As we know the United Church is in a process of imagining what it means to be a national church. This filters down to congregations, for we are in a time of asking hard questions of what it means to be a congregation. It does not stop there, for individual christians are asking what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? We are trying to navigate these questions in a time unrest.
As a society we are faced with difficult issues. The election in the USA and the fallout from the leave the EU movement have raised many questions: like the rise of outrage of those who feel left out, to moves to narrow nationalism and distrust of the “other”. We as a society, like the church, is faced with the issue of who are we?
There is an old rock song by the Who-"who are you?” who are you? Like many pieces of music it becomes an ear worm, you cannot get it our of your mind. One of the hopes of worship is that the Spirit of God is so present in us that it is like that tune or any tune; you just cannot get it out of your head. It makes a permanent place in our souls so that our of our life is framed around what we affirm about God and our care of the world. We go out singing the resurrection and we live it.
Of course I am in the midst of the Jazz festival and what has been the highlight for me so far is the power of improvisation. Moving out of the familiar to places that had not been imagined.
The Gospel is a story of being on the move — of having no place to lay one’s head — of going wherever the spirit moves us. It is a story about being homeless — of giving up one’s home and possessions in order to be Christian. There are people who do that today. Think of people who serve the causes of justice and peace in other countries, those who live in zones of conflict or stand on the border for peace.
Luke has Jesus turn his face to Jerusalem. He is on the move with all the risks involved. He is moving into a third way of being involved. Moving outside traditions, resistance to empire through violence, to responding to uncontrolling love that has rejected power as a solution.
The story raises the question of attachment. What attaches us, holds us, commands our attention and ultimate allegiance. Jesus is on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. His journey takes him through Samaria - historical enemies of Jewish people. But he is not deterred from his travel by the Samaritans behaviour or the disciples’ wishes for retaliation — his face is set. He is committed to his mission.
Yet there is the puzzling statement Jesus makes to the enquirer: “let the dead bury the dead.” Now this is a pretty harsh statement. Why doesn’t Jesus welcome him and encourage him? What we miss is the man is faced with who is he? One who does not risk because if he decided to follow Jesus before his father died, he would forfeit his inheritance.
This man is telling Jesus that he wants to have his feet in both worlds. He attached to his inheritance rights, his obligations to family and state, and only when he has looked after those will he become a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus tells us it is a reordering of these priorities that is required. In saying, “ Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus lets him know that he has to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. In other words, he can’t have his feet in both worlds. He can’t live a balanced life in that sense. He has to choose — and in fact he already has.
He is like the man who tells Jesus he will follow him as soon as he says good-bye to his family. That man is impulse shopping his spirituality. Jesus is well known and the man should have told his family already about how he feels about becoming a disciple of Jesus. The fact that he has to go home and tell them, say good-bye, tells us that this is a spur of the moment thing. He hasn’t thought about it. He is impulse shopping his spirituality.
Let the dead bury the dead is a call to a way of living that undercuts the status quo. It takes determination to live out our Christian calling in a world that is so indifferent to values, peace and beauty. Luke’s story conveys a way of living that the community can mimic — setting one’s face toward the future, being spiritually alive, and taking our faith seriously.
This story invites its hearers to mimic the action. Mimicking is how we pass on culture and our faith and values to the next generation. Children do not do things by instinct — we teach them. Sharing for example, or table manners, or prayers before meals or bed. We learn the rules, the customs, by watching and repetition.
Following Jesus, knowing Jesus requires a reordering of our priorities. The spirit of God, who calls us continually and blows through our congregation moving us to follow in the way of Christ and created God’s shalom of justice and peace here on our earth is the first voice we listen to — and all our other obligations are ordered in the light of that callLuke writes this story so the community can remember the events that created them so they become second nature. The community will be so formed by the story of faith that in everyday events and activities they will represent the truth of God’s love for the world. People will be so steeped in the habit of faith that the cause of justice and the common good will be second nature.
I do not believe the mission of the church will move forward without creativity and innovation. Early Christian leaders were willing to improvise when a way seemed to close before them.
The answer is clear: persons who were open to the prompting of the Spirit of God, the one who is always transgressing boundaries, found creative ways to bear witness to uncontrolling love.
Patrica Farmer offers this “We believe that instead of shrinking back in despair or approaching the world with raised hackles, we need to widen out in love, compassion, inclusivity, and full-bodied joy,” “ We believe that small is big: small choices, tiny creatures, minuscule gestures of love make a huge impact in our interconnected world.”
Our story tells us that we live in a house of freedom — freedom from domination of the past, freedom from ideas that imprison. When we take these gifts seriously we can create a world of peace and beauty. Who are we? This is who we are.