But... But... What about the chips?
Right at the beginning of the Pentecost Season, the Lectionary invites us to consider the foundational charter of Christian freedom – The great letter to the Christians in Galatia that Paul sent early in his ministry. The basic theme of the letter is to remind the Christians – then and now --- that there is a better way to live in relationship with God and with each other. It is Christ’s Way of Love.
By the time Jesus came to this world, the Jewish religion had evolved from being worship-based into being regulations-based. After hundreds of years of captivity, comings and goings, the temple destroyed and rebuilt, Jewish life had become centered into what today is called Rabbinic Judaism.
The early Jewish temple-based faith was highly concerned about all the nitty-gritty and the rules and regulations about worship. The first books of the Bible described from the clothing of the priests to the sacrifices to the observation of rules regarding cleanliness, to the exact dimension of their worship space, to the specific location of everything that had to do with worship. There were rules and regulations about their way of life, but they were set in as much as it impacted their worship.
Their lives were centered around the Temple -- or the Tabernacle, their earlier version. Everything else was second place. In other words, they were early Episcopalians!
Eventually, as the people were led into captivity, away from their worship-centered life, their religion became centered in the exploration and teaching of the Law. Whenever they could, the old sages tried to refine the broad lines of the Law to apply it on their evolving situation.
But here is the thing. Not having a temple to worry about, the religious leaders began to regulate life away from the worship of God. From setting how many steps one could walk on a Sabbath to defining if taking a cell-phone’s call could be considered work to prescribing the rules of intimacy, everything had to be precisely defined and regulated.
Unfortunately, the study of the Law became an end in itself. As St Paul writes, the Law was meant to lead us unto God, not to replace God. So, it is no wonder that religious leaders were angry because Jesus healed sick people on the Sabbath. They could not understand why Jesus wasn’t concerned about the causes of a man’s blindness or our Lord’s willingness to mix up with the “wrong crowd.
And in so doing they ignored God’s choice of justice and mercy over arrogance and self-conceit. Jesus came to embody a better way – The Way of Love.
And not only to show us the way, but to truly incarnate it, to make it real for all to see, Jesus pointed the way to freedom through the gates of love. As St Paul writes in our second lesson, “The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Now, granted – Loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is harder than finding fault for their plight. “Well, they brought it upon themselves, didn’t they?” “Had they made better choices, they wouldn’t be in the place they are now.” Sounds familiar?
Indeed, the Law is clear cut, or so it appears until we realize that we do not live in a black and white world, but in shades of gray. The Law is practical, or so it appears as long as it is imposed on someone else, away from our own failings.
Following the law as an end in itself feeds the self-righteousness that move people to condemn the blind for not being able to see, and the paralytic for not being able to walk. The law prompts people to hurry to church and leave behind those who have been left hurting, so many times not by their own fault.
Almost twelve years to this date, Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori, preaching in New Zealand, said,
“But freedom isn’t only freedom from; it is freedom for – for loving self and others. We have been set free in order that we might become that same sort of liberating love in the world, setting others free. Freedom is directional. It moves away from slavery, and it moves toward something more, the more that God intended from creation.”
Freedom frees us from self-imposed limitations (Pride, intolerance, prejudices, and stale traditions) and leads us into the realm of love, where mercy, grace, compassion, and generosity of spirit lifts the broken-hearted, heals the aching soul, and restores peace and hope to the worried mind.
Yet, time and again, the religious leaders of the day – and quite frankly all the way to the present day – many would stick to the precise boundaries of the written law rather than enjoying the freedom of love.
Make no questions about it: Living free is scary. In our first lesson we hear the story of Elisha’s calling. At first, when Elijah dropped by, Elisha was hesitant. Yes, being at the caravan’s tail end was not a position of honor. He was at risk of being mauled by robbers. If he fell behind, no one would be the wiser. But being part of a family, with their traditions and set ways offered security and a sense of belonging.
But then Elisha decided to risk it all. He burned the bridges behind him. Well, not exactly his bridges but the oxen and everything that tied him to his past. And he followed in faith. So it is with love. One cannot follow the Way of Love unless one is willing to burn some bridges.
In today’s Gospel, we read about people volunteering to follow Jesus. Like Elijah, Jesus lays the challenge right before them. “Do whatever you have to do, but until you are ready to burn your oxen, and then come and join me, you’ll be wasting your time.”
Today the world, our own society, and many individuals that even we could name are hurting. When Jesus saw the people of his time -- even those who would have nothing to do with Him -- his heart broke. He saw them not as a bunch of sinners worthy of utter contempt, but as his beloved brothers and sisters. “They were harassed and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Matthew 9:36).
To live as Christians requires us to learn to live in freedom. It is for those whose heart has been lit up by the fire of the Spirit – people whose heart is burning with Christ’s love – and with a fire hot enough to burn bridges.
For those who are in love, there are no mountains that cannot be conquered, no oceans that cannot be crossed, no goals that cannot be achieved, no barriers that cannot be torn down.
Those who follow the Way of Love are moved by the power of God’s love. If anything, they are called to love and to let the chips fall where they may.
But here is the good news. Living the Way of Love is Christ’s Way. And if He was able to live in such a way, you can too.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit upon us, to open our ears to hear your voice calling us to follow the guiding light of your love. Amen.
Sermon for June 26, 2022.
Scripture readings: 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21, Galatians 5:1,13-25, Luke 9:51-62