June 26

“…But First,”

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 9:51-62

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Good morning. What a week. Any pastor or preacher will tell you that what you think your sermon for Sunday might look like on Monday or Tuesday can be radically different than what actually develops by Saturday evening. Consider this sermon to be the work of the Holy Spirit in a hurting world. Consider it living into the reality of being a person who must navigate between being living in the world that we have created as human beings and a member of God’s eternal kindom. If we’re being extra specific, consider it me living out my Lutheran identity as both sinner and saint, of this world and the next, of one freed by Christ and bound to serve and love my neighbor because of that freedom.

So first, a check in. How are you? If you just said “good” I bet you were just trying to exchange a pleasantry with me. I once had a therapist who would start every session by asking me “how are you?” to which I would reflexively respond – “good.” We had to work on that. So let me try this again, How are you? Take a second to think about it. The world has been an extra difficult place to be in the past few years, if not the past few weeks and months particularly. If you are a woman, a person of color, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, a parent, or any combination of these identities you may be finding it especially difficult right now.  How are you doing? When is the last time you checked in with yourself to really truly explore how you’re feeling? When is the last time you had a conversation with God? When is the last time you felt supported, whole, cared for? When is the last time you felt the Holy Spirit guiding you forward, or took time to see if you could sense it’s work? It may be hard to identify right off the bat. But really think about a time recently when you have felt God’s presence close to you, making things clearer or more obvious.

As we continue our exploration of Lukan theology this third Sunday after Pentecost, we find ourselves on the road. We might think that this passage is more appropriate for Lent – Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem where he will die. But in this season after Pentecost, when we are constantly reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the world, it is helpful to journey along with Jesus and the disciples. These summer months we will journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, meeting people, hearing their stories, and experiencing Jesus’ teachings and love along the way.

When Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans for a place to stay, John and James are upset. In fact, upset might be too timid a word. They want to condemn the Samaritans by having fire rain down upon them from heaven. They are angry. You might relate to them on any number of issues right now when you feel rejected or displeased with something in our society that shakes your core beliefs. John and James are ready to show the Samaritans what they believe God’s power can do – after all Elijah had done this in response to soldiers who had tried to stop his prophetic mission. But Jesus isn’t Elijah. Jesus isn’t bothered by the Samaritans rejection – he has been rejected by his hometown and this rejection by the Samaritans doesn’t appear to be worth his time. His ministry is not one founded on vengeance – it is one focused on restoration and transformation. He continues on his journey. He moves forward. He can only do what he is called to do if he advances to the next village, the next stop along the way, preaching and teaching to each he comes along. Jesus shows us that while sometimes anger and fury are necessary (see Jesus in the temple) that one must also keep in mind what is at the heart of God – a transformational love which will establish a kin-dom far different than anything we experience out of our own creation.

The gospel lesson once again leads us to see how radically different God’s kin-dom is from our reality when the question of discipleship arises. Jesus is very harsh with those who would be disciples. He reminds them and us how difficult being a disciple really is – no place to call home, no adherence to cultural norms, no time to even say goodbye to your family. Jesus commands a radical shift in understanding what a good life, what a life rooted in God, really is. Jesus’s ministry and the disciples who follow him must be focused on the future and the important task of proclaiming God’s kingdom to the world. Jesus and the disciples are single-minded in the task they have set before them – they cannot be distracted by the worldly demands of what is good or comfortable.

God’s good can be very different from the “good” our social conventions tell us to seek out. Our human good is often rooted in sinful power structures, particularly in using or stratifying people by economic worth, race, or gender. These power structures serve to focus us on human wants and needs over the call of God’s love and justice. It is easy for us to reject those things we consider to be evil in order to be followers of Christ, but sometimes what is more difficult is to reject the things we are told to see as good that keep us from our call to love God and neighbor. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable and even reject some of the things that help us have what our society deems to be the “good life” if we are to truly follow Christ’s command to love.

Lutheran theologian and ethicist Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, author of Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, puts into perspective our drive toward sin and the redemptive quality of Christ’s love in the paradox that is the life of a Christian:

“We are alienated from God and as a consequence of this alienation (sin), we will betray (to some extent) the ways and will of God. Instead of living according to God’s commandments to love God, self, and others, we will live as “selves curved in on self,” captive to self-interest. The profound paradox is that simultaneously, we are saved by God. Salvation frees us from living as “selves curved in on self,” and saves us for loving God, self, others, and this good Earth. God renders us living abodes of God’s justice-making love. This paradox reverberates with power for the good. It means that regardless of our implication in cruel forms of oppression, human beings also are capable of and called to lives of justice-making love.[1]

Just because there is sin, just because there is harm and hurt and destruction does not mean that we are not capable of seeking the ultimate good.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” These are good words to hear this week. It reminds us that as followers of Christ we are not only called to live in line with the Spirit’s ways but that we are to be dynamically involved with the Spirit, moving through life guided by it. Like Jesus who continues to move forward in his ministry even when he encounters obstacles, Paul urges the Galatians to continue their spiritual journey guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Galatians has some very important lessons that can be interpreted for the modern-day church. Paul highlights the tendencies of human nature which continue to repeat themselves generation after generation. Last week, the section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed the false ways human beings try to create hierarchical structures of who is considered to be more or less Christian, or in or out from society, who has power and who is powerless according to their own standards in the name of God. If that doesn’t sound at all familiar, you haven’t been paying attention recently. Our human existence is plagued by the drive toward sin, toward that which directs us away from or interferes with our relationship with God. This week, Paul reminds the Galatians that their commandment from Christ is to love one another, which is obviously something easier said than done.

