Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon: Discipleship

Sermon for Pentecost VI, Year C
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, June 30, 2013

For Readings, click here– Luke 9:51-62
Open our lips, O Lord, that our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen.

“There is a turning point in C.S. Lewis’s enchanting,
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,[1] 
where the characters encourage each other with reports of Aslan,
the great lion and true ruler of oppressed Narnia.
Aslan has reappeared to fight the evil witch. 
Their words of strength and encouragement for each other, are as potent as they are succinct, “Aslan is on the move.” 

Aslan is on the move. “And now a very curious thing happened,” the story goes on, “None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do;
but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words
everyone felt quite different. …At the name of Aslan each one of the children
felt something jump in its inside…[2]

As I read these words, I felt something jump inside me!
Aslan being “on the move” and him making things right in Narnia
triggered thoughts about God on the move,
making things right in the world through Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel reading, something similar is happening. 
This reading inaugurates the second half of Jesus’ ministry –
his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. 
To this point, he preached, taught and worked miracles in Galilee. 
Then suddenly, Jesus hears a silent clarion call to turn toward Jerusalem. 
Jesus is on the move. 

Jesus is on the move. He finds that after all his ministry work in Galilee,
his message of the new peace of God’s kingdom
is being rejected by God’s people
because it clashes with the sacred institutions of Jerusalem.  

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
This curious phrase, “set his face,”
translates from the Greek word “sterizo.”
Jesus sterizo’s his face to go to Jerusalem.
Resolutely towards Jerusalem. 
Sterizo means to fix firmly in place (physically) or
to be inwardly firm or committed.

Jesus sterizo his face because he knows
he will face opposition.
But his disciples don’t know that. 
The disciples don’t really get what this shift in itinerary means – 
that there will be no pausing, no relaxing,
no tolerated interruptions. 
The path is chosen; the die is cast and
every step will be toward the cross.[3]
Jesus is on the move.

Because he is on the move,
Jesus sends disciples ahead to arrange lodging.
To get to Jerusalem from Galilee,
Jesus hopes to go through Samaria.
But the Samaritans won’t accept him.
This rejection is not unlike to the rejection he received
in Nazareth after his baptism
and foreshadows his rejection in Jerusalem. 
Rejection, it seems, is part of following Jesus. 

James and John don’t really get what this rejection means
and seem to have short term memory loss
about handling rejection. 
They act like overzealous evangelists of another generation
(as found in 2 Kings)
who tossed balls of hellfire at those who refused God’s grace. 
They remember the scriptural precedent,
but forget they are following One who taught that
when hospitality is withheld,
to shake the dust off your feet and move on.
Revenge and retribution have no place in Jesus’ ministry.

After turning and rebuking these two,
Jesus demonstrates concretely what it means to
“take up your cross daily.”
Three times, Jesus reveals his sterizo toward Jerusalem and
the radical demands of any would-be followers.

First, someone says, “I will follow you.”
Jesus explains with analogy of foxes and birds
how he, himself, is completely dependent
on the hospitality of others. 
Is this would-be follower
ready to be dependent on the community?

Second, Jesus says to another, “Follow me.”
That person replies that he must first bury his father. 
Seems like a reasonable request
for someone in that culture to want. 
But, Jesus responds with a scathing and puzzling
“Let the dead bury the dead.” 
In essence, he says, if you are spiritually alive,
do the things that bring God’s
life-giving energy to the world. 
Is this would-be follower
ready to put following Jesus first and give up hanging out with spiritually dead people?

Finally, another possible follower says,
“I will follow you after I say farewell to my family.” 
Jesus responds with allusions to the OT story
of Elijah’s calling Elisha, but before following,
Elisha returns to his family to say goodbye.
Jesus raises the bar:
when following him, you cannot look back. 
“My way is more compelling,” he means –
do not look back, but plow ahead of you.
Is this would-be follower
ready to turn everything upside down?

Jesus is on the move,
explaining to the confounded disciples
the radicality of his words:
That Jesus claims priority over the best,
not the worst, of human relationships.[4]


Aren’t we sometimes like these confounded disciples? 
Do we really understand what it means to follow Jesus?

We say we will follow,
but honestly, sometimes it is only after
we fulfill our cultural obligations.
We say we will follow,
but our family asks us for
“just one more thing before you go.” 
We say we will plow the land and
do God’s work in the world, but we look back.

Are we, would-be followers,
ready to be dependent on our community?
Are we, would-be followers,
ready to put Jesus first and give up hanging out with spiritually dead people?
Are we, would-be followers,
ready to turn everything upside down?


So here is a “truth in advertising” comment:
Those of us who embrace Jesus and his mission
must be under no illusions of what it will mean for us.
Like that bumper sticker asks,
“If you were on trial for being a Christian,
would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Following Jesus, discipleship,
means living in ways we might not otherwise live.

And that is where the sterizo of God, in Jesus, comes in. 

