This sermon was preached on June 30, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9: 51-62
Children’s message: Gather the children and ask them about showing God’s love. In our reading from Galatians today, Paul gave examples of showing God’s love. Love, joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Fruit of the Spirit song.
Think back on a time that you had a moment of clarity-or a defining moment in your life-where you knew that everything from that moment forward would be different. It could be a joyful one such as an engagement, or the birth of a child. Or a promotion in your career. Or it could have been a painful moment, the death of someone beloved, or the ending a significant relationship. Or getting fired, rejected or failing. In all these scenarios-positive or negative-there was a moment when you knew that you couldn’t go back to “before,” everything going forward would be different. One could argue that we have smaller moments like these in our daily lives, but we all have experienced what I would call watershed moments. Where one moment you are living one way and the next, well, everything might seem completely different..
Even when it’s a positive shift, it’s often frightening and so to cope, we try to use the skills and ideas from what we’ve always known to help us to make sense of what could be now ahead. But often what can happen is that those skills and ideas that worked before, now are woefully inadequate or simply not helpful. Such as you suddenly move to a new job of leadership and the relationships with the people on your team can no longer be the same as you have different responsibility and accountability. Or in the absence of a loved one, your routines are disrupted and altered. Daily rhythms are not the same. “The way it had always been” simply isn’t true any more. It’s disorienting to not be able to predict what will happen going forward and it often means resetting your entire framework of living. In other words: the usual stuff ain’t workin’ and it’s time to reevaluate for the future. It might seem painful to shift but staying in what isn’t working has a pain of it’s own.
Our Luke text is such a watershed moment in the gospel, for Jesus and the disciples. Our passage today opens simply and yet dramatically: “Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” This sentence isn’t to tell us geographically where he is on the map. It’s not to mention that Jesus and the disciples will need to stock up on snacks and take a potty break before the next leg of the journey. No, it’s a watershed moment of what the rest of Jesus’ ministry will be like. He’s headed to Jerusalem, his death. He is no longer just the itinerant preacher who says mysterious things like love each other, feed each other, include one another. Now Jesus is serious. There is a sense of urgency to his mission-his days are numbered. Nothing else matters but this focus on Jerusalem and the cross. Traditions are moot, material possessions are a distraction and doing what has always been done won’t work going forward.
This is shift for the disciples that they don’t seem to get. Jesus sends some of them ahead to the Samaritan town to do reconnaissance and take the temperature of the people there. Samaritans and the Jewish people didn’t get along as they both claimed different locations for the true worship of God-which you can imagine was problematic. So naturally, Jesus and his entourage are not well received. In response to rejection, James and John wanted to do what the prophet Elijah did to the worshippers of Baal: rain down fire and brimstone on them. But Jesus says nope-this isn’t what we’re about. That won’t work any more. We’re just going to move on and not worry about them. God’s bigger than all of this and we’ll leave it with God.
Then there are the three would-be followers who each say that they want to follow Jesus but with provisions, conditions and a recurring theme of “but first.” And Jesus each time is clear, those things that they have held dear-religious traditions, family, homes, security-no longer take priority over the mission of God. And maybe they never should have taken priority. But it’s easy to convince ourselves that those things are as important as the work of the kingdom or are the same thing as God’s mission. But in Luke 9, this is a moment of clarity as to what really matters.
The 21st century Church-Church universal-is at a watershed moment in history I believe and like the disciples, I know that I sometimes don’t get it. I want things to stay the same and yet we know, in the mainline protestant churches, attendance is declining, relevancy is waning and the cultural perception of the Christian Church is that we worry more about traditionalism than the kingdom. Theologian Jarslov Pelikan said “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jesus isn’t against tradition-Jesus is reorienting the disciples and us to the reality that the tradition that we most need to adhere to is loving and serving God and neighbor. Rituals, sabbath rules, liturgies, worship services are fine, but they are not the traditions that Jesus most wants us to follow. Jesus understands that we like things to stay the same, but that when we try and keep things the same, it leads to changes that aren’t helpful. Will we cling to those things for the sake of our own security and self-satisfaction or will we shed those “but firsts” and get on the road with Jesus, dying to our own wants and comforts for the sake of the mission-God’s reconciliation and redemption of the entire world through the love of Jesus Christ? In Christ, we are free from whatever keeps us from truly participating in God’s mission. We are free from worrying about ourselves, which is really what the list of “desires of the flesh” in Galatians is about. When we get caught in ego and self-centeredness that list is what happens to us all. But we are free to live in the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit-which are all about focusing on loving and serving God and neighbor and not ourselves.
This is the moment we find ourselves in as God’s Church in 2019. There is indeed urgency. Not to keep the doors open, not to keep the lights on, but to flood the world with this grace, hope and mercy. This mission of the Church matters, and perhaps is more important than ever in our world. And your participation no matter how young or old, no matter what gifts you think you may or may not have, matters. Jesus says so in our baptisms, Jesus says so in the cross and the empty tomb. People of God, our mission in this time and place matters deeply. We are in a watershed moment. Which is actually not new for Our Saviour’s. We’re in a moment like when Our Saviour’s first began ministry in 1960 and people stepped out on faith that this congregation would matter to the work of God’s kingdom in Salt Lake City. We are in a moment like when Our Saviour’s almost closed a few years later but people stepped out on faith and followed God’s mission. We are in a moment where Jesus is calling us to follow where nothing will be the same, where what we have clung to for security and safety over the years will no longer suffice, where the usual stuff we knew may not work, but the Holy Spirit will guide and reveal to us God’s grace and promise to make all things new, and to walk with us into this newness even when we doubt, are scared and uncertain. It’s a watershed moment, life will be different going forward. But we’ve been here before and went forward into God’s future, open to the newness that God offered. Once again, we set our faces to Jesus to be on the road with him, free from what holds us back, and free to be part of the work of the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.