How will we love our neighbor as ourselves? How? How are we doing it right now? If you are a conscious breathing human adult living in the world today, you can see the many, many, many ways in which we are failing at this. We turn a blind eye to the harm created by exploitative systems. We blame poor people for not wanting to work when the wages offered are not enough to survive on. We witness an unjustified war, rooted in nationalism and economic gain. We fail to give equitable access to healthcare to all people. We helplessly look on as mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting takes place and then are deflated when laws that have been proven to lower gun violence are declared unconstitutional. We are left stunned when bodily autonomy is taken away even when we knew it was coming. There are so many hurting and upset people in this world right now. As we continually experience trauma after trauma, we might begin to feel numb about knowing what to do next. We grieve our present reality and look to the past for guidance on where we’ve been and how we got to this very confusing and challenging place. However, we cannot get stuck on focusing on things that have already happened. We have to face toward the future. Jesus knows that his future lies in Jerusalem. He sets his face toward it. He will spend the next ten chapters of Luke on that trek, teaching and healing people along the way. The work of God’s kindom calls us to continue to move forward in an ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit and our community in order to seek God’s love and justice.

To move forward from this place of despair, our understanding of God must be relational. We cannot hope to have a glimpse of the Kindom here on earth if we refuse to be in relationship with one another. We need to be reminded of the ways that the Spirit is present in our lives and look for its fruits as a means of identifying that which brings us into fuller relationship with one another and with God. Our discipleship is a journey, but it is also an opportunity to learn and care for one another. Listen to the fruits of the spirit again: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. None of these mean anything outside of being in relationship with God and with one another. When one of us is harmed, all of us are harmed. When we have in-fighting about who is right and wrong we run the risk of destroying all. Think back to last week’s reading in Galatians – Paul emphasizes that all of the divisions between people, particularly the ones we place on each other, dissolve in the body of Christ. If we succumb to in-fighting over these human made structures, we weaken our expression of God’s love and ultimately destroy ourselves.

One of my favorite parts of my Lutheran heritage is Luther’s 1520 treatise, The Freedom of a Christian. Luther builds upon the concept that Paul points out to the Galatians in his epistle – you are freed by Christ by the grace of God but with that freedom you are to care for and be in service to your neighbor. The freedom gained through God’s redeeming love in the death and resurrection of Jesus binds us to one another. We are to be in service to, to look out for, to love each other in the way that God loves us. That is what we are here to do. That is what our baptismal vows call us toward. We have to be able to look our neighbor in the eye and treat them with the dignity they deserve in all of their complexities as human beings.

God seeks out the uncomfortable. In Christ, we know that God is intimately familiar with the suffering we endure. God also knows what it means to be in opposition to the human power structures that divert us from God’s will and how costly following Christ can be in those circumstances. God de-stablizes the status quo. God causes us to question those in power about what their motives really are – to use their power for freedom, justice, righteousness, or to hold on to power for power’s sake – to control, to harm, to be indifferent about the suffering of others. If the world does not care about seeking justice for all, we must commit ourselves to live out the body of Christ in the world. In the words of Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, being the body of Christ in the world is a “form of God’s overflowing love embodied in community that acts responsibly in the world on behalf of abundant life for all, especially on behalf of those who are persecuted or marginalized.”[2]

We must continue forward following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our sightline is set on God’s Kindom, a place where joyful abundance, justice, and peace is set forth for all people. We may share in John and James’ fury at being denied what we believe to be the right course of action, but we follow Christ, through the challenges, through the discomforts, through the hardships clinging to one another as siblings sharing in God’s grace and unconditional love.

In closing, I would like to share a prayer from the Rev. Micah Bucey for times such as these. Rev. Bucey is a minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and is author of The Book of Tiny Prayer (you can also find him on Instagram @revmicahb). The prayer is titled “A Tiny Prayer (for those who need to fume today)”:

Let us pray:

May you give yourself the permission you require, knowing that the ground feels shaky, the air feels thick, the future feels scarily uncertain, and then may you reconstitute this anger into action, connecting with those who are also transforming their rage into a radical recommitment to love, trusting that this sparking electric current presently flowing through your body is simply seeking redirection in order to refuel your continued participation in our hopeful revolution.


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


[1] Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D.. Resisting Structural Evil : Love As Ecological-Economic Vocation, 1517 Media, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from bu on 2022-06-25 13:04:39.

[2] Ibid.

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