Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 30, 2019
[sermon begins after two Bible readings]
Luke 9:51-62 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:1, 13-25 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
We all know that person. The one that makes us belly laugh with a good one-liner – the joke that’s as dry as a bone, hilarious, and often pointed at themselves. My father-in-law Charlie was regularly that guy. Oh sure, there were plenty of dad jokes that we met with groaning and eye rolls. But every so often, there was the one-liner that made us really laugh. Here’s just one example. The hospice care center that took care of Charlie in his dying days is supported by a family candy business that also makes ice cream. Charlie loved ice cream. The last dinner that he ate was a few bites of this special candy ice cream. His oldest son Tony asked him how it was and Charlie quipped, “It’s worth dying for.” There was this pause in the room and then we all just cracked up. That moment was quintessential Charlie – a one-liner that made us laugh while it cut to the heart of things.
There are other kinds of one-liners that cut to the heart of things. The reading from Luke today is full of them. Let’s set the stage a bit. Jesus and the gang had been in Galilee where Jesus’ home town sermon had people wanting to hurl him off a cliff. They left that town but stayed in Galilee for a bit before heading through Samaria to Jerusalem. Today’s reading begins the travel narrative. The travel narrative lasts 10 chapters and begins here with Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem. It’s unclear how long he takes to get there. It also marks a shift in Luke from Jesus’ behavior and actions to Jesus’ teaching and words.
Before we get to his words though, let’s focus on the first one-liner that he responds to. It makes me laugh every time because it’s over-the-top and so very human. James and John arrive at a Samaritan village ahead of Jesus. We’re not privy to what happens there except that the Samaritans don’t receive him. James and John say to Jesus together, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Instead of a one-liner at their own expense, those two misguided disciples launch one together at the expense of the Samaritans. Maybe it made them feel better to practice it ahead of time and to have each other’s company while they repeated it to Jesus. I wonder if their self-righteousness was strengthened since it became shared-righteousness. Ganging up on the people who disagree with us is a pretty common human vice. The trouble is that it’s not too far of a leap from wishing them ill to inflicting vengeance on them ourselves. Christianity has a particularly troubled history with this very thing. Which is ironic given that the Messiah we claim to follow is against raining fire down from the sky to consume people. Verse 55 says that Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” I wish we had his words here. We could frame them and hang them on our walls as words of wisdom whenever we get the urge to take any action that resembles our fellow disciples, James and John. Because we often need that reminder when our most cherished beliefs are rejected.
Here’s one way to think about anger that I read from Desmond Tutu, the archbishop emeritus of South Africa.
“Righteous anger is usually not about oneself. It is about those whom one sees being harmed and whom one wants to help.”
Give Bishop Tutu’s test a try this week when you’re experiencing the rejection of your beliefs. Take that step back and wonder about your reaction and your response in the priorities of discipleship. Perhaps there’s a one-liner, or five, that would cut to the heart of things.
The beginning of the travel narrative doesn’t stop with James and John’s one-liners. Usually Jesus is plainspoken in Luke. Not here. Three times there are followers who want to follow Jesus but just need time to prepare. Three times Jesus responds with comments that leave us scratching our heads. But his comments aren’t totally mysterious. He’s making the point that discipleship is hard. Demands are made on our lives that don’t jive with the idea that all our choices have equal value. And Jesus’ words are going to get harder as the travel narrative continues in Luke. He’ll push on how money is spent, who gets invited to dinner, and where to sit during dinner to surrender privilege.  Two Sundays from now, we’ll even learn about love from a Samaritan, from the very people that James and John wanted to incinerate with heavenly fire.
The one-liners are extreme from Jesus but they get to the heart of the matter. Jesus’ words don’t seem to be philosophical teachings to mull over, journal about, and file away as “good in theory.” Jesus invites followers to re-think the priorities of discipleship. Wait a minute though, what about grace? I can almost hear that question in the room as I write this sermon. Of course, yes, grace. Grace reminds us that we’ll misalign the priorities and that God loves us regardless of what we do or don’t do. Grace also shows us real life moments where we can try again.
The Apostle Paul hones in on this very question of grace and discipleship priorities in the reading today from his letter to the Galatians. He writes:
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You are free, Paul writes. Be slaves to each other through love, Paul writes. When James and John forgot the humanity of the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them. When his followers say they need time to get ready to follow, Jesus reminds them that discipleship is hard. When Paul tells the Galatians that they are free in Christ, at the same time he tells them that their freedom enslaves them to each other through the love of Christ.
Small scale enslavement to our neighbors through the love of Christ looks like the hospice staff and their loving care of my father-in-law as he was dying. Large scale enslavement to our neighbors through love demands taking care of migrant children and families at the border through the love of Christ regardless of whatever you personally think is the political answer to the immigration question. Those kids and their families are as equally deserving as anyone else of the fruits of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Oh yeah, while we’re at it, those people who disagree with you, who reject your deeply held beliefs, the ones that seem so easy to de-humanize on media, in the work place, or in your own family, those people that we’d try to incinerate a la James and John, they are as equally deserving as anyone else of the fruits of the Spirit. That’s the grace part. The grace part that swings all the directions, across all of humanity, in the world that God so loves. The love of God that reorganizes our priorities as disciples. The love of God that set Jesus’ face to Jerusalem. The love of God that frees us. The love of God that calls us to follow.
Song after the Sermon:
The Summons (Will You Come and Follow Me)
John L. Bell & Graham Maule
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
 Luke 4:16-30
 Amy G. Oden. Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, St. Paul School of Theology, Oklahoma City, OK. Commentary on Luke 9:51-62 for June 30, 2019 on WorkingPreacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4101
 The Dalai Llama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy. (New York: Penguin, 2016), 106.
 Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave Podcast for Third Sunday after Pentecost: June 30, 2019.