Saturday, June 26, 2010

traveling light

I've been thinking ever since we saw 'Up in the Air' last week. I found the film moving because it was not inspirational. No happy ending. It's a very modern take on life, meaning and superficiality. Because it's not manipulative, it would be a great film for a deep discussion about what really matters.

This sermon comes out of that reflection, and out of spending time with this cranky Jesus. At the second service on Sunday, we don't have bulletins with the text in them - I'll have to slow down and ask folks to turn pages - we'll see how that will go. Such 'bible-study' sermons have been requested, this is the second one I've found a way to incorporate the request. My concern is that some people will appreciate the 'please turn to the Bible' part, but others will just tune out. Confirmation students always tune out when they hear that phrase, so I've discarded it from my teaching.

'Traveling light'
June 27, 2010, Proper 8 – Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:13-25

I wish I could show you a clip from a movie. This film is George Clooney’s “up in the air’ (not to be confused with ‘Up’) – it’s about a man whose life is perfectly stripped down to the essentials – he spends hours traveling for his job as a professional ax-man – he fires people for companies who don’t have the guts to do it themselves. He comes in – delivers the bad news – looks at them so sincerely and recites the appropriate script. Then he flies to the next job. He has a goal – to collect 10 million miles, to have the gold (not fake gold, real goal) frequent flier card. He has a complete system for getting around – everything has to fit into one carry-on suitcase. Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham is lased-focused, so intent on living this life that he has nothing else.
He is saddled with a young woman – to show her the ropes. She is not traveling light – at her first airport check in – she appears dragging a huge, hard sided suitcase. Clooney’s character promptly makes her re-pack into a modern carry-all – and in the process they discard all her comforts – her extra outfits, her extra shoes and even her pillow. During the course of the film we see these two characters trying to figure out what is essential for their lives – what things, what dreams, even what emotions and relationships are necessary.

Jesus is doing the same thing in these passages. He’s on the final leg of his ministry – he knows this. He has turned toward Jerusalem – the city that stones the prophets and where he knows he will face his greatest trial. So he’s heading out. And he’s traveling light. He’s laser-focused on what is to come.

Say here, go the disciples, Jesus, these villagers dissed us – they would not welcome you – should we set them up for fire and pillage? (It is interesting that James and John would figure they had the ability to command fire from heaven – a bit of overkill, maybe?) And Jesus rebuked them – and when on. He’s not getting into that fight – he’s not about retribution for old animosities – he’s not starting up the argument between Jews and Samaritans – that’s an old battle – that’s behind him physically and mentally – that’s not what is important. Focus – Jerusalem – the coming moment.

And so on the march – Jesus, the twelve, and all the others, who love him and have formed a community, on the march. And they meet others, who are drawn by the message and signs and the wonders and the hope. “I will follow you” a man cries with fervor. “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Throw away that pillow – something is going on that is not comfortable, not easy, not expected. This is not a trip in relaxed stages; this is not a quick trip to a Club Med – all inclusive, all the trimmings. This is a long walk – remember it’s done by walking, it’s carrying your own load, it’s being part of an army on the march.

And Jesus invites another – “You there – you long for this – come and follow me.” But family and responsibilities enter into the equation – into the response itself. Not yet, not now – maybe someday – when father, mother, boss, spouse, children, friends, society, - when the question “what do the others think of me?” doesn’t matter – then, then I can follow fully – be on the way – accept the hardships, be part of the fellowship. (Sigh)

Jesus answers: “let the dead bury their own dead. You are called to proclaim.” Not someday, but now. Not somewhere else, but here. And so it goes – “I only want to say farewell, to tie up loose ends.” And Jesus is not particularly pastoral, if you think being pastoral means being nice. He makes a judgment on who is FIT for the kingdom – for whose devotion, whose speed of response, whose focus makes the grade.

What are we to make of this? Jesus is focused – focused on his destination, on Jerusalem – he’s not letting anything get in his way – not old religious conflicts, not the hardship of the journey, not wistfulness for a golden age gone by or concern about the feelings of others. He’s like that laser – aimed in at one spot. And to be that way – he is releasing all those things. He’s traveling light. And in this story we are hearing, I think there’s a message for us.

We desire to be like Jesus. We desire to walk in the way. But we want this commitment on our own terms. We are like those men and women who come up to him in this snippet – I hear your invitation, I will follow you. And Jesus, Jesus, pushes even more – he’s got a full-on focus. It’s all for the kingdom. THAT’s where we have problems.

Our reading from Galatians 5 helps show the way. In this passage Paul draws a picture in light and dark, Spirit and flesh, right and wrong – yes, categories we want to deny these days – we live in the gray, we think. But look at Paul’s words at Galatians 5:19-21– the works of the flesh are obvious – and there’s a long list: the first three are about disastrous sexual conduct, the second pair are about turning our lives over to other consuming interests, then a long set of issues about living in anger, and finally using substances and parties to dull ourselves. And again, we have a warning that people who are living this way are not FIT for the kingdom of God.

So, there are ways of living that make us not fit for the kingdom of God. There are attitudes that Jesus doesn’t want to have on the road with him. If you put your hand to the plow and look back – if you want to travel with Jesus, Jesus is saying – travel light. Paul is saying ‘give up that which doesn’t satisfy, but only pulls you back into selfishness and war, turn away from all those things that confuse you, that eat at your peace of mind.’

And, he gives an alternative: living by the Spirit. (v. 22-25) The Spirit, which we don’t make, we don’t possess and we don’t control – the Spirit, which is all gift – moves in us to lighten our burden, to open our hearts, to teach us how to live. The Spirit of God – is what allows us to – yes – to put our hands to the plow and not look back. To not be so consumed with what others think of us that we can’t find our place on the journey road.

To not be sidetracked by old angers and fights. If anything is practical in these lessons – if there is a takeaway here--it is that to hold on to anger – “call down fire upon them,” to engage enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, dissensions, factions, envy (more words than any other in the list) – to hold on to anger, to be unforgiving, to be that person who will not work at finding a solution – is to have an attitude that is contrary to the kingdom of God. Look at the list of the fruits of the Spirit – these are qualities of letting go – letting go of anger, letting go of the need to be satisfied, yes, even letting go of the past. Crucifying part of ourselves – putting our hand to the plow and not looking back.

We don’t do it on our own. It’s the Spirit, and only the Spirit, that makes us FIT for the kingdom, for traveling light through this life. It’s the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of church and community, of study and friendship that pulls us into this journey, that supports us during this journey and that will guide us to the end of the journey. Ask that Spirit into your life – place those things that trouble you in front of it – and learn to travel light. Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

off to see

Well, sometimes things go well. I won two tickets to the Wizard of Oz for Friday. We have such a long stretch of nothing special to do this summer - and now we have a treat!

Let's see. There's the Ren Faire in Bristol - still to be scheduled.
I have a couple of Saturday's off. That's about it.

Don't ya love the ministry?