Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection, Year C
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61-62
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.” Galatians 5:13-14
Jesus is driven, focused, and more than a little bit impatient in this snippet of a gospel reading appointed for Sunday. In the broader context of Luke’s narrative, we know that he is headed for Jerusalem, that his ministry is in full swing, and that he is dealing with increasing incredulity and stubborn opposition. Sound anything like what church leaders face today? If not, we’re hiding our heads in our carefully constructed “churchy” shells. The good old days are only glimpsed in the rearview mirror, and we’re going full steam ahead into new times and spiritual geography.
The world needs the good news, and it needs it right now! How often do we take a ministry or mission project or initiative through committee and council, only to have it stalled or tabled for further discussion? How often have you heard the words “We tried that 10 years ago, and it didn’t work then.” If you had a dollar for every time someone said it isn’t in the budget, or whether a project might fail, or what portion of the congregation it might anger and alienate, or whether you have the people and space to do it, how wealthy might you be? My suspicion is that your bank account would be significantly fatter.
Some days it can feel like church leaders are at the helm of the Titanic rather than prayerfully and gracefully shepherding the Body of Christ. I get the logic that large institutions–like large ships–are tough to steer and take herculean effort to turn, but I also know that in today’s culture and climate, we must look for new ways of being church and doing ministry. And we’d better do it now rather than later.
We can no longer afford to say “Oh, let’s put this ministry on hold until we figure out whether we ought to look at it again in a new budgetary year or when the next pastor gets here or after we install a new council, or after we’re all dead and gone and our building falls down.” You get the picture, right? We can rationalize any number of reasons to postpone the risky and vulnerable business of being Christ’s hands and feet in the world, of stepping out in faith, and of just doing what we’re called to do. Period.
Look at the disciples in the gospel lesson. They come back to Jesus completely indignant because the Samaritan community won’t welcome them. But why would Samaritans welcome pilgrims headed for Jerusalem? Samaritans didn’t worship there, and to them it wasn’t the right place to worship God anyway. The disciples want Jesus to rain down fire and brimstone on the whole lot of them, but Jesus is already over it and on with his work.
What lesson can we take from this gospel passage? Maybe it has to do with paying attention to Jesus and following his lead. Perhaps it is time to quit planning for failure, hedging our bets, and making excuses. What do we have to lose? Whose church is it anyway? Sure we should plan and be prudent, but folks we also have to be bold and take risks, and we do that best collaboratively and creatively. We’re talking about the gospel here, about God’s saving grace and mercy. We are entrusted with amazing stuff here–not chump change.
That means we change. Or, as Paul tells the young church in Galatians (and I paraphrase), “You’re called to freedom folks, but not comfy navel-gazing and reinforcement of the status quo. You are called to serve one another, to love your neighbor. Quit fussing, get over yourselves, and get on with being the Body of Christ.” After all, we no longer even have the illusion of belonging solely to ourselves and controlling our lives. We have been crucified with Christ, and we are led by Spirit.
Quit digging in your heels. Stop stalling. Love God; serve neighbor. Just do it. Now!
“I will follow you, Lord, but…”
These are the words that cause the trouble and get us “stuck” as the church. Consider crafting a video with your youth or putting together a short presentation (it could be part of your sermon if you like interaction) about the “buts” that get us into trouble as disciples. Invite people to give a laundry list presentation. “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me pay off my debt.” “I will follow you, Lord, but wait until after softball season.” “I will follow you, Lord, but I don’t have any skills. Wait until I figure out what I can do.” You get the idea. Have your “actors” write their “buts” on a sheet of copy paper. After all the “buts” have been presented, say something like this: “In Jesus’ world there are no “buts” that stand between God and us.” Have each person go back through and say, “Not later. NOW!” and tear their paper in half, throwing it in a trash bag. Make the point through drama, video, or an interactive presentation, that no “buts” need come between us and the Lord. Invite the congregation to pledge to “do this thing” and “put some skin in the game,” trusting that the Spirit will equip us all to be about the business of healing the world and sharing the good news.
It’s a battle between the Flesh Works and the Spirit Fruits! If you study the Galatians passage (Galatians 5:1, 13-25), you’ll notice that the works of the flesh outnumber the fruits of the Spirit. How can you and your youth create a skit or game or video based on this passage? What sort of battle might ensue, and how will the fruits of the Spirit triumph? Inquiring minds and your YouTube Channel would like to know!
It’s Fruits of the Spirit time thanks to this week’s epistle reading, and this opportunity is just too good to pass up. Instead of dragging out the fruit basket this year, invite nine volunteers to help you. Find people who enjoy acting and presenting and/or who would work well with the children and are comfortable with “improv.” Assign each one a “spirit fruit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).
Give each person a piece of card stock or poster board decorated like a seed packet on which their “fruit” is written. You can invite them to dress up to play the part however they see fit, or simply to decorate their card. Tell them you want them to be able to tell the children in 50 words or less why each fruit is important for us to cultivate in our “discipleship garden.” If you as the leader can dress as a gardener that would be great! Just remind them that God is the “master gardener.” Call each fruit down “Let’s Make a Deal” style (“Hey, patience! Come on down!). After each “fruit” describes his or her gift and why it is important, plant the fruit “seeds” in a large pot, and offer a blessing over the children. Ask God to cultivate these gifts in their lives as they grow. In fact, ask God to cultivate these gifts in the lives of all congregation members while you’re at it!