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Turning Point

Proper 8C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

The longest day of the year arrived this Tuesday bearing the buoyant promise of summer. Teachers and school kids said goodbye to their classrooms, and many Chicagoans, at long last, enjoyed the advent of some truly beautiful weather. That each subsequent day is now a bit shorter, the sun pulls farther away, and the darkness grows longer, does not register with any but the most gloomy among us.

 In our gospel today, Jesus, too, has reached a decisive turning point. Now, his face is set toward Jerusalem. Jesus is walking toward the cross. The day is growing shorter. Night is coming when all hope seems lost. We are at a hinge point in our gospel, which like the spring and fall equinoxes that govern the seasons on earth is also the point upon which human lives turn either toward death or toward life. Christians from all times and place proclaim, to choose life we must follow Jesus in walking the absurd, preposterous, and foolish way of his cross.

There is real urgency in our readings today. Every moment counts. Don’t look back, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” There’s no time even to say goodbye. For every time there is a season. The time has come for Jesus and the disciples to head toward Jerusalem. In every Christian life, there is a time to enter into mission.

Today’s gospel speaks to any of us who recognize our tendency to put off decisions that have big consequences. It speaks to us who come to Jesus with ready excuses to defer our Christian walk until we are in a better place, or a better time, or when all the stars align. There comes a time to stop making excuses until “I get my stuff figured out.” Are we waiting for others to stand up for those the world rejects? Or will you seize the moment and say God’s love is for all? There comes a time to stop waiting for God’s action, get up on our own two feet, and be the body of Christ.

We heard St. Paul say, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In his famous Treatise on Christian Liberty, Martin Luther succinctly captured the gospel message regarding our freedom as people who have found new life in Christ. He wrote, “A Christian is perfectly free, Lord of all, subject to none. [and] A Christian is perfectly dutiful, servant of all, subject to all.” If you wish to love God then you shall love your neighbor as yourself—but don’t expect all your neighbors to be happy about it.

Luke tells us the moment Jesus turned to the cross met immediate resistance. First the Samaritans, who had been cheering him on, now turn away because they despised Jerusalem, the temple culture, and do not like that he is going there.  Then his own friends, James and John, offended by this rejection are moved to react with violence. Does insult entitle one to inflict injury? Does being right or having a holy cause justify the use of force?

“Elijah had called down fire on the Samaritans; could not Jesus’ followers do the same? Misunderstanding the identity of the one they followed, the disciples mistakenly though they could achieve his ends by violence. How often have those who claimed to be following Christ repeated the mistake of these early disciples? They had yet to learn that violence begets violence, and that Jesus had come to break the cycle of violence by dying and forgiving rather than by killing and exacting vengeance.” [Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Luke- John, p. 216] Jesus was walking the way of the cross, and teaching us to do it too. What was in him was life and the abundance of life. While the disciples, to repeat a statement from Jonathan Swift in 1711: [Show] “They have just enough religion to hate, but not enough to love one another.”

Walking the way of the cross provokes immediate resistance and sabotage. On The Way we are called upon to oppose evil, but also perhaps, to sacrifice things that are good to maintain steady focus upon what is right. Only a tyrant wouldn’t allow saying goodbyes to one’s parents, or to attend to their proper burial. Yet our

Gospel indicates that neither family, nor religious, nor social, nor business obligations, or even patriotism on the approaching Fourth of July weekend, no matter how good they are or mandatory can stand in the way of following Jesus.

In how many testimonies of the Saints do we find talk about all the evil things that were left behind in order to follow Jesus? Jesus also demands that we give up the very best things in our lives to follow him.

“The radicality of Jesus’ words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. Jesus never said to choose him over the devil but to choose him over the family. And the remarkable thing is that those who have done so have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the distance necessary to love them.” (Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation Commentaries p. 144)

As the sun marks the turning of the seasons, so the cross of Christ declares the steadfast love of God that never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end; but arrive new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) The world is cold and lonely and mean. There is so much suffering all around us. Yet the good news of Jesus Christ is we may all find the shelter we so desperately need as we become a living sanctuary of hope and grace to one another by walking the way of the cross. That is why this mission is so urgent. That is why the time for action must be now. Turn and follow me, Jesus says, so the blind may see, to let the prisoners go free, to kiss the lepers clean, and let God’s love be revealed in you.

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