Our struggle towards joy.

Even Jesus hears them;  the slight hesitations – the excuses – the refusals.  We would prefer to remember differently – to talk about the crowds that gathered – the lives that were changed – the tremendous momentum generated by Jesus’ earthly ministry.  But every once in a while, the gospel reveals the struggle that is still part of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Maybe it’s because they were Samaritans; not historically sympathetic to Jewish ideals.  The tension between the two is clear win the request of James and John upon the refusal of the villagers to ‘receive Jesus’; “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come…and consume them?”  A little harsh by our standards, but then, the sons of Zebedee were completely committed to the cause.  And just as well that Jesus rebuked them, because the Samaritan snub was just the start.

Let me first…, I will, but…  And of course, when Jesus meets someone who IS eager  – “I will follow you wherever you go.” – Jesus isn’t exactly…encouraging; (Foxes have holes, etc.)   The message seems to be; ‘are you sure you want a part of this?  It’s going to be difficult and lonely.  This would not seem to be the best text for us today.  On a day that will see us welcome young Easton through the Sacrament of Baptism, it seems very strange indeed to encounter Jesus talking about how hard it is to choose a life that honours God.  And yet, that is the unsettling truth. God’s faithful – whether priest, prophet or the ordinary people of God – have had a hard time living faithfully when the world asks something else of them.

So what makes it so hard?  Love God; love neighbour – fairly straight forward stuff, isn’t it?  Do not murder, lie, cheat or covet – well sure, that’s a little bit harder, but because it’s easier to behave as one should in the company of people who are also behaving, we gather together in like-minded colonies, countries and congregations.  We have been pretty well served those habits – we can easily call ourselves faithful when we point to places like this with a rich history of worship and fellowship – places that remind us God is at work and present in a way that is solid and comforting.  And yet, it is impossible to pretend that things aren’t changing.

Nothing is as certain as we imagined it was.  No amount of “love thy neighbour” can hide the reality of massive cultural change; carelessness, selfishness, consumerism, unbridled capitalism – all these things run counter to the habits of humility, compassion mercy and grace that are the gospel prescription for ‘new birth’.  And lets consider what that “new birth” is like…over and over we are asked to see the world differently – to love those we once considered unloveable;(the vows we take in the Baptism service ask us to “turn away from sin, and all evil powers in the world which rebel against God, or oppose God’s rule of justice and love?”  That seems a pretty tall order for one person – or one family – until you realize that the whole congregation then promises “to guide and nurture (these people) by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to follow the way of Christ…”

These are, as someone told me recently, among the most terrifying moments in worship (for him) because as hard as it may be to promise to seek God’s rule in the world – it is much harder to promise to help someone keep that promise…because it presumes that you know how.

And the truth is, we’re not sure.  Love alone doesn’t seem enough.  The desire to do the right thing doesn’t make it any easier.  The institution that we depend on for guidance – the church that we assumed would always be the same – is no longer held in such high esteem by the ‘rest of the world’. It’s frightening, because we have done what we thought was needed.

We have kept our hands on the plow;  WE have answered the call and done our part; where is the promised reward?  Wasn’t the church supposed to change the world?  Isn’t the love of God, revealed in Jesus the answer to everything?

The good news is that the church of Jesus Christ HAS changed the world – the world, of course, resists such change.  In fact because the world changes faster than the church does, the church always seems ‘out of step’ with the patterns in the world – and that is just as it should be.  “in the world but not of the world” is how the apostle Paul describes a people who defy expectations; who do not conform – who turn from the things that would separate us from God – even when our turning is hesitant or half-hearted.  While we may not be willing (or able) to lunge head first into the fight against evil for the sake of God’s justice, we are, as the people of God, still fighting against the current.  The life that honours God – the struggle to see the world as Jesus sees it, that is the struggle we choose.  We continue to take this hour as sacred time – time to experience the call of God again; to frame the week ahead in terms of our call to serve (our baptismal vows) – time to be reminded that, though the challenge to follow Jesus is difficult, we are not alone on the journey.  Thanks be to God for the call that binds us together – for the Spirit, who lends us courage – for Christ, who makes us one.  Amen


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