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Pentecost 6 June 26, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 6 Proper 8 Year C
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, June 26, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
“For freedom Christ has set us free.”
How amazing is that?
Our God is a God
who created us for freedom . . .
only to see us abuse it,
(remember the story of Adam and Eve,
who used their freedom
          to take for themselves
          the one thing they had not been given).
That damned apple.
The story is a symbol
of humanity’s sad failure
to live responsibly in freedom.
No matter how necessary
rules and laws are
to maintain some semblance of social order,
they don’t solve the problem,
          as is only too evident
                   in the world today.

But God,
who created us for freedom,
has re-created us for freedom
through Christ.
Saint Paul is the great apostle
of that freedom.
If we are in Christ,
we no longer need
a set of rules,
he says,
to tell us what we
should and should not do.
Rules may protect us
from going astray (if we obey them),
but as long as we place our reliance on them
we remain in a state of
spiritual immaturity,
live a tight and constrained life.
But Christ has set us free
to live in freedom,
to grow into the full stature of Christ,
joyfully focused on
the limitless possibilities
of life in the power of the Spirit.

This new freedom
comes with its own
parameters –
not set down as laws,
but revealed in the person
of Jesus,
who was like us in every way,
except that he was not enslaved
by what Paul calls
“the desires of the flesh.”
When Paul says that flesh and Spirit
are opposed to one another,
he isn’t thinking of
a body and soul split,
with the pleasures and desires of bodily life
being a hindrance to holiness.
Jesus, God incarnate,
chose to dwell in human flesh,
proof enough
that God has created our bodies for good.
“Flesh,” as Paul uses the term,
means anything about which we might say,
“it’s the human condition.”
(Remembering how, when God created us,
God saw that “it was good,”
we might add “fallen” to “the human condition.”)

So the works of the “flesh”
are not only physical
          (impurity and licentiousness for instance),
but also emotional
          (jealousy and factions for instance),
and spiritual
          (idolatry and sorcery for instance).
And in every case,
they come from and reinforce
what is the “fallen human condition.”
When the works of the flesh
have power over us,
they corrupt and divide,
threatening to destroy
individuals and communities.
That’s what was happening
in the church
Paul founded in Galatia.
And it continues
to happen
in every aspect of human living
          to this very day,
in the divide between the 1% and the 99%;
in ethnic, cultural, and religious intolerance;
in the dismissal and demonization
          of those “not like us”
          whatever “us” we are talking about.

Like Adam and Eve,
we see only who we are and what we want,
and lose sight of who God is and what God wants.
Who among us has NOT struggled
with at least one of the powers
in Paul’s list of human frailties ?
We can all share in
his lament
in his Letter to the Romans:
“I do not understand my own actions. . . .
I can will what is right,
but I cannot do it.
For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want
is what I do.  . . .
Wretched man that I am!
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”     [Romans 7:15, 18b, 19, 24-25]
Because of our baptism,
we belong to Christ;
Through our baptism,
we have died to self in order to live for Christ;
By our baptism we have been born anew
into the freedom of the Spirit.

Redeemed human nature,
freed from bondage to sin and death,
          (and from bondage to self),
living in the power of the Spirit,
produces the fruits of the Spirit:
          love, joy, peace, patience,
          kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
                   gentleness, self-control.
This freedom is not license
to do whatever we please,
but to do whatever pleases God.
Jesus himself
had all the freedom in the world,
and yet,
“When the days drew near
for him to be taken up”
he “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
He knew it was a dangerous decision.
He was free to choose
not to go,
but how could he proclaim and enact
          God’s kingdom
if he could not proclaim and enact it
          at the very center of the worldly powers
                   that opposed it?

