I have a whole backlog of sermons that I haven’t gotten around to posting here. (And a backlog of half finished posts on other things.) Being at camp for two weeks, plus two out-of -town conferences, plus supply work in Phoenix just adds up.
But I promised someone in the congregation on Sunday that I would post this one, so post it I shall.
I should also add that I got one of the biggest compliments EVER after church this week. A teenaged boy walked up to me, no adult in sight, and introduced himself. He then volunteered that he liked my sermon and found it interesting.
I can retire now.
Here’s what I said.
June 30, 2013
Ordinary Time, Proper 8
Luke 9: 51-62
As a child, my best friend was Southern Baptist, and we would attend each other’s church events regularly. I have a lot of memories of going to First Southern Baptist of Newport News, but one thing I remember was having a great, all consuming envy of everyone’s Bible cover. Everyone had a very elaborate Bible, number one. Suited to who and what sort of person they were. Young girl, tween, boy, old person, large print, small print, sports themed, princess themed, truck themed, you name it, there was a Bible for you. Then, to top it off, you got to choose a Bible cover of your choice! Patriotic, or floral print, or Veggie Tales, or with an inspiring verse (taken entirely out of context, but I was ten, I didn’t know that.) or your favorite cartoon characters.
The merchandising was fantastic!! Being an Episcopalian, in comparison, did not have near enough stuff to go along with it, to my mind. For my friend and her Southern Evangelical culture, you had all these readily available outward-and-visible-material signs to show the world just how much of a Jesus fan you were. The bumper stickers alone were overwhelming.
The trappings of faith are fun. All the stuff we can point to in and say, “See how much I love Jesus?”
And lest you think this is only a Baptist thing, let me tell you just how many hours Episcopal clergy devote to pouring over vestment catalogues. There are entire blogs.
That’s all the fun stuff. That’s the easy stuff. Someone gave my dog an Episcopal shield collar and leash when I was ordained, which he now sports happily, looking like a reject from JCrew. And each time I take him for a walk, it’s a great point of conversation for the people we run into.
But when you rely too heavily on just the outward stuff, you can run into trouble.
The disciples, bless their hearts, take a long time to figure this out. They go to a town of Samaria that doesn’t turn out to be really friendly to them, and so James and John, who, incidentally, are called “Sons of Thunder” when they appear elsewhere in the gospels. Suggest to Jesus that he call down fire from the sky to consume it! Because that would be great! That would show them.
Fascinatingly, Jesus’s response is not recorded, but I have a few guesses of either what Jesus’ face looked like when he conveyed the wrongheadedness of this plan, or what choice words he used with his disciples to convey the same message.
And then the travelling band runs into two folks who want to join up– thinks this Jesus thing sounds great on the surface, but then….well, not so much. What do you mean, you’re homeless? What do you mean, my relationship with my family, my friends has to change?
In each case, James and John, the two prospective disciples, everyone thinks the surface stuff sounds great! It’s fantastic to talk about Jesus all the time, to say you’re a Christian, to worship Jesus, to buy all the Jesus stuff, and even to hold your relationship with Jesus over other people, to correct them, and feel better than them. That part feels great.
But that stuff is surface. That stuff isn’t a relationship, it’s a spectator sport.
What James and John, and those two that they run into wanted, was for their lives to continue on as they had before, before they ever actually interacted with Jesus. They wanted to keep their homes, they wanted to keep their family and friends stable and James and John wanted to stay just as combative as they had before.
But relationships, real relationships don’t work that way. Whenever we have a real relationship with someone, we change. We are affected. And we can’t just pick and choose how that happens.
When we open ourselves up to a relationship with the living Christ, we will be changed. We will be affected. And we can’t expect our lives to be the same as they were before.
Jesus doesn’t want us to be spectators of faith, he doesn’t want us to stand to the side and watch. He wants us to participate in faith. He wants us to follow him, not just worship him. He wants us to be transformed into disciples who can live out his message in the world.
Our very lives have to breathe the message of Christ, not just our bumper stickers, or our bibles. Our actions, our words and deeds have to speak of God’s love for the world, God’s peace, and God’s justice. Our commitment, our faith has to run deeper than the material trappings of faith. We can’t just talk about how much we like Jesus; we have to actually live lives that reflect our commitment to his example. We have to actually feed the hungry, care for the poor and the sick, give voice to the voiceless, love our enemies.
Otherwise, all we’re doing is buying more stuff. And stuff won’t change the world. Stuff won’t transform lives. Stuff won’t bring healing to what is broken, or bring light into the darkness, or cause justice to flow like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Only God can do that. Stuff can’t. All that surface stuff can’t.
Only the real, transformative power of God can do all that. Can recreate the world into the original good God made. Can transform us, to transform the world.
And that transformation, that relationship, is what we are called to.