“All Fired Up” Luke 9:51-62

Okay, I admit it.  I “get” this gospel story.  James and John resonate with me because if I’m honest with myself, I’m a “Can I call down fire?” kind of guy!

            I’ll bet you are too.

            I like to think of myself as a peace loving follower of Jesus, but I have to admit that there are some things that get under my skin, that I can get all “fired up” about and make me wish for a little “immediate righteous indignation with gratification.”

            I’ve watch the sad story about a pet left outside in the heat with no water, and thought to myself, “They should chain up the owner in the sun with a water bottle just out of reach, let him/her see what it is like!”

            I’ll bet you’ve caught yourself thinking the same, a little “retributive justice” for something that made you mad.

            Pick your area of irritation, conservative or liberal, and I’ll bet you can come up with a time or two when you thought it would be all right if someone “got what was coming to them” for their actions.

            It is human nature.

            It is the way we think about and weigh what we would consider “just” in a particular circumstance.

            Oh, I get James and John. 

I am far too eager to ask Jesus for the same permission to “zap,” to punish what I see as an egregious affront or error. 

            Surely even Jesus would understand my anger, my sense of indignation, my own righteousness in the face of what is so blatantly wrong.

            We might even imagine ourselves doing Jesus a favor here.   “Don’t trouble yourself Master, you’ve got your eye set on Jerusalem and more important matters, I’ll take care of this little annoyance — with your permission, of course.”

            James and John wanting to act on impulse, in the heat of the moment, is not all that far fetched for me to understand.

            I’ve been there, and I’ll bet you have too.

            What makes this an exceedingly good news story for me is that Jesus seems to understand this impulse.  He guides those who follow him away from it.

            James and John are rebuked, (we are told) but we do not get any of the details of the rebuke. 

We don’t have Jesus turning on them and exclaiming “What are you guys thinking of???  Where did you get this idea???”

            No heat or anger or argument from Jesus, just a quick turn, a comment of rebuke, and a call to “move on.”

            And then…..

            Then these little comments or questions that follow.

            “As they were going along the road, someone said to him…”

            Who was that someone?  

            Was it some stranger who came up to them up along the way? 

            Or were these comments made by the disciples themselves in turn, trying to break the silence, change the mood, understand?

            I try to imagine this exchange in my mind, of what it was like, and the image that I conjure up is always a little bit like a car ride as a kid.

            You know what I mean.

            The too-long car ride before computer navigation, where mom or dad are focused on the directions, the next turn they have to take, where to go, when you chimed in from the back seat and your comment (whatever it was) was just not appreciated, proved to be a distraction.

            The icy quiet of a parent who is not pleased with you, but also not going to pull over.  We are on our way, and you are along whether you like it or not, are ready for it or not.

            That’s what comes to mind when I think of this story.  

I can imagine James and John having “stepped in it” with their comment about calling down fire, and Jesus rebuking, and then what follows is this uneasy and tentative journey where no one is quite certain just what to say.

            Jesus is intent, and intense, his face is set toward Jerusalem, toward figuring out how all of this is going to play out

Jesus’ mind is set on how he will enter the city, the reception he will receive there, where he will need to go, and how he will need to prepare himself and his disciples for the events that will take place once he arrives. 

Jesus, (more than his disciples at this point) knows that this will be a fateful journey, a journey of consequence.

 He’s been trying to communicate that to his followers, but their minds are dazzled by the miracles they have witnessed and set upon how they might access that same power that they have seen Jesus wield and that Jesus has promised to give them. 

How they will make their entrance, these disciples? Prove themselves to be followers? Take their places at Jesus’ side?    All of these questions seem to be ruminating on the road to Jerusalem in one story or another.

            The “calling down fire” comment was a bust, and so now, what will we say?  What can we say?

            “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

            That seems a safe comment to make, a renewal of the intent to follow where Jesus leads.

            To which Jesus responds, from the front seat… “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

            “I’m not going anywhere comfortable,” Jesus seems to be saying.

            He will have no place to lay his head. 

In Jerusalem, we as readers know that his head will eventually roll to his own shoulder on the cross, finding no place to lay.   When his head does finally come to rest on something, it will be on a borrowed tomb’s stone slab at the end of this journey.

 If you’re looking for someplace comfortable, someplace safe to end up with Jesus, that’s just not in the cards.

“Follow me.”  Nevertheless, Jesus says.

And then come the qualifiers from the back seat.   It’s not that they do not WANT to follow him, it’s just that life throws all these very legitimate distractions in the way.

“Lord, first let me…”  they say.

Let me say my good-byes.

Let me take care of what look like some really important things.

Let me ….

And each of those qualifiers is met with a comment that seems, (I don’t know) cold?  Too direct?  Almost Heartless?

“Let the dead to bury the dead?”

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Attempts at making small talk, of reassuring Jesus of one’s intent are not met as expected, with encouragement or levity, but rather with Jesus making clear in this moment that the journey he is on is deathly serious.   It is underway now, and you as a disciple are along for the ride, there is no half-way, he’s not “pulling over.”

No, I get James and John for their “call down fire” comment.

And I also get the mood that Jesus sets here, because it is the mood that I struggle with as well. 

It is easy to follow Jesus when we think that following will mean having the perks and benefits of Jesus’ presence, being able to “do” things.

It is harder to follow when we begin to sense that we are just along for the ride, and that we will have little say in the actions along the way.

We don’t get to decide who gets zapped.

We don’t get to pick and choose the things that seem like legitimate excuses at the time, things that no one should argue with, like obligations for funerals and family.

No, once the call is made, the direction given, the disciple is along for where Jesus is going, and bound to his decisions.

I have felt both of these experiences.

I have experienced the confidence of feeling that with Jesus going along with me I could make anything happen. 

Move mountains.

Calm storms.

Heal and bring hope and light.

I have also experienced the other side of following Jesus, when he sets his face on something that I’m not so sure about, wants me to follow where he isn’t afraid to go, pulls me along with terse reminders of the cost of proclaiming the Kingdom.   I’ve had to do things that do not make friends, and do not please family members and that are questioned long after the event unfold.

“Was this the only thing I could have done, should have done?”

No, If you are looking for a comfortable ending as you follow Jesus where he sets his face, think again.

If you think you will always know what to say and when to say it in the presence of Jesus, think again. 

He will challenge and confront as well as compliment and encourage.

Yes, I “get” this story of James and John.  

This is the story of a God who is intent on doing whatever it takes to accomplish what God sets out to do.

No side distractions.

No hasty decisions.

No vindictive actions.

Just a stead and unrelenting march toward Jerusalem, and the Cross, and grace and redemption.

This story is a reminder to those who follow Jesus that you will not always find the way easy, clear, or to your liking.

A reminder that Jesus may throw you a curve from time to time in your expectations of what you think should be done.

A reminder that to be a follower of Jesus is to make your way toward the place where things are going to happen, and the only real assurance you will have is that you are making your way there with Jesus.

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“Sandals On The Ground” Luke 8:26-39

“As he (Jesus) stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.”

          Make no mistake about it, this is a deployment story that is filled with military overtones if one has just a little background in which to hear and see them.  

          We tend to get wrapped up in trying to figure out the matter of demon possession and how that might relate to mental illness today, but if you dig into the background of this story a bit I think you’ll recognize some things that feel all too familiar.

          Let’s start with where the story unfolds. 

Jesus has arrived across the Sea of Galilee in the country of the Gerasene’s, and it is not by accident that he arrives here.  No, this is a purposeful move in Luke’s Gospel.  

          Chapter 8 begins with Jesus breaking down the barriers that are usual and natural. 

He gathers women as followers to accompany him, by name.  “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom he had cast seven demons.  Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Suzanna and many other who provided for him out of their resources.”   So, “flipping the script” on who controls and owns thing in this culture, Jesus and his disciples are dependent upon women instead of women being dependent upon men!

   Jesus then tells the parable of the Sower that indicates that the news about the Kingdom of God is going to fall “wherever it will” and the reception will be varied.  

          He tells the parable of the lamp and how one does not light a lamp (start something) just to put it under a basket or hide it away, but rather one puts it on a lampstand for all to see.   His is a ministry that is going to be noticed, for good or for ill.

          Finally, when Jesus own mother and family come to urge him to come home, Jesus gestures to the crowd around him and says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it!”

          You get a sense from all of these parables and comments in the start of the 8th chapter that Jesus is out to engage the world, and his next move is full on deployment to Gentile territory.  He gets into a boat and says to his disciples, “Let’s go across the lake.”

          This is no pleasure cruise.

In transit a storm ensues, and while Jesus naps in the boat, the disciples become frightened ready to turn back.  When the disciples wake Jesus and ask whether or not he cares that they are about to drown, it is not a hasty retreat that Jesus calls for, but rather he stands and stills the storm so that they can sail on.

          There is intention in Jesus’ every move here.  He has got get to Gerasene territory for something.

          And now here it is… “Sandals on the ground.”  

As soon as Jesus sets foot on the shore of this Gentile territory he is met with one who is demon possessed, who shouts at him, “What have you to do with me?  I beg you not to torment me!”

“Legion” meets Jesus in Gerasene. 

We don’t the name of this man, but we know the name of what afflicts him and inhabits him.  It is a man with 6000 demons (the number of soldiers in a Roman Legion) who does not live in a house and who cannot be chained or bound.  He languishes naked and raving among the tombs. 

Everyone, it seems, knows him, or knows of him.

We do not know much else about this man, but the name and the pigs and the description of how he lives all paint a picture of him and give you clues about him with a little digging into history.

Josephus, (the Jewish historian) records that during the Jewish Wars, the 10th Fretensia Legion was dispatched by General Vespasian to patrol and claim this area of Gerasa.  That was the same Legion later stationed in Jerusalem during the time of the destruction of the Temple. 

Josephus records that the soldiers of the 10th Fretensia killed 1000 young men in the area of Gerasa.   They imprisoned many women and children.  They burned the capital city of Gerasa and attacked the villages throughout the whole region of the Gerasenes.

The insignia of the 10th Fretensia Legion was the pig.   It was the insignia emblazoned  upon their banners and struck into the coins they used.

For the people of Gerasa, “pigs” and “legion” would have been a fitting connection.

We do not know the circumstance of this man among the tombs.  

We might however, now speculate about the kind of symptoms he exhibits.  

He is unable to keep a home. 

He prefers living on the streets or amongst the tombs, in whatever encampment he can assemble rather than mix into the company of people. 

We can look upon his wildness and recognize the same kind of wildness that we might see in the eyes of those who have suffered the trauma of war and conflict.

The wildness we see in the eyes of the Veteran who cannot seem to make his way in this world, who lives on the street, away from people, and who cannot be contained or settled.

The wildness we see in the eyes of the refugee, those who have suffered under constant conflict or been put to run from their homes. 

The wildness in the eye of the refugee who seeks a better life but who is criticized, demonized as “illegal”, driven out, not wanted, or ignored simply because there is no future in the homeland, and no place for them to go to or back to.

The wildness of a veteran who has suffered from repeated deployments, who struggles to cycle back into “normal” life, and who finds themselves longing for the purpose, meaning, and direction that deployment gave them, orders to follow over the uncertainty of trying to navigate life on your own.

Maybe the man among the tombs was one who had escaped, who was not killed when the 10th Fretensia came through with its reign of terror.

Maybe he was one who witnessed the slaughter and is now living with “survivor’s guilt.”   He lives among the tombs as if somehow by doing so he could re-connect with those taken from his life.

Or, maybe the man among the tombs was one of those soldiers in the 10th Fretensia, who is now haunted by his own actions, the violence he was forced to inflict, unsure as to how to manage life outside the regiment of service.  

He lives among the tombs haunted by the sound of war, the screams for mercy, the cries for help, or the laughter of comrades lost.

Whatever his circumstances, it appears that Jesus is aware of him and of his plight from all the way across the lake.

