Year C, SUNDAY 13

June 26 - July 2

 

Luke 9: 51-62....(Sermon 1: “Let the Dead Bury the Dead”)

                                                (Sermon 2: “A man in a Hurry”)

Galatians 5: 1 & 13-25....      

2 Kings 2:1-2 & 6-14....

Psalm 77: 1-2 & 11-20

 

GREETING

 

This is the day which has been given by a most generous God.

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

The grace, joy and peace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

ACCLAMATIONS

 

Wonderful is the God of Christ, who gathers the poor of the earth.

Glorious is our God, who wipes away the tears of sorrow.

Wonderful is the God of Christ, who gives inheritance to the meek.

Glorious is our God, who satisfies the hunger of the just.

Wonderful is the God of Christ, who gives mercy to the merciful.

Glorious is our God, who gives vision to the pure in heart.

Wonderful is the God of Christ, who adopts the peacemakers.

Glorious is our God, who lifts high the persecuted.

Wonderful is the God of Christ, who finds the lost.

Glorious is our God, who awakens the dead

 

PRAYER OF PREPARATION

 

Holy Friend, you have prepared for those who love you, bonus gifts that are beyond human understanding. Free our minds and hearts so to love you, that loving you more than anything else, we may be ready to receive your generosity which exceeds all expectation. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen.

 

FACING OUR SIN AND TRUSTING GOD’S GRACE

 

Jesus said, seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given to you.

To seek the saving mercy of God,

Let us pray.

 

Most loving God, because you see through us and understand us better than we know our own minds, we bow before you with a sense of relief. With you there is no need for pretence and no ground for excuse. You see as we really are, a redeemable comedy of light and darkness, love and fear, faith and folly.

We need your searching glance to uncover everything that is suspect and all that is blatantly corrupt. We need to know the truth. We pray that the truth, exposed in your therapeutic courtroom, will lead us on to divine grace; that grace which annuls past offences and promises a fruitful future.

                        ---- silent prayer ----

 

Thank you, loving God, for not dealing with us according to our sins, nor rewarding us according to our iniquities. You are a pardoning God. You are light and health and peace. We want to love, praise, serve and stay close to you forever! 

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS

 

Sisters and brothers, don’t merely say it but fully trust it: Jesus Christ is the Saviour who puts away all your sins and grants you a new beginning. Live now as the forgiven family of God.

Amen! Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Make Me Brave

 

Dear God, it’s a buzz to be true to you

            when I am with other Christians.

But it’s much harder in the school ground

            among kids who say and do bad things.

 

Please make me braver,

            and help me to do the right thing

            even if others make fun of me.

Please, keep me close to you.

            Please? At all times?

Amen!

 

PSALM 77; 1-2  & 11-15

 

I call out loudly to God;

       very loudly, for I must be heard.

On the day of my misery I need God,

       at night my hands reach out in the dark.

My soul finds no comfort anywhere else,

       yet I groan at God’s apparent inactivity.

 

When I mull over these confusing ways,

       my spirit gets very shaky.

As I recite the good things God has done,

       the surprises that have helped in the past.

My God, I will think about your handiwork,

       and reflect on your remarkable activities.

 

God, you really are something else!

       Nothing is as wonder-full as you!

 You do unexpected and wonderful things,

       and show your strength among the nations.

With wounded hands you redeem your people,

       and save the children of your love.

                                                                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

LET THE DEAD DO THE BURYING

 

There they go, preening on Oscar night,

those idols the crowds worship;

but none worship so sadly as they

who believe in their own fiction.

       Meet the dead who bury themselves

       among the living dead.

 

There they go across financial pages,

Italian-suited men who rob the poor

and are greatly envied by those

who lust to win the lotto

       and proudly join with the dead

       in burying the dead.

 

There they go, the “body beautiful”,

the worshippers of masked decay,

big boobs and bulging biceps

from pain-hours in surgery or gym,

       to attain more triviality of the dead

       who bury the dead.

                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

A FOCUSSING PRAYER

 

Most loving God, we who are drawn together by the Gospel that is open-armed, pray that we may withstand any pressures that might push us apart.

Please encourage us, especially when we are feeling edgy, to trust you more than our fears, and love each person more than we love our own opinions.

Stabilise us in the truth of saving grace, and help us to express a similar grace in all our dealings.

Through Christ Jesus our Master.

Amen!

