The Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: I don't usually give titles to my Sermons. But if I did the title I would give this one would be "Divided Hearts or Undivided Hearts." The subtitle would be "How do we know if our hearts are divided?"
I am going to begin my message this morning in an unusual way. Steve should be able to click on the link and we will listen to a song.
OK, so that song is by an Australian contemporary music duo, Luke and Joel Smallbone, who performs under the name "For King and Country." Some of you may know the brother's well-known sister Rebecca Saint James.
The song, as you might have heard in the chorus, is called "Burn the Ships." I not only like this song because the brothers are Australian, but I also like the story behind the song.
When Courtney, Luke's wife, was pregnant with their second son, she had to deal with acute morning sickness. The doctor gave her some pills to help with the nausea, which started to affect her mentally and she found couldn't stop taking them.
Even after having outpatient therapy at a mental hospital, Courtney kept feeling a pull to the pills. One day, she decided she had to do something symbolic and flush the pills down the toilet. Then she'd be done with the guilt and the shame and feel able to move on with her life.
This song was inspired by that episode. Luke explained to Christian Contemporary Music magazine: "When she was flushing those pills, the analogy of burning the ships came to me: the story of the sailors not wanting to explore the new world, wanting the comforts of their boats. Their leader calls them out and says, 'We've got to burn the ships. This is a new world.'" Luke was referring to an incident that is supposed to have occurred back in the 1500'a.An article I read as I researched this idea tells about the incident this way:
"According to legend, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés issued a rather interesting order to his men as they began their conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519.
The order was simple: Burn the boats.
He wanted his men to realize that they had no opportunity to retreat, so they had to give this fight everything they had. Failure was no longer an option and winning this battle just became that much more important.
There is much debate about the legitimacy of this story, both in reference to the true intentions of Cortés and whether the actual burning took place at all. However, regardless of the accuracy in this particular case, it illustrates an important point which can be applied to almost everything we do."
Now I don't want to get caught up in a discussion about whether or not this incident really happened or whether the conquest of the Aztec nation was an ethical act by the conquistadors.
Luke Smallbone saw his wife's actions as a symbolic gesture that enable her to be free of that thing that was stopping her life from being all it could be. Cutting off the opportunity for falling back into destructive behaviors meant a significant act at a particular moment. It was something she could look back at and mark in her life as the moment she determined to do things differently.
Today in the Revised Common Lectionary there are two readings from Kings which can be used. Both tell something of the life and relationship between Elijah and Elisha.
In the story, we didn't read, is the foundational story about Elisha's call to follow Elijah. One significant thing that happens in that story is that Elisha slaughters and sacrifices the bulls that he has been using to plow his family's fields.
Elisha is basically cutting his ties with his former life and setting himself up to unconditionally follow Elijah. Then in the story from Kings, that we did read we see the results of Elisha not being able to turn back. He determines to follow Elijah until he eventually takes up the mantle of the prophet and he begins his own ministry. Elijah keeps trying to have Elisha stay behind, but Elisha tenaciously determines to continue to follow him.
Then when we read the Epistle from Galatians it is all about making decisions and sticking with them. I am not going to spend a lot of time looking at the negative aspects of life without the spirit as it is outlined in this reading. You can take the Bulletin home with you and read Galatians 5: 16-21 for yourself. Then you might want to take some time to meditate on it for yourself.
I want us to focus on the positive influence of the Holy Spirit. The reading from Galatians makes it clear that if you living in the spirit - or living with the spirit within you - your life should reflect that lifestyle choice. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?
"By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit."
I am sure I am not the only person who has struggled with the day-to-day application of that concept. But we keep seeking to accomplish what we need to and we keep seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance and participation with us.
I have to admit that I need reminding of Luke and Courtney Smallbone, of Elisha, and of Cortes and his conquistadors. I need reminding of Joshua's words to the people of Israel, in Joshua 24: 14-15, when they were on the border of the Promised Land. “Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Sometimes we need a symbolic act to fix in our minds and hearts the decision we have made. Flushing the pills down the toilet as Courtney did. Burning the boats as Cortes did. Slaughtering the oxen as Elisha did. Choosing to be Baptized or Confirmed into the Christian faith. Sometimes we need to declare by a symbolic act that we have an undivided heart.
When it comes to the Gospel reading this morning Luke reminds us once again that Jesus was clear and specific in his words to those who were following him. Jesus is looking for undivided hearts. He is looking for behavior that reflects that the Holy Spirit is within us and guiding our behavior.
He rebukes the disciples - James and John - for wanting to call down fire on the villages that turn Jesus away because that behavior doesn't reflect the Holy Spirit.
He corrects those who want to follow him but feel that they have other priorities. We have talked before about how when we use the word but it eliminates all that comes before it. It would be an interesting exercise to read Luke 9: 57 -61 and count how many buts there are in those verses. Then it would be interesting to do some evaluation on what gets eliminated by the use of those buts. The things that the people Jesus is talking to seem like reasonable reasons for needing a little extra time before responding to what Jesus is asking. Jesus challenges each one of them. He cuts to the heart of the matter and defines how someone with an undivided heart will respond.
Joshua when he is speaking to the People of Israel put is very simply: "Choose this day whom you will serve." He challenged the people to give up the gods with a little g of their ancestors. He also made it clear that the people would have the opportunity to get distracted by the gods of the people already living in the Promised Land. He called on the people to choose God.
I believe we have that choice to make as well. But I believe that sometimes it seems harder for us because the distinctions and distractions we are faced with are more subtle for us. The things that we have to decide about are more like the ones the people Jesus was speaking to in Luke 9. They are good things, reasonable things, things that we might well understand to be culturally correct or expected.
Sometimes, I believe, we find it difficult to choose. Or we take what we think is the easy way out. We decide that both are of equal importance to us.
We often don't want to choose and so we try to give "enough time" to our Christian faith and spiritual practices to ease our consciences and then go on and do the things that we would rather be doing. So we go ahead and dabble in both camps.
Without realizing it or acknowledging it we make room in our hearts for things other than our relationship with Jesus. We divide our hearts and seek to satisfy the call of Jesus while still maintaining our loyalty to other things.
As I end this morning I want to ask us all to consider Joshua's challenge: "choose this day whom you will serve?"
What might be causing you to have a divided heart? If you can identify what draws you away, is there a symbolic action you can take to "burn your boats?"
I would like to close with the Preface for Pentecost:
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike