1 Kings 2:1-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine
9:51“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62, NRSV)
Let us pray: God our refuge and hope, when race, status, gender, or politics divide us, when despondency and despair haunt and afflict us, when community lies shattered: comfort and convict us with the stillness of your presence, that we may confess all you have done, through Christ to whom we belong and in whom we are one. Amen.
I have a painting that hangs in my office that was given to me almost 25 years ago. It was painted by a youth from a youth group I worked with during seminary. She entitled the painting “Never Turning Back…” It is one of those pieces of art that has so much going on that it is hard to say what it means or what it is about. She painted it to reflect the struggles in her life, some bad choices and a history she wished she could forget. I guess it picks up on the difficulties of life and how we can’t go back and fix them so we might as well move forward, which of course is never that easy. There is something about us that always looks back.
Jesus is moving forward as he begins his final journey to Jerusalem with his disciples. Over their time together Jesus has warned the disciples of the suffering that he will encounter there. Even though the disciples have confessed their faith in him, they call him the Messiah, and they were with him as he was transfigured on the Mountain top with Moses and Elijah, the disciples cannot begin to imagine the horror that awaits Jesus. But Jesus knows. He has “set his face” toward Jerusalem. He moves forward with unwavering determination. It must be that he knows the difficulties of life and how we can’t go back and fix them so by example he has set his face toward Jerusalem.
The first stop on their journey was an unnamed town in Samaria where the people seemed all ready to welcome Jesus and his entourage and support them but they don’t. The villagers must have picked up on Jesus focus, they must have sensed his determination to keep moving forward on to Jerusalem. In the past Jesus was always aware of his surroundings and he was very accepting of the Samaritans, but not this time. The text tells us that the Samaritan villagers “did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” Clearly Jesus is on a mission, he will not be deterred; he will not be delayed – because he set his face toward Jerusalem.
The disciples on the other hand, feel disrespected because the villagers did not offer the proper hospitality they were used to receiving on their previous journeys. James and John, are especially upset at this perceived rejection. So, they impulsively react and demand that Jesus, let them “command fire” to consume the villagers. Their reaction, in true disciple fashion misses the point. The disciples have enjoyed some great success recently because they had been given power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and they had been commissioned to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. James and John must feel especially emboldened because of these recent successes. They must have imagined that they now had the power call down fire from above to destroy the Samaritan villagers who didn’t show the proper respect or hospitality to Jesus.
In their anger James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to destroy the villagers. What a pure human reaction they have. They feel rejected and their gut reaction is to lash out. It is interesting, that when we feel rejected and our view of the way we think things should be is marginalized or called into question, more often than not we respond just like James and John. We immediately view those against us as opponents who must be defeated, displaced, and destroyed.
I certainly can’t explain it, but it seems such a natural response as human beings to lash out with anger at those who reject us or our way of thinking. David Lose, a Lutheran Pastor says, that “‘original insecurity came before original sin,’ as he thinks our existence as mortal, finite, vulnerable beings, we are often scared into thinking that peace and security come from control.” Our world today is especially chaotic and dangerous, and we have so many things to be afraid of. So, in response to our fears and insecurities we believe that in order to be safe and secure we must control whatever and whomever is near us. When things don’t go our way, so often our natural response is to lash out in anger.
Our very human response to lash out at those who do see things the way we do is made even easier when those who do not “agree” with us – that is, they don’t see things the way we do or do what we want – are different from us. And what do we do? We label them as “other” or just as I have done call them “them” – “them vs. us” whether them is because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political views, etc. Once we classify a person as “other” it is as if we then have permission to treat them differently, to not see them, to regard them as less than human, or at least less human than we are. James and John are not the only ones to do this.
We’ve seen way too much evidence of this behavior lately. The mass shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando is a horrific example of what happens when this kind of fear and insecurity turns into hatred. When someone loses their sense of humanity and is able to buy military-grade, semi-automatic guns and he can so easily and carelessly carryout his hatred, his anger and act on his fear. It appears that the Orlando shooter used sexual orientation and ethnicity to turn otherwise innocent people into “other” and to slaughter them.
It was a short year ago, this time last summer in Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist killed innocent African Americans that he deemed as “other” at a bible study in their church because of the color of their skin.
While, these horrific shootings are extreme examples of what we as human beings so easily do to those who reject us or don’t live or act like we want…this tendency to label, exclude, and or destroy has even filtered into the politics and the race for to see who will be President in 2016. Just listen to both sides as they speak in fear-driven tones and are so quickly to define who is in and who is excluded. I hope you notice that it is both sides of the aisle.
Jesus takes this moment, that James and John’s lashed out, as a teachable one! Jesus declares the implications of discipleship and the difficulty in following him. First, though he rebukes them. He responds to their lust for violence by saying that following him will not be easy, saying you must be willing to let go of the past and move on. Reminding them that the work he has to do will not be, accomplished by violence. Violence will not bring in God’s kingdom instead the Kingdom of God will come about in spite of violence, death and murder. Instead, he says, you must be willing to leave your family, friends, and loved ones behind. You bury the dead and move on. There comes a time when you leave the comforts of home, and move into the unknown. Nobody said that the discipleship life would be easy. By following Jesus we learn from his life and his example of his life and mission are a rebuke of the human tendency to solve our problems by violence, to define people as different, and to assume that some people are in and others are out.
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. He is on the move. He is focused on his journey. He is determined to keep moving forward. On his journey he will be falsely accused, unjustly tried, cruelly treated, and brutally executed. The example of this journey is in his response to the chaos and violence of this world is not to deny it or try to control it or defeat it, but rather to respond in love, to love us, to embrace us…even though it will end in his own death…his death on a cross.
That is the heart of the Christian faith, that Jesus, the only son of God, humbled himself, did not try control the world, did not reign down fire from above to destroy the world, did not use violence or vengeance on those who did not see the world as he did, who did not take matters into his own hands but instead prayed to God in his last breath that God’s will be done. Remember what God’s response is? God raised Jesus from the dead, showing us that there is another way. Showing that we do not need to return hate for hate, we do not need to resort to violence out of fear, we do not have degrade others to get ahead.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is another way, we don’t have to turn back to violence, we don’t have to live in fear, because there is an antidote it is courage, it is compassion, and it is love.
May it be so in your life and in mine.
Let us pray: