Illustrations are tricky things. My rector, for example, rarely uses them, and his sermons turn out fine. It’s a difference of preaching styles.
I, on the other hand, like them–mainly because it’s the way my mind works. This thing reminds me of that thing, which reminds me of that concept. However, this can have its pitfalls, because sometimes the image is so weird or idiosyncratic that it distracts from what my actual point was in the first place. For example, I still remember a sermon from when I was a kid that our associate rector in Virginia preached. No idea what the point was, but it had something to do with baby turtles, and the high infant mortality rate as they made their way to the ocean. Lo, these 20+ years later, I don’t remember the point, but I remember those turtles!
This particular week, I ran into a similar problem–let’s make the whole congregation sing a popular Disney song! Although–there was a visiting 4 year old girl in the parish. When she heard mention of Elsa, her head popped up, and she was IN IT for the rest of the sermon.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
June 26, 2016
Ordinary Time, Proper 8
Before I even begin this sermon, I must beg your forgiveness, my family in Christ. The only appropriate illustration I could think of, and believe me when I tell you that I thought long and hard, for many days, on this problem–the only illustration I could think of was from a certain children’s Disney movie named Frozen. This movie is a generous adaptation of the Snow Queen fairy tale, and the Snow Queen herself, Elsa, suffers rejection and misunderstanding as a result of her special “I can freeze things” powers. But finally, she leaves the castle and her village behind, and decides that she will direct her energy towards being awesome on her own terms. And then, friends, she sings “Let it Go”. A song about–letting it go. About breaking with people and places who don’t feed your soul, and resolving to be who you are anyway. Which is a great song, unless countless 4 year olds have been singing it to you for the better part of 2 years, because it is quite the earworm. And see, now that I’ve mentioned it, the song will be stuck in your heads all day. Again, I am deeply sorry.
This story represents a bit of a transition. Up until now, Jesus has been biding his time, healing people, telling stories, and hanging out with the disciples. But now, prompted by the transfiguration, Jesus has an aim, a purpose. Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem, metaphorically and somewhat literally. From here on out, Jesus is headed towards the cross…and all that means.
And that appears to come with some consequences. When the Jesus Show rolls into a Samaritan town, they aren’t thrilled. Remember, Samaritans were a Jewish sect who worship not in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerazim, outside Nablus. The place of worship was a hotly contested issue. So the Samaritans were not inclined to be welcoming to a visiting celebrity rabbi who was headed up to Jerusalem to worship.
This irks James and John (who, let me remind you, were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder.) James and John take this opportunity to really live into their nickname, and ask Jesus if they can go all Elijah on the unfriendly Samaritans, and just burn the living crap out of the village. Jesus yells at them. And since we’re not told what specifically he says, my guess is that it’s fairly R rated. Please to recall–calling down fire on your enemies is not something Jesus condones.
But the larger issue comes forward in these little vignettes, as one by one, they encounter people on the way who would like to follow–but have other things to do. Teacher, I’d love to come along, but what are the accomodations like? Teacher, I’d love to follow, but can I wrap up some loose ends at work first? Teacher, I’d love to come, but what will my family think?
And one by one, Jesus informs them that this isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those who get distracted. Let the dead bury their own dead, he says. You can’t put your hand to the plow and look back.
Now, this sounds sort of harsh. It’s easy to see Jesus as being a bit obsessed with his mission here, and having turned off his pastoral sense. Come on, dude. The guy’s father just died. Give him a little slack.
But what Jesus is saying here is also basically what he said to James and John: Let it go. Don’t put your energy into something that’s already dead. Put your energy towards something that’s alive.
That Samaritan village wasn’t going to welcome them. That’s ok. Who would? Go find them. That guy’s family has already passed on–nothing he can do to change that. That’s fine. What is his life going to be about now?
In other times, Jesus talks about God being a God of the living, not of the dead. And this is another side of that. God calls us to not worry so much about problems and people that are intractable. Don’t hold so tightly to dead things. Turn towards things that give life, that have possibilities.
In other words, don’t keep banging on closed doors. Don’t keep doing things that wound your sense of self. Don’t hang around people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Don’t waste your time on people, places, and things that don’t add life and health to the world and yourself.
Because, in this journey towards Jerusalem, we only have so much time. Jesus is moving with urgency now towards the cross, and we move with urgency in our lives as well, whether we realize it or not. And with our finite time on this earth, our job is to add life and health to this world–not to waste what little energy we have, in the grand scheme of things, on what will not prosper.
But most of all, this is about trust. We have to trust that we can let the dead things go, because God can take care of them, so we don’t have to. God can take care of that person, that project, that issue with which you’ve been struggling so long. Because God’s job is resurrection. That’s what God does–and we can’t.
We can’t breathe new life into dead situations, dead relationships. But God can. Our job is to hand these things over to God, and then concentrate on celebrating and encouraging resurrection where we find it. Where God has already begun to work. The new, baby green shoots of new life. That’s our job.
Not to make new life, but to cheer it on.
So, yes, like Elsa, we have to let some things go. We have to stand up on an icy mountain and declare independence from death. And then, we need to have enough faith to trust that God will bring the spring of new life again–and we will be ready when he does.