 

WITNESS 1: LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD

 

Luke 9:60

 

Let the dead bury the dead. As for you, go and speak out for the kingdom of God.    

 

This is one of the most upsetting statements ever made by a religious leader. It cuts at one of the things our culture holds most dear: family love, family loyalty, family respect.

 

Jesus was asking for trouble when he came out with this comment. It was bound to make people either shocked and angry. Maybe both.

 

The Bible has a discomforting tendency to upset us. Whenever we are keen to settle down and live cosily with things as they are (be it culture or fashion, custom or habit, religious institution or church building, creed or personal code of morality) then watch out! The Bible will invade our comfort zone. 

 

It tells us today that to make your peace with anything this corrupt world offers, is to trust that which is already polluted with death.  Yes, that’s what I said: polluted with death!

 

THE BIBLE SPEAKS OF DEATH

 

The Bible has a radical way of speaking of death. Death is not merely the absence of life. Death is an active, invading power. It is inextricably bound up with the evil forces of darkness.

 

Death contaminates and ruins all life. No human being can escape its hungry power. Death infests all our human knowledge, all our social structures and institutions. It gets its infected claws into our politics, philosophies, creeds, education and religious organisations. Nothing escapes death; everything is in danger of its corruption.

 

Therefore if we put our faith in such things, we are doomed. If we put our trust in political parties, democracy, a church denomination, Rotary, Lions, economic theories, social reform programmes, even our own dear family, then we are trusting something that is already invaded by death. None of these things can last; they cannot transcend death. Trust them and we will be buried with them.

 

Only God is unaffected by death. God’s kingdom, that new world about which Jesus spoke in parables, that is where the only death-proofed life is found. Trust God and live. What is more, anything we do out of love for God shall never be lost.

 

There may be plenty of goodness in your church, or with your family and friends, or in some humanitarian agency which you support. But unless it is aligned with the Life that is God, then it is subject to corruption and death.

 

The people of Israel were constantly challenged to choose God and life, or face  corruption and death.   The Biblical choice is between God and idols, holiness or corruption, getting lost or being found, life or death.

 

As Jesus puts it in the Gospel according to St John: “Whoever believes in me has already passed from death to life.”

 

JESUS SPEAKS OUT

.

It is against this background that we can appreciate the offensive word in our Gospel reading for this Sunday: Let the dead bury the dead. As for you, go and speak out for the kingdom of God.

 

It arose when a man said he wanted to follow Jesus, but first he must “bury my father.”

 

To the Jew this duty was extremely important. In Jewish custom, there was only one exemption from the duty of handling the body of a loved one and seeing it buried with respect.. That exemption was for the High Priest who, because of his unique Temple duties, could not risk his ceremonial holiness being made unclean by touching a corpse.

 

Yet here is Jesus saying to a would-be disciple: “No. Put God’s kingdom first. Let the dead bury the dead.”  Your first loyalty is to life, not to death.  Unless you make that choice clear cut, you are caught in the coils of death.  Let the dead bury the dead. As for you, go and speak out for the kingdom of God.         

 

God must come first. Not even the most sacred obligations as understood by our culture or religion, can be allowed to wedge themselves between a Christian and their Lord. Everything else is subject to the power of death. Choose life. Choose real life.

 

A career woman, while negotiating a terminal disease with all of her robust Christian faith,, had much time for reflection. Once when I was with her, she remarked sadly on the priorities of her family of origin. Her family still lived on a wheat farm close to a country town. They were power figures in their local church. However, their sacred priorities as she had assessed them were:  1. Family.      2. The local sport teams.     3. Church.

 

With utmost kindness, they wanted her to go home and be nursed by them until she died. Although she loved them, she would not spend her last weeks in of that environment where, as she saw it, God came third. They were offended and angry. But she was at peace with herself and her God in a Christian hospice.

 

I think she was saying: “Let the dead bury their dead. Even in my dying, I must continue to proclaim the kingdom of God.”

 

WITNESS 2: A MAN IN A HURRY

 

Luke 9:60

 

            No one who puts his hand to the plough. and looks back over his shoulder, is fit for the        kingdom of God.

 

Jesus was a rare individual:

He was a man in a hurry yet who always had time for people in need.

 

That is most unusual where I live.

In the common world that we experience, people in a hurry rarely have time for others.

“Don’t bother me, can’t you see I’m busy.”

 “Later, I’m in too much of a hurry now.” 

 “Surely you don't expect an important person like me to waste time on trivia!”

