Sunday, June 30, 2019

Year C Proper 8 2019 Halfway Won't Do

Year C Proper 8, 30 June 2019
St. Cyprian’s Cathedral, Kumasi, Ghana
“Halfway Won’t Work”

Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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.

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." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 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.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, 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 he turned and rebuked them. Then 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 he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own 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."

Your Royal Majesty, Archbishop, Dean, and fellow clergy, thank you for the opportunity to bring you words this day. I greet you in the name of Christ, and have been received as an honored guest on your shore. I thank you for my team of pilgrims from Virginia in the USA, and for our fellow pilgrims from Liverpool.

On behalf of my Bishop, the Right Reverend Susan Goff, I bring greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Virginia. I thank the Archbishop for inviting and hosting us this week, and for his generosity and graciousness. Father Nana Kessie and Archdeacon Joseph Osei are taking wonderful care of us. Last November my parish was honored to receive the Archbishop where he preached and blessed my people. It was a day we will never forget. Many thanks again.

I am a pilgrim. The humorous American writer Ambrose Bierce defined a pilgrim as “a traveller who is taken seriously.” We are not tourists here. My fellow pilgrims from Liverpool and Virginia, are here with intent and purpose. We come in the name of Christ to humbly learn from you our sisters and brothers what you have to teach us about following Christ in your context, and to see first hand the lasting effects and historic legacy of humanity’s inhumanity to our fellow brothers and sisters.

For all the pilgrims who are with us, what we are learning and discussing is life-changing for us. We are travelling in this beautiful state, looking at the legacy and heritage of people thinking that other children of God are less than themselves. At the heart of slavery is a fundamental dismissing of the basic truths we find in the opening chapter of Genesis. God’s Word makes it clear that we all are made in God’s Image. (Gen. 1:27) We all have God’s very breath breathed into our nostrils making us living beings. (Gen. 2:7) And we are our brother’s keeper. We are here to care for our sisters and brothers, not to be master over them. (Gen. 4:9-10) The idea of slavery breaks these foundational concepts from our very beginning of life and our relationship with God.

Currently in my country, there are debates happening about giving Reparations, either money or tangible benefits, to the descendants of those who were enslaved in our country. This discussion began under Abraham Lincoln when he freed the slaves over 150 years ago. Some people believe that nothing needs to be rectified because so much time has passed. Some people are arguing that the longer things go on without something being done makes it far worse as the sins of the past continue on into the future. God’s Word says “The sins of the father become the sins of the son.” (Numbers 14:18, et al) When we do not do something the guilt cannot be washed away. Because we did not do what should have been done a century and a half ago or in the days since, we are still having to deal with the sin of leaving things undone. And this brings me to today’s readings.

The problem with most people is that they want to do things slowly; they want to take baby steps, or half-way measures. This is no good, especially when it comes to following God. There are no step-children of God. We are Children of God and behave thus, or we are not and do not. Someone cannot cross a canyon in two or three jumps! We must be all in, and go the whole distance. Halfway will destroy us.

Today, in our Gospel, we see Jesus rebuking half-way measures three times.

First, he was on his way to Jerusalem to redeem us all. He had “set his face” to Jerusalem. When I am at the market, and accidentally bump into someone it is often  because I have my head turned, looking at something else. I must say, “Excuse me! I am sorry!” Jesus had turned his head to Jerusalem. He was focused. He was determined that his Goal must be done, thanks be to God! The Samaritan Village asked him to linger, so that they might learn and grow. This is a good thing, but Jesus had something more important on his agenda. Discernment is knowing the difference between the Good and the Best. God’s Call is for the Best. The Samaritans did not receive him at all because they wanted more than he could give. They could have had a cookie, but they demanded a whole cake, and so they received nothing.

We see again Jesus rebuking his own disciples. They wanted to smite the Samaritans for not receiving their Lord. Just like the Samaritans took it personally and insulting, so did Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus had instructed them, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer him the other.” Revenge has no place amongst the Children of God. We cannot be halfway on this either. If we seek to get back at those who wrong us, are we any different from those apart from God? We cannot call ourselves Christ’s followers and act like the world at the same time. Albert Einstein, the genius physicist, put it this way, “We cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Halfway transformation will not work for butterflies, and it will not work for us.

Lastly in today’s Gospel, we see people going halfway when Jesus instructs them to “Follow Me.” One gives the excuse that he must go home and bury his father. One says he must go and say goodbye. As a child I heard this as very mean. I thought it meant that Jesus did not care about family obligations. I see now that is nowhere near the truth. On the cross, our Lord looked at the disciple he loved and instructed him to take care of his blessed Mother, Mary. What then is Jesus saying?

In the patriarchal society of Jesus, the man who needed to bury his father might have a father who was not even sick. He was talking about his first allegiance being to his father, and when his father is finally gone, then he will be free to follow Jesus. Jesus knew that it was Now or Never. He had “set his face” to Jerusalem. If he waited, the man would miss it. For the one who wanted to go and say Goodbye, it was much the same.

One of my favorite hymns, one sung by slaves in the United States, goes this way in its second verse:

Come, ye weary, heavy-ladenLost and ruined by the fallIf you tarry 'til you're betterYou will never come at all 
Chorus: I will arise and go to JesusHe will embrace me in His armsIn the arms of my dear SaviorOh, there are ten thousand charms

Like the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, what is stopping us from following Christ RIGHT NOW? Whatever excuse, whatever reason, whatever thing we think is bigger is NOTHING compare to the love of Christ.

Jesus said to the man who wanted to say his Goodbyes, and to us as well, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Once again, this sounds mean or harsh. But Jesus is telling us a Truth. Halfway, turning our heads away to ANYTHING else, will not do what is needed to be done.

Now none of us are fit for the Kingdom. If it were up to us, that is living by Law and not by Grace. But as we follow Christ NOW, as we drop our nets and follow him like Peter and Andrew, he begins the long and slow work of transforming us into his likeness. God knows it is a long process, and that is why WE must not approach it with halfway measures and actions. If we decide to take it slowly, by not being in 100%, we are like the man wanting to go home and bury his father. We need to “Choose this day whom we will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) If we commit 100%, if we do not try to go halfway, then God is faithful to complete the task of bringing us to where we ought to be. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” and everything else will fall into place.

St. Paul in today’s readings from Galatians says this very thing:
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. 
If we are free in Christ, we cannot still act like we are slaves to Sin. We cannot be half-free and half-slave. We are Free. Or we are not. Halfway measures will not work.

In the USA, there is a story told about a man passing a circus. He was impressed watching the elephants working to set up the giant tents. They were so strong and could do such amazing feats of strength. But after they were down, the elephant handlers took them back to where they were staying, and they took a small rope and tied one of their front legs to a stake in the ground.

The man was confused. Surely the elephants could break free of a single rope tied to a small stake in the ground. What was keeping them there? So the man asked the elephant handler. He said that when they were very small they would tie the baby elephant to the stake, and it could not break free. It would continue daily through the rest of their lives. The only thing keeping them from being free was themselves. They had become convinced that they were bound forever.

Are their things in your life that are halfway? Are their things in your life that you need to give over to Christ all the way? Remember, crossing a chasm cannot be done in multiple leaps. Do not be like the elephant, let God in to deliver you from the mindset of slavery. Do not be tempted by ANYONE to think that you are bound, like the poor elephant. You have been set FREE! “For Freedom Christ has set us free!” Thanks be to God! Amen.

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Blessings, Rock