Sunday, June 26, 2022

Dealing with divisions 

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

Katy TX 77493 

June 26, 2022 


 Once again, this week the news has been filled with difficult issues, divisive issues for our country including guns and abortion. With all the confrontation and division in our country, what jumped out at me was verse 54. “Lord do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them.?” Then Jesus rebukes the disciples. Now the them in question are Samaritans. They are traveling through Samaritan country. Most Jews would detour around that area to avoid coming in any sort of contact. Samaritans were other and totally despised by Jews. The feeling was and still is mutual. Each thought and still think they have a corner on the truth and that the other is totally wrong. By the way, there are still Samaritans in Israel and they still believe that they have an exclusive corner on the truth even though there are now less than 1000 of them.  

 Now I was really upset with the disciples with their seeming ignoring Jesus teaching about neighbor. But the problem is he has yet to tell them the parable of the Good Samaritan and the sending of the 70 where he talks about what to do if you message is rejected is in the next chapter. Let’s set today’s Luke passage in context. In between last week’s passage is the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, healing of Jairus’ daughter, Peter saying that Jesus is Messiah and the Transfiguration. Jesus, James, and Peter have all been up the mountain and had the vision of Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses. That’s important to remember. This section of Luke is the start of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. He is now headed to Jerusalem and determined to step into the final confrontation.  

 Last week I mentioned conflict resolution theory where at the extreme the desire is to destroy the other and that is exactly what James and John propose to do. They seem to have forgotten that Jesus told them to go out to others. They have not yet heard the message that if they were welcomed that they should stay, but if they were not welcomed, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on. That a few chapters ahead of today’s passage. I do wonder if James was thinking about how Elijah called down fire on the priests of Baal to destroy them. After all he had just seen Elijah up on the mountain during the Transfiguration. It is hard to describe how much Jews disliked the Samaritans. Yet Jesus is trying to teach a different way. He will address the issue of who is my neighbor question two chapters from now with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  

 Julia and I were talking before and during VBS about some of the curriculum and programs that are out there. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Christian curriculum that doesn’t revolve around whether you are saved or not. Both of us have re-written larges pieces of VBS material to move away from blood sacrifice and the message that if you are not a Christian, in particular our kind of Christian, you are going to hell. These are all written to appeal to a brand of Christianity that teaches they have a lock on the truth and if you disagree then you are wrong and doomed to the fire.  

 The disciples and the Samaritans are both convinced that they have a lock on the truth. The only one that had a lock on the truth was and is Christ! We run into so many problems today because we naturally tend to think we have the truth. That our truth, small “t” is the Truth, capital “T.” 

I still remember watching a program on PBS years ago. Bill Moyers was being interviewed and this issue of the truth was the topic. Recorded in front of a live audience he looked at the person who was doing the interview and said, “You have your part of the truth. I have my part of the truth. Everyone in the audience has their portion of the truth. It is only when we put all of our truths together that we have a chance to understand the Truth.  

 The Hebrew word for truth is emet and that of the three letters to make up that word are the first letter of the alphabet the second letter is the exact middle of the alphabet and the final letter is the last letter of the alphabet. You must have the whole story, the beginning, the middle and the end to have the truth. Eric Law states “We cannot take one moment, one feeling, or one perspective and call that the truth.”1 We cannot know the truth unless we look at a situation from a variety of positions including that of the person who we may view as our enemy. The really big questions are not binary, they are not that simple and it takes multiple viewpoints to find the truth.   

Jesus rebukes the disciples because they do not follow his teaching to just shake the dust off and keep going when rejected. They do not want to love their neighbor, they want to wipe out the other. Maybe that’s why Jesus has to tell them the parable of the Good Samaritan, because they don’t get it.  

 Now Paul in his letter the Galatians is dealing with another group who doesn’t seem to get the love your neighbor as yourself message either. Like the church in Corinth the church in Galatia has factions and big disagreements. In this case the presenting symptom is the issue of whether or not you had to be circumcised to be a believer. The issue is what is the truth about the law. 

 There is a difference between following the law and fulfilling the law. Jesus is asking the disciples to fulfill the law and Paul is following along that same line. Following the law means do exactly what all 613 commandments say. Jesus is saying that there are two great commandments, love God and love your neighbor. Everything else is weighed against those two commandments. Orthodoxy means right belief, follow the rules. Orthopraxy means right actions. I am more worried about Orthopraxy and so was Jesus.  

 The Message translation of vs 22-24 provides an interesting viewpoint. Note the list of gifts here are all about fruits of those gifts. This is what I mean by Orthopraxy. Gal. 5:22   But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.  Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.  24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.” 

 Now we often heard Jesus speak of things being judged by the fruit that they bear. These gifts of the Spirit are all fruits that build community. They are also what is required of us in a truly free society. The sins, those passions and desires that Paul says we are freed from, are ones that destroy community. 

 These freedoms however come with a responsibility to live in a way that follows the two great commandments of love of God and neighbor as yourself. These responsibilities are laid out in the opening collect for the nation that I will read next week in honor of July 4.  

 Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will….. 

 We have been created to serve God in freedom and peace. We ask God to give to the people of our country a zeal for justice. Justice and the working for justice is a central theme of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels. This justice is embodied in the list of virtues from Galatians. Paul tells us not to use our freedom for self-indulgence. Ultimately all this comes down to the idea of orthopraxy over orthodoxy. We are called to fulfill the law by acting in ways that show our love of God and of neighbor. I cannot do much about how others act, but I can make an effort to follow Paul’s writings and Jesus’ teaching in how I act. That’s where change begins.