BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS EPISCOPAL CHURCH
EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF THE RIO GRANDE
SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2010
Lord, take my lips, and speak through them; take our minds, and think with them; take our hearts, and set them on fire with love for You. Amen.
Please be seated.
I am so delighted to be here! Not just in New Mexico, but especially here at St. Michael’s. Brian and Bob and I have been dreaming about this for a very long time, and I know that a lot of you have been involved in making my coming here such a wonderful experience, and the hospitality and warm welcome just means the world to me. Matthew and Pat and others are keeping me safe, and I just so appreciate all that you’ve done.
And, you can imagine how excited I was, after coming here, as I often do, I open up the lectionary to see what I get to preach on, in this wonderful place, after such a long time, and you can imagine how my heart fell when I read the Gospel for today! And, that’s why we have a Lectionary, because there is not a priest in Christendom who wouldn’t preach on this if they didn’t have to!
This is one of those wonderful, honest moments in the life of Jesus, that Luke is revealing to us here, where Jesus seems angry, and frustrated, and short-tempered, and not a little cranky. As well He should have been, and undoubtedly was.
He had had a very successful ministry up until this time, and more and more people coming to hear his message and so on. But, it was also a frustrating time, I’m sure, for Jesus. You know, He’d been with the disciples, arguably not the sharpest knives in the drawer, for three years. And, even in this Gospel, we…we see them just sort of missing the point! Right? They don’t get a very hospitable welcome amongst the Samaritans, against whom the Jews were incredibly discriminatory and hateful. And when they didn’t get such a great welcome, the disciples want to rain down FIRE on them.
And you can sort of imagine Jesus slapping His head, saying “OMG, you know, are these guys ever gonna get it?”And, I suspect that one of the arguments that Jesus made with God, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He was asking that this cup pass from Him, He was arguing, you know:
“Just give me a little more time with these guys. Maybe…MAYBE they will get it!”
But, this is also a very dark and crucial turning point in Jesus’ life. This is where Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem. Now, I actually don’t agree with the rendition of Jesus’ life that we get in the Gospel of John. My quarrel with it is that it makes Jesus sound like He knew everything that was going to happen, and it was just a matter of playing this role out. The picture we get of Jesus in the Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, is that He was truly human, like you and me. And, you and I don’t know what’s going to happen an hour from now, never mind a day or a week or a year from now! Now, I believe, I really BELIEVE in the Incarnation, that God became one of us.
But Jesus was pretty clear, I think, when He set His face to Jerusalem, that if He kept saying the things He was saying, and doing the things He was doing, He was going to get into trouble. He could have stayed in Galilee, and been a wonderful human being, and a good person, and He could have continued healing, but He felt called to go to Jerusalem, the seat of religious and secular power. And, He knew the truth that He had been speaking in the hillsides of the Galilee, He also had to speak to power. And, He KNEW they wouldn’t like it.
So we have to ‘forgive’ Him being a little cranky. We have to understand that He was about to do this very…difficult…thing, EVEN if it exacted a terrible cost. And so…so these people come up to Him, and let’s remember that these are the good people, right? Jesus had nothing but comfort for those who were suffering, those who were poor, those who were marginalized, those who were pushed to the sides of the religion and the culture. I mean, can you imagine what it was like to be a leper and to be approached by Jesus? You know, lepers had to leave their homes and families. They had to live in graveyards or in caves with other lepers. They were required to shout out: “Unclean! Unclean!” to anyone who came close to them.
Can you imagine what it was like to have this itinerant preacher, Whom THEY had heard about, too, not only disregard them shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” but walked up to them and touched them. They hadn’t been touched by another human being since they couldn’t remember when! Jesus had nothing but comfort for those on the margins. But Jesus didn’t mind raising a little Cain with the comfortable. You know, when I was ordained a priest, I was told that my job was to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. And that is EXACTLY what Jesus is doing. These people who come to Him, ostensibly if we take them at their word, wanted to follow Him. What’s wrong with that? But Jesus says to them, “Do you have, do you have ANY idea what will result? I don’t even have a place to lay my head! And it will get much worse than that for you, if You follow me. They wanted, you know, to tie up the loose ends, before they followed Jesus. There were things to be done, there was the field to be plowed, there was the parent to be buried…you know, everybody’s got excuses, don’t we? You know: “I will follow You, when I get it all together. I will follow You when I clean up my life, and you know, and You’ll be proud of me. I will follow You, if You’ll just let me do this one thing first.”What Jesus says is: “The time is now. Fish or cut bait.” And so, they all go away.
It seems to me, that Jesus calls you and me to some sort of Jerusalem, calls us to set our face toward SOME Jerusalem in our lives. And none of us likes it, and neither did Jesus. The difference is, Jesus did it anyway. What kind of Jerusalem might be in YOUR life? Maybe … maybe there’s a relationship that needs tending to; maybe you’ve cut yourself off from a parent, or a child, or a friend. Maybe you’re in a marriage that … that needs some real attention, or maybe you’re in a marriage that … that has caused you so much pain, that you have to face the possibility of not being in it anymore. Maybe you, or someone you love, is addicted to some substance, and it just scares you to death to face it! I speak of that as an alcoholic, when four and a half years ago, I did something that I never thought possible! And you know what, it WASN’T possible just with me. It’s why you have to turn your life over to God, for you to overcome alcoholism. And it’s only way on the other side, you realize what an enormous blessing it is! But somehow, you’ve got to push through the fear. Maybe you’re called to be a painter, or a priest. (God forbid!) Maybe you feel called to own your own business, or maybe you’re called to give up owning your own business, in order to be able to do what God wants you to do. I don’t know what your Jerusalem is, that you are being called to, but I am absolutely sure, as I am standing here, that God is calling you to some sort of difficult thing. You know, I tell my deacons at their ordination, that I EXPECT them to get into some Gospel trouble. And if they’re not in trouble, I wonder if it’s the Gospel that they’re preaching. If you’re not in trouble for being a Christian, are you BEING a Christian? What Jerusalem are you being called to?
And, do you have enough faith that Jesus will be there with you, that you will push against all that fear, all the rationalist stuff that says “Don’t do it!” and do it anyway. I can remember when I was first feeling called to be a bishop, and God and I argued about this for QUITE a while. And, I thought God had lost God’s mind, and … and I can remember saying: “Uh, this is… this is crazy! God, You know that if I do this thing, and by Your grace, am elected to be a bishop, there will be hell to pay. And, all MANNER of awful things will come my way.’” And what God said was: “I know. HOW WELL I know.”
It’s not enough just to do the personal thing. You know, it’s not enough to face our own personal Jerusalems, but you and I are actually called to do more than that. I mean really, think about it. Do you really think that all that God wants from you, all that God hopes for you, is to get to the end of your life having done nothing really, really bad? That’s kind of low expectations, don’t you think? You know, the New Testament Lesson says “For FREEDOM Christ set us free.” Christ died for us for a REASON, to set us free to do the things that God would have us do. Free from fear. FEAR is the biggest enemy of the Gospel, not something else…fear! And, every person in this room has some! And we’re called to do more than just the personal. You know, there’s the old adage about it’s not ENOUGH for good Christian people like us just to pull drowning people out of the river. We have to walk back up upstream, and see who’s throwing them in, in the first place. So, God doesn’t just call you to be a good person, God calls you to do some scary things. I don’t know, you can get involved in environmental stewardship, or you can work with undocumented workers, or you can…I mean, it’s just…the list goes on and on. And, you get to decide WHAT, but you don’t get to decide whether or not you will “just sit around and enjoy being a Christian.” God expects more; God wants more. And, so, here’s the amazing thing? You know, we fear doing these difficult things, without remembering that it is in DOING those difficult things, that we actually MEET God! That’s actually where we get to KNOW God! I said last night, it’s amazing to me that that people love the Beatitudes. You know, blessed be the poor in spirit, blessed be those who hunger and thirst, blessed be those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Why would anybody want that stuff? Because we know in one of those situations, like where we hunger and thirst, we remember we need God. It’s the place where we meet God! That’s the reward! So, we’re called, each one of us, to some kind of a Jerusalem. At the end of the day, I think this is about whether you’re going to be an admirer only of Jesus, or a disciple. You know, it’s…it’s fine for us to come here on Sunday mornings, and slap each other on the back, and say how great it is to see one another, and enjoy the finger food afterwards, and “That Jesus! Didn’t He say some amazing things? Love Him!” And, then go home as if NONE of it had anything to do with your life or mine. Can I just tell you that Jesus does not need any more admirers? There are plenty enough of those to go around. The three guys who approached Jesus in the Gospel today were admirers. They said they wanted to follow Him, but really they didn’t. They weren’t really…they weren’t willing to do the difficult thing. They weren’t willing to pay the price and meet God in the process. So, it’s the question for us, isn’t it? Will we believe that Jesus will come WITH us to Jerusalem? After all, this Savior of ours has been there, and done that.
It reminds me of…do you remember the West Wing show? And, Leo McGarretty was the Chief of Staff, and he was a recovering alcoholic and addict. And, he’s saying to someone about to confront their alcoholism, and he tells them this story about this guy who walking along and falls in a big hole. The guy’s yelling for help, and a doctor comes along, writes a prescription and throws it in the hole. Not much help there. And a priest comes along and hears the guy hollering for help, gets down on his knees, and says a lovely prayer and goes on. No help there. The third guy comes along and jumps in the hole. And the guy says “What did you do THAT for? Now we’re both down here!” And the other guy says: “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.” Jesus has been here before, and knows the way out, and is willing to walk EVERY STEP of the way with us, but we have to be more than an admirer. We have to be disciples. So, what will be for you? Will you be an admirer only, or a disciple? You get to choose! Amen.