As I was perusing Facebook the other morning, I couldn’t help but stop a few times to check out the plethora of posts about the Orlando tragedy at the Pulse nightclub, immigration issues, gun control, Brexit, and the undeniably controversial musings of the presidential candidates. One post, by one of my colleagues, from another part of the country, spoke out against some of the political rhetoric floating around out there.
A comment someone posted in her thread was an angry rebuttal from someone, who was obviously on the other side of the political debate. The angry respondent said, “Clergy should avoid posting their political thoughts on social media.” Others chimed in with other viewpoints, and one commenter even wrote, “our faith must inform our politics, our choices, and our entire lives.”
Several days after I read that post I began to reconsider why as a person of faith (as a priest), why shouldn’t I offer commentary about controversial topics going on in the world? Obviously, our faith should influence our politics, our choices, and our entire lives. We all should wrestle with how our faith influences our approach to public and political issues. We all should wrestle with how our faith informs how we spend our time. We all should wrestle with how our faith informs our investment choices. We all should wrestle with how our faith informs our political choices. So maybe, the spiritual dilemma we have before us as Christians in the 21st century is, “What good is it to have faith in God, if that faith does not inform all of life and thus, transform our life?”
The story we hear about in today’s gospel is the narrative of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and that brief excursion he made through a Samaritan village. Jesus was on a mission, to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom with whoever might listen. Jesus was moving toward a goal, because he was on a mission. Jesus was headed out to preach and teach in the capital seat of his own people, where he would be confronted by the religious leaders, and by the social norms of his day.
Jesus’ mission was grounded in non-violence, abundant love, amazing healing, and reconciliation. Jesus did not make this journey to Jerusalem hell bent on changing things by using force, or political maneuvering in order to bring about social change. The principles that led him and his followers on their journey, led to their ultimate fate. Jesus knew that his principles would result in his own death.
When the church embarks on her ministry today, when she takes on the task of sharing with the world the good news of God’s reconciling love I have to wonder, do we understand that the Spirit’s radical call on our lives has the power really to change things? I wonder if we count truly the costs of being disciples of Jesus Christ. To be “sent out” into the world as beacons of reconciling love, there is great risk involved. When we become co-conspirators in God’s mission, we commit to stand against those things that defeat love, mercy, peace, and reconciliation.
The fact that our mission is to partner with God to bring about God’s kingdom, should change how we make choices about caring for one another, about how we invest, about how we love and care for the poor, about how we treat the immigrant, about care for the environment, and yes, about how we vote. Following Jesus is risky and sometimes we favor the role of being“wanna be” disciple vs. the call to be a co-conspirator in God’s mission.
In the Gospel story today, there were three “wanna be” disciples who came up to Jesus and proclaimed their loyalty and willingness to go on mission. The first said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” The second “would be” follower said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” The third “wanna be” disciple said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Even the earliest disciples allowed things to deter them from following the way of Jesus, a life informed and transformed by Jesus’ reconciling love.
To the first wanna be, Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” As a co-conspirator in God’s mission, we must stand for the principles of God’s Kingdom, which often results in being rejected or scorned by our friends. Taking a public stand, volunteering our time, becoming an advocate for the least lost and lonely, or showing up in the midst of tragedy ,and standing in solidarity with the oppressed all based on our faith in Jesus Christ, may give us no place to “lay our head.”
To the second “would be follower” who wanted to go and bury his father, Jesus said, “let the dead bury the dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” The “wanna be” was really asking for an unspecifed and possibly lengthy deferment. Devout Jews in those days had an obligation to bury their parents and so I wonder, were his parents healthy and happy or were they actively dying, or were they already dead and he truly needed to fulfill his cultural obligation. Many of us have put off following the way of Jesus because the excuses related to work, family, or something else often has gotten in the way. When life’s circumstances call for Christians to show up in love and peace, many of us have said, “ I want to follow the way of Jesus, but now is not the time; maybe later.”
To the third “wanna be” disciple Jesus responded, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Many of us have left a job or a home, and as you closed the door on that chapter you said to yourself, I really don’t want to leave. You walked out the door and you waved goodbye to old friends, all the while wishing you could just stay. It is that “looking backward” that distracts us, from the new life that lies ahead. During times of transition, our bodies have often left, but our hearts yearn to come back to the comfort of home and loved ones. When life’s circumstances call for Christians to show up in love and peace, sometimes we look back and yearn for times when, it was just easy to hide our heads and choose to not allow our faith to influence our decisions, choices, and actions.
You know, it is normal for us to get a little tripped up when we accept this Jesus gig that we all signed up for at our baptism. We Christians risk the rejection of our peers when we choose the way of Jesus. Likewise, other things in life can get in the way, of the way of Jesus. Sometimes, we get caught up in looking backward to the “good ole’ days” and we fail to accept the new life God offers us. Honestly, discipleship is difficult, but it is so, because we believe we have to do it all alone.
The way of Jesus, this mission of love, peace, reconciliation, restoration, and mercy that we are on together, is not our mission unaided. God’s work of reconciliation in the world is something we join in with God. God has been and is already working to bring about the Kingdom, even in the midst of life’s tragedies.
Mr. Fred Rogers, that icon of children’s television once commented about how we might deal with tragedies in everyday life. Mr. Rogers said, “Always look for the helpers, because if you look for the helpers, you will know there is hope.” God is at work through first responders who show up in the midst of a terrible tragedy and offer comfort and healing to victims of a mass shooting.
God is present when thousands of blood donors stand in the heat to offer the life giving substance for those who struggle to hold onto fragile life. God is present when unlikely folks show up and provide food and drink to those standing in the blood donation lines. God is present with those who don the garb of angels and by their songs, quiet the ungodly protests of hate and homophobia.
My friends, God is already at work bringing about reconciliation and healing in the world today, but God invites us to come alongside and love as he loves; all in the midst of the evil that gets in the way of God’s love. Following the way of Jesus means we must show up. Scripture tells us that Jesus says to each of us, “Follow me. ” Maybe what he is saying to us is simply this, “come along my friends, and be my helpers.”