Resources: Workingpreacher.org, June 30, 2019; June 27, 2019 StillSeaking devotional, Tony Robinson
Believe it or not, I’m not really a political person. I consider it to be my duty as a citizen to participate, but I hate all the bickering and posturing. You know what I mean? Can’t the different parties just elect their candidates in August, hit the campaign trail in September, and vote on them in November? Is that too much to ask?
But no; this past week were two debates between the 20 Democratic candidates for President. Then next year, July 13-16, is the Democratic National Convention here in Wisconsin. And a month later, Aug. 24-27, 2020 is the Republic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
So for a year and a half, we’re going to be subjected to bitter and acrimonious tirades on both sides of the spectrum. I am not looking forward to this.
By the time of the National Conventions next year, it will be the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.
Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were beaten, thrown into jail, mocked and scorned so that women would have the right to vote. I would be ashamed not to recognize their sacrifice and refuse to participate in the election and oversight of our government. Voting is our civic duty.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to dread the endless process of getting to Nov. 3, 2020! It’s going to be bloody. But should the followers of Jesus join in the bitter and acrimonious aspect of our citizenship?
Jesus and His disciples were travelling through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. Jesus knew that His time was short; Jerusalem would be the turning point of His life and ministry.
Jesus sent a couple of messengers to a Samaritan village to see if they would put them up for the night. But the Samaritans refused; there was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews; their refusal is not surprising. But James and John, the two disciples called “the Sons of Thunder,” were outraged! Nobody should treat Jesus that way! And so they thundered, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” This request didn’t come out of nowhere. The Prophet Elijah did just that-TWICE- in 1 Kings 18:38 and 2 Kings 1:10.
In 1 Kings 18:38, King Ahab was the king of Samaria; he worshipped foreign idols, not the one true God. Elijah mocked him and his 400 idolatrous priests, saying that their idols had no power. They were just lumps of stone. God is the only power in the universe. So Elijah called down the fires of heaven to come down and destroy their holy shrine, which God did, and then God killed the 400 idolatrous priests for good measure. And shortly thereafter, King Ahab died.
In 2 Kings 1:10, the Samaritan king who replaced Ahab, Ahaziah, also worshipped foreign gods. They just don’t learn, do they? And so Elijah called upon the fires of heaven to come down and consume a Samaritan captain with his 50 soldiers. And then another Samaritan captain with his 50 soldiers. And then God polished off King Ahaziah for good measure.
Elijah was a major prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures. So when Jesus’ disciples, James and John, wanted to call down fire to consume the Samaritans in that village who refused to give them room and board, they were only calling upon a treasured story from their faith. Nothing wrong with that. The Bible told me so. But Jesus and the Bible don’t always agree. Have you ever noticed that?
In this case, Jesus rebuked James and John, and told them to get off their high horses. No matter what Elijah did, you don’t just go around calling on fire to consume those who oppose you. Not if you’re going to follow Me.
In the past decade, there has been a great deal of calling on fire to consume those who oppose us. And I can guarantee that there will be at least 2 more years of it. But as followers of Jesus, we’re not supposed to be calling down fire on anyone. It’s not Jesus’ way.
An interesting thing happens right after this, when Jesus heads down the road to another village. (By the way, that’s sometimes a very effective way of not getting into fights in the next two years: just head down the road to another village. Don’t blame, or antagonize, or try to cast down fire.)
Anyway, what happens when Jesus heads down the trail is that someone comes up- -maybe a disciple, maybe someone who would like to be a follower of Jesus- this person comes up to Jesus and says, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 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.” If you’re going to follow Me, don’t expect to be welcomed.
To another Jesus said, “Follow Me.” But that person replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
This is very interesting. When Jesus’ words were being translated from His native language, Aramaic, into Greek, a letter seems to have been misplaced. In Aramaic, “dead” is just one letter different from the word for “hesitant/unsure”. It makes more sense to translate this as, “Let the hesitant and unsure use a death as an excuse not to follow.”If we’re hesitant, unsure about following Jesus, we’ll find a way not to do it.
In the next verses, a man wants to say good-bye to his family before following Jesus. They are in Samaria; they are already on the road to Jerusalem. That man would have to backtrack a long way- probably all the way to Galilee- before following Jesus. Jesus says you can’t go in two different directions at once. You can’t plow a furrow when the horse is going forward and you’re trying to backtrack. We either follow Jesus or not. Fish or cut bait.
So what does this mean for the next two very unpleasant years? It means that we either follow the ways of Jesus, or we cut bait and go our own direction. We can’t allow bitterness and anger to swallow us, and still be followers of the Prince of Peace.
So how can we be good, responsible citizens who participate in our government, without getting drawn into calling down the fires of heaven upon our opponents? Especially in these days, when injustice seems so rampant, with the migrant children captive in hot, brutal camps, sleeping on the concrete with no blanket, no showers, no soap, no toothbrushes, not enough food, and not enough water. No play time. No education time.
We cannot be quiet when such things are happening in our name. You have to know, if I were given the chance to call down the fires of heaven in this case, I would certainly want to. But how do we call out injustice without adding to the polarization of our nation?
Tony Robinson, a UCC minister who wrote a devotional last Thursday, had some interesting thoughts.
The scripture he was working from was 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith- whether we are doing what Jesus would have us do. Deeply look into our own hearts to see what our motivations are- if we’re just reacting out of our own anger, or frustration, or self-righteousness- calling down the fires of heaven because it feels good- or if we are doing what Jesus would do.
In 12-Step meetings like AA, we do this within ourselves, and then in the presence of trusted companions, to hold ourselves accountable. Some of our actions may be godly; some of them may just arise out of our frustration, which exhibits itself in anger. But before we enter into the fray, we need to know where inside ourselves it’s coming from.
Jesus got angry- very angry to the point that he was turning over tables. The exhibition of anger is not wrong for a Christian. But our anger needs to be in the service of making actual change, otherwise all we’re doing is adding fuel to the fires of public discourse.
If we understand this about ourselves, then we can respond appropriately. Sometimes Jesus knocked over tables; sometimes He debated publicly; sometimes He was a silent witness. There is no one way to follow Jesus, but it always starts with understanding who we are and what would actually change the situation.
- Contacting our Senators and Representatives? That’s always a good way to start.
- If we choose to confront those with whom we disagree, do it with respect,
knowing that the person across from us is not an inhuman, uncompassionate, idiotic creature,
but just someone who sees things differently from us?
- Maybe we could listen for common ways to move forward that respects the other’s opinion,
but doesn’t necessarily agree with it?
I don’t know… What are some other ways you could imagine yourself following Jesus in a divided, angry time?
(ideas from the congregation…)
Following Jesus is a creative and courageous act. I don’t have any magic bullet to get us through the next two years as respectful, peaceful people, or changing the treatment of immigrants and their children. But I’m pretty sure that whatever we do, we need to understand what drives us, and then to put Jesus in front of our eyes before we open our mouths.
Because, dear friends, it’s not our place to call the fires of heaven down to consume our opponents. It’s our place to find a way to love them, no matter what. Ultimately, that is what will effect change.
In the Name of the One who loves us- no matter what- and will never let us go. Even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR JUNE 30, 2019 LUKE 9:51-62
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. And Jesus sent some messengers ahead of Him.
On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for Him. But the Samaritans did not receive Jesus, because His face was set toward Jerusalem.
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?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 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.”
To another Jesus said, “Follow Me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
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.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.