Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2013
I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 and Luke 9:51-62
Nearly twenty years ago I participated in a two-year Spiritual Formation program. One our teachers for the week ended each of her sessions with a guided meditation. Each day she would begin by asking us to invite Christ to join us. Each day, my mind would turn to the blonde, blue-eyed Jesus on many church walls. Then I would say to myself, “we know that isn’t what Jesus looked like, but what does the risen Christ look like?” I would follow that rabbit path for a while and realize at some point that I had missed the whole meditation because I couldn’t figure out what Christ looks like. By day five, I was frustrated. She took us into the upper room and said the same words, “invite the Christ to join you.” I thought, “Here we go again” and started to check out when something very strange happened…my grandmother appeared. My grandmother had died the summer before and I adored her. She was a unique person who read the newspaper cover to cover because she wanted to know what was happening in the stock exchange, in the world, and with her beloved Dallas Cowboys. She loved the color purple so much that she drove a purple car. She was opinionated and never shy about expressing her opinions. She was very generous and quietly helped several people who were struggling. She was an officer in the Pilot Club International, a women’s service organization. She was very independent. She married my grandfather when she was in her thirties and never had children of her own. Her father was a minister and she loved that I went to seminary, but she died the year before I was ordained. I went to seminary to be faithful to a powerful call I experienced in high school, but I couldn’t imagine serving a church. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the highly coveted Master of Divinity degree; I just knew it was the next step in my journey.
In the meditation, my grandmother appeared and she was dancing. (She had been in a wheelchair the last years of her life.) She seemed so vibrant. She was laughing, and then she placed a purple stole over my shoulders. I knew she was passing her mantle on to me. After years of struggling with the United Methodist’s exclusion of very talented gays and lesbians, I decided I needed to do something with my MDiv and take a chance that serving a church was right for me. I was going to be ordained the following month. Receiving the mantle from my beloved grandmother was a powerful moment on my journey. The following month, I stood to be ordained as we sang, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” I could feel her with me as a stole was placed over my shoulders and I took vows.
There is a lot in our readings this morning about mantles being passed, following, and being guided by the Spirit. Neither Kings nor Luke glosses over the cost of discipleship and tries to make it look easy. Saying yes is only the beginning of faith. Stewardship is often defined as “everything we do after we say ‘I believe’”. Saying yes is the easy part; it is everything that comes afterward that is difficult. I have been reflecting on marriage as I work with some couples preparing to take those vows to one another. Anyone in a committed relationship understands that the vows are only the first step. Everything we do after we say, “I do” defines our relationship. As we are blessing various ministries this summer, we are asking for a commitment from those we commission. When the words, “I will” are said, those being commissioned turn and face outward to prepare for what comes after the words.
Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples. When the Samaritans do not welcome Jesus, the disciples generously offer to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them.” Boy, if we did that every time things didn’t go our way, there would be no one left in the world! I do have to admit some curiosity about how we “command fire to come down from heaven” but not enough to pursue it. Jesus has already warned them when he sent them out that this would not always be pleasant. He told the disciples to shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next place. In this text, he describes foxes and birds as having homes, but that he is essentially homeless. Jesus is completely dependent on the hospitality of strangers throughout his ministry. He is telling his disciples that this is what following him looks like. These are not pleasant words for those of us who like our comforts. My first outdoor experience included a low-tech backpack, a heavy sleeping bag that wasn’t very warm and a tent. I have since graduated to a pop-up camper and it’s really hard to think of traveling without EVERYTHING I need. Yet the reality is that life will push us all out of our comfort zones. We all find ourselves depending on the care of others at times in our lives. Sometimes this has to do with an illness or an accident that leaves us relying on the goodness of others to get us through. When we are grieving the loss of someone we love, we need the care of those around us to help us take the next steps.
