June 26, 2022
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1,13-25 Luke 9:51-62
In today’s gospel we are told, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” I don’t know any other way to interpret this and this passage, but to say Jesus is focused on doing what needs to be done. He is headed to his own execution. When he tells someone to “follow me,” he means right now – saying to the man whose father died and who wants to first bury his father, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And to the one who wants to first say farewell to his family, Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This is a passage that, for me, reflects the human side of Jesus. He is facing his own death and does not respond with loving kindness to the people who say they want to be his followers. It is easy be blind to the needs of others when we are facing a difficult challenge.
When I was working in Home Health, I answered my phone and learned that one of our aides had arrived at her patient’s home to find that her patient had been shot and killed. Just after receiving this news, someone storms into my office to complain about a dirty restroom. I want to tell her to go clean it up – I don’t. I am certain, however, that my response did not reflect a great deal of concern for what she believed to be an important pressing issue. I did realize that her issue is important, but there are degrees of importance and at that time my mind was set on something much more serious.
Jesus is heading to his death, so I can understand that saying goodbye to family seems inconsequential in the moment. Is Jesus blind to their needs? I think maybe he is, for he is human. It is possible, however, that he knows they are not ready to turn their full attention to doing the work of God.
Jesus has his hand on the plow, and he is not looking back. Having determined it is time for him to sacrifice his life for ours, I imagined he just wants the ordeal to be over. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus says. Not a happy or comforting thought for him to have. We all want a place to lay our heads, a place for rest and respite.
Lately, it feels like the news each day is filled with serious concerns – shooting after shooting, and now the Supreme Court has over turned the Roe v. Wade decision. There is no time for respite. Some people are celebrating, some are mourning, some are filled with rage over this decision. After the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a summary of its resolutions on Abortion and Women’s Reproductive Health was published which says, “The Episcopal Church teaches that ‘all human life is sacred. Hence it is sacred from inception until death.’ … At the same time, since 1967, The Episcopal Church has maintained its ‘unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” This summary further says, “The Church urges dioceses and congregations ‘to give necessary aid and support to all pregnant women.’”
I am not going to speak here for or against the court’s decision; I want, instead, to focus on giving the necessary aid and support to all pregnant women – and to the children who are born into less than desirable circumstances. Already, we have women unable to adequately provide for their children, now there will be more. Already we have children in foster care, now there will be more. What are we going to do to help them? What are we going to do to make sure they are safe and cared for?
In Galatians, Paul tells us to stand firm, for Christ has set us free. He then says, “Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He is not speaking literally, of course, he is speaking of allowing ourselves to be ruled by our desires, for power, money and physical pleasure. Like Jesus, we are to set our face toward our call to give ourselves to others. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit. For, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” He also says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Paul is speaking metaphorically about slavery, but many people are enslaved by poverty. Spiritual care is part of hospice and I once heard a speaker tell a group of hospice workers, ‘You can’t help a person with their spiritual needs when what they need is a bedpan.’ Paul talks about the Spirit’s desires being opposed to the flesh; he is talking about the temptations of the flesh rather then the needs of the flesh. The speaker, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was correct. Before we can address a person’s spiritual needs, we address a person’s physical needs. We all need food, clothing, and shelter. And, we need health care.
I do not want us to read Galatians and become so focused on our spiritual life that we fail to see the needs around us. Today’s gospel may seem to suggest that Jesus says ignore all else and follow me, but what he teaches throughout the gospels is that we are to help those who are less fortunate than we are and to love and have compassion for those in need. Over the past couple of months, we have been having more and more people come to St. Paul’s for assistance. In addition, the number of people coming to our community meals has picked up. In Paul’s letter, kindness and generosity are listed as fruits of the Spirit. Kindness and generosity are especially needed today in a world that is so polarized.
Again, I ask, “What are we going to do to help?” I don’t have the answer, so I pray that you will consider this for yourself and for our parish. How might we be the Body of Christ in the world today?
Let us pray.
Come Holy Spirit into our lives and guide us that we might be the Body of Christ in the world today offering love and hope to those in need and to those facing what feels like unbearable burdens. Help us follow Christ that we might give ourselves to others. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.