“Full On Commitment”
June 30, 2019 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C
Fred Craddock, a noted theologian, tells of a time when he was preaching in a university church in Oklahoma, when a young woman came up after the service. That night, Dr. Craddock had preached from the passage in which Jesus called his disciples to follow him, and they left everything to follow him. A young woman came up to Dr. Craddock and said she wanted to talk to him. She said, “I’m in med school here, and that sermon clinched what I’ve been struggling with for some time.”
“Dropping out of med school.”
“What do you want to do that for?”
She said she was going to work in the Rio Grande Valley. She said, “I believe that is what God wants me to do.” So, she quit med school. Went to the Rio Grande Valley, sleeps under a piece of tin in the back of a pickup truck, and teaches little children about Jesus everyday while their parents are working in the field. She dropped out of med school for this, and her folks back home in Montana are saying, “What in the world happened?”
Our scripture passages of this day challenge us to reflect on the faith journey that is ours. Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem and invites us to follow. With all the conflict in the Middle East, are we willing to go there? Are we willing to risk our own safety to travel to the site of holiness? Are we so spiritually centred that we will put our lives on the line? Are we so confident that the pilgrimage is something we must do?
Will we make a financial donation to First United Church, in Vancouver’s east side? Will we support the soupateria? Will we give to the Mission and Service fund who give grants to projects that work for justice? Yes – we are heading to Jerusalem with Jesus!
However, we have barely started on our pilgrimage and already we can see that it is not going to be easy. We are going through foreign territory. Following Jesus is no picnic. We venture along with the prostitutes and johns – through polluted lakes, rivers and oceans – beside fentanyl users and the homeless. Are we really willing to put our faith on the line?
Fred Craddock tells of a time when he was teaching at Princeton. In the refrectory, he found a place at a table, and there was a young woman there. “You a student?”
“Yes, I’m a graduate student.”
“In what field?”
“Yes,” she said, and they talked more. She was a Roman Catholic nun – she had not been one for long. She said, “I was a buyer for Macy’s in New York. I had a nice apartment, and everything was just really going my way.” She said, “In fact, I was engaged to be married. About 2 months before the wedding, I had prayed, I had thought, I had prayed, I had thought, I called my fiancé. He came over and I gave him the ring. He didn’t understand, but he took the ring and left. Some time later I was on the subway in New York. I was wearing my nun’s habit, and all the seats were taken. I was standing, holding the strap when I suddenly realized, facing me, holding the strap right in front of me, was her former fiance. I said, “hello.” He said, “Hello,” we both cried and said goodbye again.”
The account in the Gospel of Luke brings to mind similarities between Elijah and Jesus. Both of them have recognized that their lives are reaching their climax, and both have an important journey to make. Both are dealing with disciples who need a strengthening of spirit if they are to carry on their mission. Jesus makes a decision to journey to Jerusalem via Samaria. He is rejected by the Samaritans because he is going to worship in Jerusalem rather that at Mt. Gerizim, their holy sanctuary. Jesus is not discouraged by this rejection. James and John, on the other hand, want to call down from heaven as Elijah did. This would certainly show who Jesus is, just as it revealed God’s presence at Mt. Carmel and changed the people into believers. Yet Jesus responds instead from a clear focus and determination. His parable makes the point that no one ever plowed a straight furrow while looking back over their shoulder. In the same straightforward way Jesus moves on in his ministry and he calls others to join him. We followers of Jesus are reminded that there will be tough choices that require clear vision and determination.
At what point did Jesus seal his fate? Theoretically, right up to his trial, he could have backed out. Even during the trial, he could have defended himself. But he didn’t. Perhaps he didn’t think it was worth the effort. Once he disrupted the temple, he left his opponents no choice but to rid themselves of him. But he didn’t have to go into the temple. He could have stayed in Bethany. Better yet, he could have stayed in Galilee, out in the boonies, where no one expected much religious purity.
Galilee was a bit like Canada’s farther-out provinces of today. The country could tolerate an occasional socialist government in the sticks, in Saskatchewan or Prince Edward Island, but have one in Ontario or British Columbia throws the whole country into an economic depression.
But did Jesus really have that choice? As a male Jew, he was obligated to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. By race and religion, he was committed. Every act led inexorably to another. And once he started on that road, he could not turn back. Not without betraying himself.
It was karma or fate. Once Jesus decided he had to go to Jerusalem, he didn’t look back. Lot’s wife looked back and froze. Jesus didn’t. Nor should we. As followers of Jesus we are to follow the path of the cross.
Fred Craddock tells of the time when he was a pastor and a 30 something year old came up to him and said, “Let’s see now, was it next Sunday that my daughter was going to be baptized?”
Craddock said, “Yeah, next Sunday.”
“Well, she has dance lessons next Sunday.”
Craddock said, “Well, this is Sunday morning.”
“Well, the dance lessons are at 10:30.”
“on Sunday morning?”
Yeah, the dance studio has classes on Sunday morning.”
“On Sunday morning.” That’s what the Mother said, Sunday morning.
“So,” Craddock said, “Then we have a decision to make, don’t we?”
Well, that’s just it. We always have decisions to make between what is good and what is even better. It is not that there is anything wrong with taking dance, or even on Sunday. It is not a matter of choosing between good and evil, but between good and better.
We are called to follow Jesus. Will our ears be open to hear the message? Will we be courageous enough to leave behind our prejudices and long held patterns? Will we be faithful enough to leave behind our friends and loved ones, for the sake of following Christ’s way? May we journey with Jesus. Let us travel to Jerusalem. Amen.