They ignore others, or brush past them, or push them aside, or trample over them in their rush to fulfil their immediate goal.

 

Jesus was different. Very different.

This becomes more obvious towards the end of his three year ministry. As the mounting pressure to complete his one crucial goal at Jerusalem became acute, he still seemed to have time for the lonely, the sick, the desperate and the outcaste. He was in a hurry to complete his mission, yet as he made his way through towns and villages he still made space for genuine seekers who sincerely needed him. He had time for dining with “collectors and sinners” and for telling wondrous parables

 

Conversely he had no time for prevaricators.

Those who sought a diversion by wanting an intellectual debate with him got short shift. Those who were half hearted , or merely indulgently day-dreamed about following him, received sharp words. And any who tried to deflect him from the direction he took, even if they were his dearest disciples, earned a terse rebuke.

 

THE TURNING POINT IN LUKE’S STORY

 

This is the situation in which we need to hear the Gospel reading for today.

At Luke 9:51, the compiler of the Gospel clearly marks a turning point.

            When the time drew closer for Jesus to be lifted up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.

 

On this resolute journey, his face set like a flint,

the next human encounters take place. They are ones which offend some readers.

            On the road one man said to Jesus: “I will follow you no matter where you go.” But Jesus   warned him, “Even foxes have lairs and the birds have nests, but I, the  Son of man, have           nowhere to lay down my head.”

 

In other words,

before you gush into protestations of loyalty to me, consider the consequences. On my path, there is no security, no comfort, no pretty ending to the story.

 

When Jesus called another man to join him, the fellow hesitated:

            Master, let me first go and bury my father.”

To which Jesus retorted:

            “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go out and proclaim the kingdom   of God.”

 

How offensive can you be!

Even if that man’s father was not in fact already dead, but if the would-be disciple was reminding Jesus of the social convention whereby a son was not supposed to leave home until his father had died and was respectably buried, it is still a harsh word from the lips of Jesus.

 

Then we read on about another encounter with a would-be disciple,

a fellow who came up and said to Jesus:

            I will certainly follow you, Master. But first let go home and say goodbye”

 

Was that asking too much?

Goodbyes are important, aren’t they?  Only wilful and inconsiderate people leave home for good without saying a word. Yet Jesus spoke sternly to said to this person:

            No one who puts his hand to the plough. and looks back over his shoulder, is fit for the        kingdom of God.

Tough speaking!

 

From the experience of my early years on a small farm in  Tasmania,

I know that one of the skills of a ploughman, cutting that furrow, was to fix his eyes on a point ahead -sometimes a stake in the ground at the end of row- and to resolutely plough towards it. Any diverting of glance would lead to a crooked furrow. Crooked furrows were unworthy of a good ploughman.. So Jesus warns of any second thoughts about following him in his pursuit of the business of the kingdom of God. Looking back over the shoulder will reveal us as unworthy.

 

Offensive?   Going too far?

 

A dear and remarkable friend,

who is now on the other side of the great divide, spent a rich part of her later life working with students from other countries and religions.. She told me of one memorable conversation. It was with a Buddhist, a gentle young man from South East Asia, with whom she was very close. He admitted that he found “your Jesus to be an impatient, intolerant rude person, who rode roughshod over sacred familial obligations.” He went on to quote the passage which is our Gospel for today.

 

Such a view has been held by many critics of Christianity.

People have accused Jesus of being abrasive, insensitive, and unbearably egotistical. To put himself ahead of loved ones, and our basic obligations to them, seems to some folk to be going too far indeed!

 

JESUS IN CONTEXT

 

To this understandable reaction, I would respond as follows:

 

1/ Firstly,  these terse statements by Jesus

 

came during the last phase of his journey, when time was running out. Literally there was no time for dallying.  These were for him the last days. He was then a man in a hurry. Nothing could be allowed to deflect him or his followers from the costly  way of the cross.” Absolutely nothing.

 

His impatience in today’s passage

is directed at those would-be followers who are not prepared to be fully committed. He is impatient with those who want to rush into words of commitment, before adding up the cost. He will not waste time with those who are not “fair dinkum”. Nor does Jesus want fair weather disciples.

 

2/ Second,  I would point out that Jesus was not at all egotistical.

 

The cause for which he was ready to give his life was not his but God’s. His radical message, which upset many, was not about himself but his “Abba,” the God with eternal love for every person. His own life was given without reserve to God. Unadulterated devotion. Even the looming cross will not deter him.

