Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25 1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62 51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Where do you get your news? How do you know what’s going on in the world? Many people no longer watch the nightly news broadcasts. Many no longer read the newspapers or news magazines. Some never did! Some have always received their news by listening to what their friends are saying, and that really hasn’t changed all that much. What has changed is the scope of whom we might call friends, how we listen, and the different ways our friends are talking.
I know that several men from this congregation get together for coffee on Friday mornings. I’m not sure what all they talk about, because if I show up, I’m quite sure the conversation changes… at least a little bit! Imagine the days before newspapers, or the days before most people could read at all, and the only way to get any news was by listening to what people said—days like when the Bible was written. Contrast that with today.
Today, people still say things, but now they are able to say them in many different ways—and what they say is not limited to those who are in the same vicinity… or even in the same time. I can see today what Robert Kennedy said on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. I didn’t have time to find a recording, though I believe there must be one, but this is what he said that day: (Please excuse me for where the language seems insensitive. Things have changed a bit in the last 51 years, and I am reading the text as I found it.)
This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by his assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero, and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek—as do we—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Robert was a candidate for president at the time of this speech. Two months and one day later, he, too, was assassinated and did not survive.
You may have noticed that I titled today’s message, “When We Bite and Devour.” These words come not from the Gospel reading, but from the Second reading included in the letter to the Galatians. I chose the title partly because of the political climate in our country today, and the biting nastiness some of our political leaders do not refrain from using in very public ways. I chose it partly because of the national holiday coming on Thursday. I chose it partly because of the climate in our congregation, as grudges are sometimes fed and nourished rather than let go to starve in the practice of forgiveness and change. I chose it partly because of what I’ve been reading on “The Superior People Page” on Facebook, where I see people reacting to the new bicycle lanes on Hammond, and the noted tendencies of bicycle riders on our streets to avoid obeying traffic lights and signs. There, too, I read of violence and vandalism in our city parks, the lack of safe facilities for youth who are not highly-scheduled in summer recreational activities, and certain predatory lending available locally. Of course, there are also the ever-present complaints about pretty much anything and everything!
There are also some positives, but I’ll not share them today!
Today’s Gospel reading has Jesus reacting to the vow one makes to follow Jesus wherever he goes with the enigmatic statement that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Is that a complaint, a refusal, or primarily a statement to warn the speaker of what might be ahead, so the speaker has a better idea what it might actually mean to follow Jesus? Then Jesus says to someone else, “Follow me,” and that one says, “Just a minute,” and is practically accused of not being committed enough.
The question really comes down to how we follow Jesus. There’s a picture published on Twitter of someone holding a small poster: black background with white words. In normal-sized print it says, “Thoughts + prayers”(—I read the plus sign as an and). Then there’s another +(another and), which is followed by a (probably) quadruple-sized word in all caps—it says “ACTION”.
I read it generically, and only later learned that the sign is specifically intended for people to work towards racial justice—which becomes more appropriate with my quote from Kennedy… However, that doesn’t stop us from using the poster more broadly.
Usually, we can control our own actions, our own responses. We might not be able to change what first occurs to us in our minds when we see or hear or read something, but we can (usually) stop and explore a bit further before spewing forth our first gut reaction. We could respond to Jesus’ sentence about holes and nests with a depressed, “I guess that means, ‘no,’ then,” and walk away. We could get all up in arms about looking back while plowing if we think following Jesus means we never get to see our families again.
What can we do to follow Jesus? The hymn we will soon sing starts with some generic descriptions like letting God’s name be known and living God’s life, caring for both the cruel and the kind, and enduring the stares of haters. Then there are more specifics, letting the blinded see, setting the prisoners free, and kissing the lepers clean. Then it moves back to the more generic. The thing is, no one else can fully predict or control how you follow Jesus.
Paul’s writing in the letter to the Galatians is quite helpful, here, because reacting in violence, biting and devouring one another whether within a confined community or on the political stage is not going to do it. Calling fire and brimstone down on a people that rejects Jesus in some way is not going to do it.
We follow Jesus by choosing our actions and reactions in everyday life and in everyday living well. We can choose whether or not to perpetrate violence and vandalism, or we can choose another way, even when it is not easy. We can choose to nourish a grudge or we can let it go. We can complain about everyone else or we can work on our own actions, and encourage others to actions that better the community. We can tear up the community by biting and devouring, or we can find ways to nourish what is good, and build on what is productive. We can ignore the needs of those suffering here or in other countries, or we can reach out with whatever kind of assistance is available to us. That might be limited to thoughts and prayers. Often, we can include actions as well.
Will we bite and devour, or will we extend nourishment to that outside ourselves which is good?
In Jesus’ name. Amen