Sunday, June 26, 2016

Proper 8 C- June 26, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC 
Proper 8 Year C - Sunday -June 26, 2016

 Holy Cross monastery Bell tower
( Photo credit The Rev'd Phil Geliebter)

Our gospel this morning invites us to wrestle with the question of desire: our desire, God’s desire, the desire to be desired. What do we choose as the ultimate goal of our life? In Luke we hear a twice-repeated phrase that sets the tone for Jesus’ discipleship, and sets the standard for ours.  We heard that “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem”. That’s a great phrase for single-mindedness.

Feelings ran deep between Jews and Samaritans, as we can tell by the reaction that James and John had.  But Jesus won’t be sidetracked into an old feud.  His focus is on his mission. No matter how much the disciples fuss he stays the course. His disciples are literally being formed on the road. They learn by doing, by participating, as conscious, active observers and agents of love, compassion, and justice. This can’t happen on cruise control.

Three would-be disciples are introduced.  On the surface Jesus’ words may sound like harsh teaching---especially since the words are addressed to us.  If you want to follow me, you must be prepared, and you must count the cost.  The first person is swept away by his emotions.  His enthusiasm at the sight of the crowds and the privilege of Jesus’ company has obscured the cost that he will have to pay.  Jesus reminds him of the most basic deprivation that must be expected. Like his master, he will be without a place to lay his head.

The next person, when invited to follow Jesus, offers an excuse. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  Jesus looked into the heart of this person and saw that he was making a selfish excuse out of a sacred duty.  Clearly the man’s father wasn’t dead. It was more likely that he wished to wait for his father to die so as not to encounter his father’s opposition to his choice of such a sketchy life with this itinerant rabbi. 

The third person was not rash or selfish.  He had counted the cost. He wasn’t making an excuse.  He was sincere and definite in his intention---but he wanted to delay.  He wanted to say good-bye to his family and friends.  But Jesus reminds him that the time is now. He uses the image of the Palestinian plow.  Because it is so light, it’s guided by only one hand, while the other hand drives the oxen.  This kind of plowing required careful attention.  Any distraction in focus, especially turning to look back, would result in crooked furrows. He invites others to follow him. When they are unable to make the commitment on the spot, Jesus moves on. He’s kingdom-bound and kingdom-driven.

The demands of the Reign of God are both urgent and absolute. That Reign is nothing less than the grace and love-driven transformation of the self and the world. There is no place for the reluctant or half-hearted in this radical calling.  Nothing---whether fear of discomfort and loss, perceived duties and demands, or family ties---should be allowed to detract from it. The three potential followers in the Gospel remind us of just how much we bury our hunger to know ourselves and God beneath our busyness, our routines, our preoccupation with our relationships. The degree to which we have all been seduced by a convenience store brand of Christianity is evident in our response to Jesus’ words.  We pick and choose what we want our discipleship to be---on our terms, on our schedules, with our agenda. Jesus calls on them and us to set our eyes on the kingdom and to commit to it.

Augustine wrote that “Before God can deliver us from ourselves, we must undeceive ourselves.”  Paul, in a wisdom born out of immense personal struggle, articulated the great paradox of faith and freedom.  As long as we live in the flesh, with hearts fixed on the world, relying on our own self-will, we are a slave to the world.  To do what we want, when we want, according to our want, is to be reduced to a self-absorbed slave. So much of our lives are caught up in that tension between fear and longing---even our fear of intimacy with God. In the end, I think what matters most is not how we love God, but how we allow God to love us. Jesus’ clarity is an example for us. All of who he is and what he does is based on his identity as the Beloved of God. This relationship deepens all the dimensions of his life.

Only when we surrender our lives to the power of God can we find the service that is perfect freedom, because in this act of surrender we begin to will what God wills. The compulsion to serve only self, in whatever form it takes and whatever justification we make---that compulsion lessens its grip on us.  Our anxiety, born of self-reliance and self-service, dissipates and is overshadowed by the desire to live freely and fully.  We live for Christ, and hence for one another.  We experience the paradox of rebirth: the giving up of the false self for the gaining of the true self. This shift implies that I want to show up in my life more fully. I want to let go of my old stories and habits. I am willing to be with the truth of whatever I learn about myself. No matter what I feel and what I find, I want to be free and fully alive. When we see, understand, and experience all the self-defeating blockages that have covered our true self’s qualities, they fall away like dead leaves from a live plant, and the fullness of our soul emerges naturally. Only our resistance and fear-based strategies prevent us from showing up and claiming our birthright as children of God.   

The deepening of our relationship to God can take some delightful and surprising turns. It’s like a dance, with a rhythm of hiding and showing, protecting and sharing, of approaches and withdrawals. It is definitely not perpetual ecstasy.

We don’t know what happened to the three potential followers, but we do know that the invitation he gave to them he also gives to us---to be single-minded in our deepest desire, in choosing what best leads to a deepening of God’s love and life in us. +Amen.

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