 

His message, and his life,  were centred on what he called the kingdom of God

or the kingdom of heaven. The call to follow him was to take a plunge with him into the new world of God’s activity, which is already here: upon us, around us, and within us.  God is central to Jesus. A devout Jew through and through, Jesus will brook no rival to God. Jesus is the least egotistical person; his life is filled with the love of God and of his fellow human beings.

 

HOW MUCH APPLIES TO US?

 

Can the statements Jesus made at this critical point in his ministry be generally applied today?   Yes and no.

 

Yes, in that God must be put first at all times. Top priority. Even higher than our dearest friends and most precious family members. A second degree loyalty is not only contrary to the way of Christ, it will prove a waste of time and leave one’s religion as a burden to be carried.

 

No, in that God does not often ask us to literally leave parents without saying goodbye, nor to ignore our family responsibilities. Most of us do not have to deny family to follow Christ in his undivided loyalty to God. In truth, we may love and care for them better as followers of Jesus.

 

Yet in certain situations we may have to make that difficult choice. Where any friend or family member tries to cajole or force us to put God second, then we must make the hard decision.

 

Either we are for the Kingdom of God or not. Either God is top priority or we are just playing games with religion. Jesus calls us to follow him into exploring the new age of God with its new values and goals. Single mindedly. No excuses. Not looking back over our shoulder. No dithering, dallying or blathering.

 

I have seen children disowned, parents despised, friends turn harsh critics, and wife or husband spurned, because of the decision to give all to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Moreover, even when the choice does not seem that drastic,

it will always involve significant cost. Never let us pretend that such a choice is easy, or that it is not accompanied by degree of grief.

            No one who puts his hand to the plough. and looks back over his shoulder, is fit for the        kingdom of God.

 

Jesus knows all about the cost and the grief. He will be with us in such moments.

 

THANK YOU SO MUCH

 

We thank you so much, loving Creator, for being present with us in this never-sleeping theatre of creation.

       For this exquisite world, and for our ancient Australian landscape.

       For its distinctive gums trees and wattles, banksias and wildflowers.

       For humpback whales along our coasts and red kangaroos of the inland.

       For the long story of human habitation and the recent gathering of many races.

 

We thank you, loving Saviour, for wearing our humanity and offering us a share in your beautiful divinity.

       For being nursed by a mother and enjoying play times with other children.

       For partaking of our baptism and enduring the many faces of temptation.

       For including and healing all kinds of people, without regard to status or race.

       For daring to maintain integrity, even though it cost you an agonising death.

       For standing beyond death, beckoning us to follow you into the unlimited future.

 

We thank you, loving Counsellor, for being the Spirit-Friend who inspires us to attempt brave and loving things.

       For enabling us to be reborn into a family whose head is the living God.

       For leading us on into the full truth of Christ Jesus and nurturing our faith.

       For breathing the mercy of Christ into our soul; so that we too become merciful.

       For including us within the community of the church and giving us gifts for service.

       For giving us delight in life and profound comfort in the hour of grief and death.

 

Therefore, with angels and archangels........

 

REMEMBERING  OTHERS

 

When we pray for the needy, let us remember that God is always with them ahead of our prayers.

Let us pray.

 

For people who are afraid of dying, and those who are afraid of living.

 

For sufferers who wait to be admitted to hospital, and those who long to be discharged.

 

For the lonely who need friends, and the busy who feel constricted by too many.

 

For children who are blithe and carefree, and those who are timid and anxious.

 

For folk who care deeply about others, and those who think only of themselves.

 

For the wronged who show mercy and forgiveness and those who plot a fierce revenge.

 

For seekers who are keen to find faith, and the proud who wish to avoid it.

 

For the churches where we feel at home, and others that seem strange or off-putting.

 

For our special friends in this congregation, and those who often rub us the wrong way.

 

For ourselves: Loving God, we do not ask for special favours but that you will help us delight in, and share generously, the favours you have already given. In gratitude and trust we commit ourselves and all that we have into you hands. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

GETTING ON WITH IT

 

Go out into the world in peace.

Live as those who have already passed from death to life.

       Give aid and be willing to receive it,

       trust and be trusted,

       forgive and be forgiven,

       give respect and be respected,

       love and be willing to be loved.

 

In the name of the three person’d God I bless you.

Grace mercy and peace be with you always.

And also with you.

Amen!