This morning, our adult formation offers us the chance to hear the story of Stephanie Johnson and her work with ABQ Heading Home. It is powerful to witness the love Stephanie’s team has shown the family they are serving. The mother and her children are in a home thanks to the generosity and commitment of a small team of people. It’s a great reminder that we depend on each other to survive…some of us are just more aware of that than others.
There are some folks in the gospel who want to follow Jesus. They tell him that they are committed, but… Ah, yes. We all know the “but” that goes with yes. Frankly, I think burying one’s father is a fairly legitimate “but”. I don’t think the point is to abandon everyone you know. I do think Jesus wants us to understand that this will cost us. It won’t cost us a little. It will cost us a lot. In the end, it will cost us everything. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it very clearly, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Doesn’t that make you want to ask for another option? Can we do this differently? Is there an easier way? Is there any other way?
Jesus ends by telling his followers that they must look ahead. He uses the image of a plow, knowing that looking back means the plow doesn’t move ahead. It seems to me that these are interesting words for us today. They may hit you where you are personally, but they certainly speak to us as a community. There is so much here in this text for us. I haven’t really heard much looking back, except to gratefully acknowledge the many gifts of 30 years of leadership from Brian. Brian was very intentional in passing the mantle on to all of us. We are well equipped for the journey ahead.
We are looking forward as we search for an interim. The search was delayed when our two candidates accepted other positions, but we are continuing to look ahead. We are standing among a great cloud of witnesses in this place at this time. Jesus tells us we must depend on one another and we are. We are showing up in powerful ways and the way will open as we continue to do so.
I was reading a piece by George Mason this week about his being called to Wilshire Baptist Church twenty-four years ago. Some worried that he was too young and too inexperienced. What if he couldn’t handle the challenge of this large church? A deacon in the congregation said, “It’s not whether he is up to the challenge. It’s whether we are. Great pastors don’t make great congregations. Great congregations make great pastors.” (www.alban.org) None of us can deny the breadth and depth we received from Brian. But it is true that that happened because the community called forth those things from him, received them, and grew with him.
In times of transition, we wonder what our next steps should be and we like to make plans. It has been a joy to be part of this amazing body of Christ and trust in the spirit together. In Galatians, we are called to live by the Spirit and be guided by the Spirit. That requires that we prayerfully listen and trust. We are called to do one thing in the reading from Galatians…to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” The life of faith is about loving and following. Neither of those is easy all the time, but both lead us into unexpected places.
Gordon Cosby was the founding pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. When it was founded in the 1940’s it was one of the first interracial churches in that segregated area. Gordon became a chaplain and at Normandy he witnessed young men dying completely unequipped to reflect on life, death, and faith. He decided that if he lived, he would return to the states and start a church that would help people form deep faith. One of the tenets of membership at Church of the Savior is a requirement to serve. As the church grew, Gordon kept his commitment to form disciples and wouldn’t support the church simply getting larger. Instead, he encouraged people to form ministries that served the community. Thirty-seven ministries have grown from this small, but powerful faith community. Gordon said he was sometimes afraid to enter his prayer closet for fear that God would command him to do one more apparently impossible thing. But he went, listened, and obeyed and the “impossible thing” became the next ministry of Church of the Savior. (taken from Christian Century June 26, 2013 and npr.org 4/14/13)
Sometimes I wonder if being called to do the impossible isn’t the whole point of faith. If everything God wanted us to do looked doable, we wouldn’t need God. It is in those places beyond our comfort zone, in those places where we don’t think we have what it takes, in those places where we are lost and waiting for the way to appear that we discover the Spirit sustaining us and calling us forward. It isn’t exactly comfortable to be between rectors, but we keep loving one another and listening for God. We are wearing this beautiful mantle and standing on the shoulders of many wonderful people. Sometimes during communion, I imagine one incredibly long continuous line of all who have come to this table and I see that long line streaming out into the world carrying all this love to each person they meet. It is breathtaking to think of all who walk with us. We are not alone. We wear the mantle together and God is showing us the way, one step at a time.