Jesus is moved to find him, to step onto his turf, and to deal with the ghosts that drive and haunt him.  

This is a part of the good news today, that Jesus is aware of the suffering of this man, and now moves to deploy himself in the service of healing.

“Legion” is sent into the pigs, (a fitting destination and connection,) who then rush headlong to their own destruction.

The man is recovered, reclaimed, clothed and in his right mind again.

So, part one of the “good news” is that Jesus is able to calm the storms and drive out the demons.   There is hope, whatever your affliction!  Jesus is not afraid to “go there,” wherever the “there” may happen to be.

Jesus isn’t afraid to leave his home territory to get to your shore, and step out onto it.

Jesus isn’t afraid of any storms that my blow up along the way as he makes his way to you.

Jesus isn’t afraid of the kind of greeting he might receive as he does so, and he isn’t afraid of what might appear at first to be insurmountable troubles, “Legion” troubles as they present themselves. 

Jesus will listen, and command, and deal with whatever “Legion” throws his way, — the horrors, the guilt, and in the end he will silence it all and let to run to its own destruction, freeing you from its grasp.

There is hope that you can be restored, put again into your right mind, and clothed.  That is the good news in this story.

And this is also where the Gospel lesson takes a bit of an unexpected turn.

We are used to Jesus healing. This is not the first demon he has exorcised, remember.   Seven out of Mary called Magdalene.  We have other stories of Jesus calling the demons forth, naming them and then throwing them out.

What we aren’t prepared for is the reaction to this healing.  

In all the other stories in Luke’s gospel the reaction to Jesus’ healing has been one of awe, amazement, and praise for what has been done.

Here, the reaction is fear!

Here, we (or at least the man’s neighbors in the city) don’t know what to do with this man clothed and back in his right mind.

There is truth to this as well, because (truth be told,) we do grow used to our own “wild eyed” neighbors.

We like them uncontrolled or uncontainable.  We know how to relate to that.  It is easier to ignore or label them if they remain foreign and “other” to us.

So long as the grizzled man is begging on the street corner with his sign, or living under a bridge, I can drive right on by and remain unbothered by his plight.

“Nothing can be done anyway, really, if you choose to live like that.” We might say to console ourselves.

No chains can bind, no programs can address, no housing or counseling will avail, or so we think.  We are thus absolved from further contact. 

What can you do, after all?

But if that same man were to come well-dressed into a congressional hearing or into a city hearing room and make his case for benefits?  

Now that makes those in power nervous!

It’s when those long called “crazy” begin to make sense that we get nervous and frightened.

It is when they can calmly and coolly call into question some of our long-held assumptions about them and about the way the world ought to be arranged that we begin to be afraid.

No, it is no wonder that fear is the response to Jesus’ healing this man.    Now his neighbors will have to treat him differently, and he’s not going to shut up!

He’s going to keep right on talking about what God has done for him, and by extension what God is calling us to do for one another.

He’s going to keep on talking about what Jesus has done for him, how Jesus did not let him languish in his own misery, but rather deployed himself on foreign shores to confront the evil of Legion. 

The man now in his right mind is going to talk about how he could have followed Jesus, but instead was told to continue to speak here, with those around him who are afraid of what he might have to say, and of what God might be calling them to do if they were to so follow where Jesus has led the way.

No, I get that they are afraid.

We are too.

Afraid that we can no longer simply let the outcasts of society thrash about on their own.

Afraid that we might have to confront decisions made, and chart new courses for the future.

“Sandals on the Ground” is the example that Jesus has given to us, and a vision that troubles that are “Legion” can be addressed and dealt with instead of simply lived with.

 Dare we also tread where Jesus is willing to step?

“What We Cannot Bear” John 16:12-15

I wonder what it was that those first disciples could not bear to hear?  

          Over these past few weeks of the Easter season we’ve heard Jesus prepare his disciples for his leaving.   All of the post-resurrection accounts carry with them a message that things will simply not be the same after the cross.

          Jesus has promised those disciple that he would not leave them desolate, but he’s not going to be around in the same way as he was on the dusty roads of Galilee.