He did what God would have him do,
did what would please God,
          took the risk inherent
          in revealing a way of life
                   opposed to the ways of death . . .
a risk that led to his own death . . .
          and to his resurrection.
For freedom
Christ has set us free . . .
not for self-indulgence,
          but for self-offering,
not for safety,
          but for courage,
not for our own comfort,
          but for the well-being of others . . .
for living in the pattern
          of his own life in this world,
                   for love of God and humankind.
On the journey to Jerusalem,
this section in Luke’s Gospel
          which we now enter,     
the contrast between the way of Jesus
and the way of the world
          and the consequent cost of discipleship
          is continually revealed.

As he set off,
Jesus intended to pass through
a Samaritan village.
Samaritans and Jews
were age-old enemies,
at odds with each other
over whose worship was the true religion
          of the ancient Israelites –
their differences summed up by
their disagreement over
          where the one true God ought to be worshipped. 
For Samaritans, it was Mount Gerazim;
For Jews, the Jerusalem temple.
Jesus was headed for Jerusalem.
The Samaritans wanted nothing to do
with him and his followers
and would not receive them,
despite Middle Eastern rules of hospitality
          to all.
“Lord, do you want us to command fire
to come down from heaven and consume them?”
asked James and John,
remembering perhaps stories
          from Israel’s history
          of false prophets and flaming punishments.

For freedom Christ has set us free:
for love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity,
self-control . . .
not sectarian, cultural, social, religious hatred and violence.
And then there were the
three would-be disciples.
The first,
the “I will follow you
wherever you go” disciple,
swept up by
the excitement of the moment
as Jesus and his followers passed by. 
But enthusiasm
would never last long enough
to support a lifetime of discipleship.
Jesus gave him a hint
of what that would be like:
Even the animals have nests and burrows,
but “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
If you would be a disciple,
you must be prepared to give up
creature comforts, security,
living in the manner to which
you’ve become accustomed –
whatever feels like home.
What would the enthusiastic disciple do?

The second would-be disciple:
the “yes-but” disciple.
Jesus saw in him
something he could work with –
“Follow me,” he said.
The yes-but disciple was willing,
but under Jewish religious law
he had a sacred obligation:
“Let me first bury my father.”
But he was meant to answer
a still higher call.
“Let the dead bury their own dead,”
said Jesus bluntly,
“Your invitation to another way of life,
life in the kingdom of God,
          is now!”
If you would be a disciple,
the kingdom comes first: 
any other obligation,
is secondary.
What would the yes-but disciple do?
The third,
the dutiful disciple:
the “I will follow you,
but first let me say goodbye to my family” disciple.

Like the enthusiastic disciple
he volunteered;
like the yes-but disciple
he valued and honored
          family obligations.
“You can’t look back,” said Jesus.
“If you focus on the past,
the furrow you are plowing into the future
          will be crooked.”
If you would be a disciple,
you must be willing
to let go of attachments
material and emotional:
the ties that bind,
nostalgia for the way things used to be,
expectations for your future.
Discipleship means having but one desire,
          a desire for God’s kingdom.
What would the dutiful disciple do?
Jesus’ treatment
of these would-be followers
seems harsh.
But so is the way to Jerusalem.

For freedom Christ has set us free.
It’s a paradoxical freedom,
as this gospel shows –
Christ draws us out into
the wide open spaces of redeemed life
where the demands of discipleship
          will set before us
difficult choices.
How much easier it would be
if we had a set of rules to guide us,
to help us know
if we are on the right track.
But life in the Spirit
is not a question
of definable right and wrong,
but whether what we are deciding
and what we are doing
is consonant with God’s will.
How can we know?

We can only ask ourselves,
Am I manifesting
the fruits of the Spirit?

We could crouch in a corner
focused on a checklist of rules,
marking which we have kept,
which we have broken,
and add up the score –
What a safe and minimal life we would live,
confined by those constraints.
Or we can risk the open road,
the larger life,
keeping our eyes on Jesus and the Kingdom,
relying on God’s grace
and the guidance of the Spirit
to bend our lives to the pattern of Christ.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Giving our selves away
to dwell in the abundance of God.
What should we do?
We have the freedom to choose.