaim the kingdom o fGod, to get a foretaste of their post-Pentecost mission. Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus has made his first passion prediction of suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. Jesus has been transfigured on the mountaintop in front of Peter, James and John. He has talked with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming departure. Everything is in readiness for this part of Jesus’ journey. He sets his face toward Jerusalem. He is a man with an urgent mission, to give himself for the salvation of the whole world, and no person or circumstance is going to stop him.

Jesus sends his disciples ahead to try and get hospitality in a Samaritan village. It is an odd thing to do because Jews and Samaritans, as we know, did not get along at all. But again, Jesus was sent to save the whole world, including Samaritans. The Samaritans reject Jesus and his followers. They refuse to give them hospitality. James and John are very angry at the rejection, and they want to rain down fire from heaven on the village. Jesus rebukes them. Violence will be used against Jesus, but Jesus is not a man who uses violence against others. That is not part of the character of the kingdom of God. The disciples have apparently forgotten the instructions to shake the dust off their feet as testimony against cities that refuse them hospitality. There will be consequences, Jesus says, but he is content to leave them up to God. It would be tragic indeed if the village is destroyed before the people can be saved. Being a follower of Jesus means giving up revenge and violence, sometimes a hard thing to do.

Along the road to the next village, Jesus encounters three would-be disciples. In this important part of his journey, Jesus believes in truth in advertising. Being a disciple is hard. He has already told the twelve that people who want to be disciples must pick up their crosses daily and follow him. They must be willing to face the same thing Jesus faces in Jerusalem. They must also be least of all and servant of all, giving up any demands for greatness that the culture would value. It is a wonder they are still with him, but their call is strong and they must follow it.

The first potential disciple says he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus warns him that there is no security and no comfort in following him. He is homeless, wandering from place to place, depending on the hospitality of others, and as we have seen not everyone is hospitable.

Jesus calls the second disciple, who wants to go first and bury his father. Even though this duty fulfills the demands of Torah and tradition, it is a distraction to devoted discipleship, says Jesus. His language is harsh – let the dead bury their dead but you go proclaim the kingdom of God. Being a disciple of Jesus means leaving custom and tradition that have defined you all your life behind.

The third man wants to say goodbye to his family. Another distraction. You must come right now, Jesus says. Time is short. If you are plowing and look back, you will swerve and get off the path you are supposed to be following. The same thing will happen if the man looks back to identify with his family instead of identifying with the family of Jesus, who are those who do his will. It must be “first things first”, and the first thing is to follow Jesus.

For a modern day example of a man on a mission no matter the consequences, we can look to Nelson Mandela. Mandela had a single-minded devotion to a democratic South Africa, free of apartheid. He worked for it; he fought for it. Then he went to prison for nearly three decades for his devotion to his cause. After he was released, “he said, “Here I stand before you…as a humble servant of you the people” – just as Jesus was a servant. He was elected president in 1994 and served until 1999. His mission had led him through hell and then out the other side to a new day for his beloved country.

Jesus calls each of us and calls us as a church community to give up our priorities to focus on him and his priority, proclaiming the kingdom of God so that all the world might be saved. It is not easy to relativize all our priorities and make them less important than Jesus’ call on our lives. There are so many distractions for us in the world that it is hard to focus on a single mission. But that is the call of discipleship, to give up relying on anything else for security but God, to take God’s love for us into our daily lives so much that all that we do, we do in Jesus’ name and for the sake of the kingdom.

Being a disciple is costly. Some of us are called to do this from our homes, like the Gerasene demoniac or Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Some of us are called to be wanderers – missionaries to far corners of the earth to spread the good news. Most of us here are called to live a Christian life from our homes, not to take the risks a missionary would have to take for the sake of the kingdom. We are to raise our children, work for justice, share the gospel with others whom our lives touch. But there is risk here too. The gospel is still countercultural. It is against violence and revenge; it is for forgiveness no matter what. It calls us away from the distraction of traditions and customs that get in the way of our devotion to Jesus. It calls us to see ourselves as part of Jesus’ family first, before even our own family. Words and actions on behalf of Jesus are scary to say and do, but that is the cost of discipleship. We must deny our own wills and take up God’s will for us. As a congregation, it is the same. We need to explore what God wants us to do and how well we are living up to that standard. Our mission to the world is the most important priority we have. Church is not just a place of worship and fellowship; it is a place of calling and sending.

Following Jesus to Jerusalem means giving up any illusion of control that we have, even that God is in control of everything, because our world is in chaos. Not everything that happens is part of God’s plan. But we can know this about God because it happened to Jesus – God abides with us in our suffering, will carry us through it and will bring us out on the other side (David Lose).

Check your priorities. Are we people on a single-minded mission? Is following Christ the primary way we judge any action we take or any words we say? Are we willing to risk comfort and security for Christ’s sake? Are we willing to put first things first and go where God leads us, individually and corporately? Jesus is calling us to do his will Are we listening and responding?

   - Rev. Ann Barker



Works Cited:
David Lose, “Out of Control”, Blog Post