          He has promised them that he would send the Spirit, the Advocate, to guide them into all truth.

          But it appears that there is a time and a season for things. 

There are some things that you just can’t bear to hear right now, (so Jesus says).   There  will come a time in the future when the Spirit comes.  In that future time you will be able to “bear” what you need to hear.  In that future time the Spirit that Jesus promises will “guide you into all the truth.”   For he (the Spirit, that is) will not speak on his own, but will speak “whatever he hears (from God, is understood) and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Then, it appears, you will be able to handle what you cannot bear to hear right now.

          So, I wonder, what was it that those first disciple couldn’t bear to hear right at that moment? 

          Jesus had told them a good many hard to swallow things all through his ministry really. 

          He had told them of the necessity to forgive.

          He had questioned the well-established traditions of Sabbath, of clean and unclean, of who was neighbor.

          Jesus had even been willing to talk to them about the way of the Cross, and the necessity of going to Jerusalem, and of suffering and dying.

          So, what was it that they weren’t ready to handle yet?

          Was it the growth of the church?  This discovery of how the proclamation of the Kingdom would scatter them far and wide, send them out instead of keeping them as a close-knit group?

          Was it the inclusion of the Gentiles, the message that Jesus was not just for the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” but that the Kingdom was open to all?

          Was it the revelation that they would not be able to stay together in Jerusalem, but would have to go out and do this?

          Was it that the ministry was too big for them, and that they would have to pass off their own authority to the likes of Stephen, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila?

          This was not theirs alone to do, or to protect, or to accomplish.

          What was it that those first disciple could not bear to hear “right now” while Jesus was in the room with them?  What was it that the Spirit would only be able to guide them into after his departure?

          I think it’s a crucial question, because you see, our inclination is to keep going back to Jesus to try to settle things once and for all. 

We go back looking for some clear answer to modern day issues and problems.  We search Jesus’ teaching, his words over that three years of ministry on this earth, as if Jesus could have anticipated and answered every future issue and concern in such a limited time.

We groan and search for the right thing to grasp on to “back there” that would settle our present difficulties and debates, and often find ourselves frustrated in that venture. 

Our hearts ache for clarity about all the complications that life presents to us now.

Jesus did not say anything about the questions that vex us.

He did not say anything about same sex partners, or abortion, or who should serve in the church, or how to shape the concept of ordination.     

Jesus did not address the matters of being trans-gendered or really (now that we think about it) talk that much at all about sexuality — except to warn the Pharisees against hard-hearted legalistic actions and quickie divorces.

Therefore, all of these all these disconcerting modern-day questions and problems are not readily settled by appealing to the teaching of Jesus.   They instead become a part of discerning what the Spirit is saying to us now in our time and in our circumstances.  We do so, trying to match up what it is that Jesus modeled for us, and what it is that the Spirit seems to be guiding us into, all the while trying to discern the continuing presence of God in these things.

It is an imprecise business, this thing that Jesus speaks of today.

He acknowledges that there is a time and a place to struggle, and this moment may not be the one to settle everything, and so wait and watch for the Spirit to guide when the time is right.

There is something powerful about what Jesus seems to be preparing us for with his words today.   He is saying to his disciples that he has more to say to them in the future, and that when the time is right, and when they can bear to hear it, he’ll find a way to speak.

If that is the promise made to those first disciples, then it is a promise that also extends to us all.

We don’t get the benefit of hearing Jesus voice anymore, not in the way those first disciples heard it.  

We don’t get a direct word.  

We don’t get to ask follow up or clarifying questions of Jesus.  (As if, Jesus was ever very good at answering those even back then!)   

No, what we have now is this curious promise and the mixture known as the Trinity.  God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a combination of the creator, the redeemer, and the sanctifier. 

At its best the Trinity is a bit confusing.   Three in one, and one in three.

At its worst it is incomprehensible!

But the church has found something elegant in this understanding.  

It is a way of saying that God is willing to muster all of God’s self on our behalf when the world shifts and changes on us. 

God is willing to come to us in whatever way we will recognize God, to help us understand and find God’s direction and guidance in that moment.

Think about it for a moment.  

“I still have many things to say to you….”  Jesus says.  That is an assurance that God wants to be part of an ongoing dialog with us.   The gift of the Spirit, the Advocate, is one that points to ongoing conversation.

“I have many things to say to you…. “Jesus says.

I think back over my experience as a parent, watching my own children develop over the years, and the conversations that we would have through all those developmental phases.

“Where do babies come from, Daddy?”  

That is a question that every parent faces, and usually more than once!

 The answer one gives however, evolves over the developmental arc of the child, does it not?

 I do not talk of the mechanics of sex with a two-year old, nor do I talk about the stork with a teenager!   

The answer that one gives as a parent, the conversation that you will have, depends upon the time in life, and situation of the question, and the events that surround it.  

          “I have many things to say you,” Jesus says, “but you cannot bear them now.”

          I wonder, if this is isn’t Jesus acknowledging the developmental arc of his own disciples, and choosing to speak only so much to them now, just enough for what they need to face in this moment.

          The promise that Jesus has “more to say to us” is also a promise that a day will come when we will be ready to struggle with and push through these questions that confront us. 

The day will come, and the Spirit will be there to guide us.

          Are we like that as children of God?   Do we have perhaps a “developmental arc?”  

          Paul could only speak of the role of women within the cultural context of his own experience, but the world is different now!

 And so, we take the Spirit’s guidance, and the Father’s love, and Jesus’ witness of the women walking with him to the cross, and in that mixture we discover the truth that those first disciples were not ready yet to hear.  

God gifts God’s Spirit of teaching, evangelizing, and preaching are to both male and female, and God does not distinguish. 

God never really had, now that we look at it, we just couldn’t bear to acknowledge it “back then.”

          Where can you find it in the bible that a woman should be a Pastor?  

If you ask the question looking to find where Jesus says, where God says, “Women can be pastors” — You won’t!   That’s not how the question is answered by the Father, Son and Spirit.

You will instead find God’s Spirit resting on the likes of Deborah in the Old Testament, calling her to be a Judge over God’s people.  

You will find Lydia in the book of Acts as the leader of a house church. 

You will find Jesus entrusting the proclamation of the events of resurrection to the women who came to the tomb that Easter morning. 

          Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, all in dialog with each other and in dialog with us, revealing to us the truth that we once could not bear to hear. 

          What is it that you cannot bear to hear right now?   I’m sure there is something!

There is something that just sticks in your craw. 

Something that the church is doing or isn’t doing right?

Something that you can’t quite decide what to think of?  Is this God at work in this, or am I fooling myself? 

What if I am wrong?

Well, this is where the Trinity comes in again!

The Spirit comes to guide, to push the boundaries, to refresh, and to encourage us.

The Son who has taught and shown us what the Father is like, and who the Father wants to reach, comes through the stories about Jesus, helping us turn over in our minds what would be consistent for Jesus, what Jesus would have done, thought, said, IF this question had been put to him.

The Son, Jesus, who was often want to walk where the more traditional would not dare to tread, and yet not willing to wander as far the zealots would wish him to go.

The Son, attending to the matters of relationship, and calling for thought, and consideration, and teaching in parables to make one think.

The Father comes to us, always more ready to forgive than we are to repent.  

What if we are wrong?  

Well that’s what the Father’s arms are for!  They welcome the prodigal, and they gather the broken, and they plead for reconciliation between brothers, and advocate on behalf of those who have no voice, no power, and no access.

It is better to dare and do and have to run back to the Father’s arms than not to have run or dared to live at all!

          Yes, I wonder what it was those first disciples could not bear to hear, and I wonder how much it sounded like the things we cannot bear to hear now.

          Thanks be to God, who is willing and ready to muster all of God’s self for us, that we would never be left just to our own wisdom or to our own devices.  

          What we cannot bear to hear right now, that is what the Spirit will guide us into when the time is right.  The Father, Son and Spirit will all meet us there, already well ahead of what we thought we could not bear to hear or consider.

          This is the promise today.