Jesus sees the disciples hesitating. 
Jesus knows they are keeping up religious customs. 
Jesus sees them looking back. 

Over and over, Jesus confers on the disciples
the sterizo to keep going to Jerusalem –
and beyond, to the resurrection, ascension and
the coming of the Holy Spirit.
In a dozen other scripture passages,
we read how God confers “sterizo,” the strength
to trust in God’s faithfulness,
to prioritize Jesus above all else, and
to proclaim the good work that God is already doing in the world.[5]

In Luke, at the Last Supper, Jesus turns to Peter.
He tells him he has prayed that his faith may not fail.
Jesus says,
“…once you have turned back [in faith],
sterizo your brothers.”

In Peter’s first letter, the conclusion adds,
“And after you have suffered for a little while,
the God of all grace,
who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
will himself restore and sterizo you.”

In Revelation, Jesus addressed the church in Sardis.
He said, “Wake up, and sterizo what remains…”

The good news is that Jesus strengthened the disciples
and he strengthens us.

Through the sterizo of God, we remain steadfast.
We love one another with open acceptance of hospitality,
We follow Jesus despite rejection,
We trust in the One who frees us from
possession and worship
of family first,
granting us a healthy distance necessary to love them.

How do we know the sterizo of God?
We encounter sterizo of God
in the focused effort to feed the poor at Casa Maria. 

We feel the sterizo of God in respectful conversation
around the emotionally charged issues
of guns and implicated responses
by our faith community. 

We touch on the sterizo of God
in the fresh liturgical expressions
found in same-gender union blessings. 
How do we know the sterizo of God? 

This ancient Celtic poem,
the "Song of Amergin," offers a glimpse:

I am the wind on the sea;
I am the ocean wave;
I am the sound of the billows;
I am the seven-horned stag;
I am the hawk on the cliff;
I am the dewdrop in sunlight;
I am the fairest of flowers;
I am the raging boar;
I am the salmon in the deep pool;
I am the lake on the plain;
I am the meaning of the poem;
I am the point of the spear;
I am the god that makes fire in the head;
Who levels the mountain?
Who speaks the age of the moon?
Who has been where the sun sleeps?
Who, if not I?

May we, emboldened by the sterizo of God,
be humble, gracious, and loving. 
May we, who seek to be embraced by
the radical love of God made known in Jesus,
know that this deep love is contrary
to all human conceptions of love. 
May we, looking through the lens of
God’s kaleidescope, follow Jesus.

And never look back.


[1] Inspired by Feasting on the Word
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch an
d The Wardrobe, (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1950). P. 74
[3] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1990) 142-144
[4] Craddock, p.144
[5] Examples cited at on June 29, 2013

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sermon: John XXIII

Sermon for June 3, 2013 ~ 10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of John XXIII [Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli]
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
For online access to the readings click here
Joel 2:26-29, Psalm 50, 1 Peter 5:1-4, John 21:15-17

I speak to you in the name of One God, Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

Today is the feast day of John XXIII. 
In the Catholic liturgical year he is remembered on October 11,
the day that the Second Vatican Council began. 
In the Anglican calendar we remember him on his death day, June 3
(well, transferred to today for our healing service.)

I am curious what you know about Pope John XXIII,
who was beatified (made a saint) on September 3, 2000?

His biography includes:
·       Born in 1881 into a family of poor sharecroppers in Italy
·       Ordained a priest in 1904
·       Served in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and France.
·       During WWII, he helped the Jewish underground and other refugees
·       Was elected Pope in 1958 to his surprise, at age 77

If I was going to introduce you to him as a friend at a party,
I would mention two aspects of his life that stood out for me. 

One was his clear passion for equality. 

He was known to say, “We are all made in God’s image and
thus we are all Godly, alike.” 

This passion for equality inspired him to recognize the sins committed against the Jews, …

“…many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people nor recognize in their faces
the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain
stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel
has lain in blood which we drew, or shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews.
Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we know what we did.”(from Catholic Herald, 1965). 

In this spirit of equality, his near-last words are said to have been
“may they all be one,” which was Jesus’ prayer from the Gospel of John chapter 17. 

I wonder – how strong is our passion for equality? How do we see others in God’s image,as we are known?

Second was his gift of starting the conversation.  
He started it in Bulgaria, he started it in Turkey/Greece conversations, he held conversations in France, he started the renewal of the Catholic church in the second Vatican council. 

Many of these conferences were only the beginning. He bravely started,
not knowing exactly where they would end but trusting in God’s presence and
that the Spirit of Truth would fuel ongoing dialogues.

In a culture where “achievements” are recognized and held up as proof of our loveability, here was someone who simply “started” conversation – didn’t wait around – he trusted in God’s mercy and ongoing revelation. 

I wonder – how we can start a conversation – somewhere in our lives? Not knowing where it will end? 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds Peter three times about tending or feeding
his flock of sheep or lambs. John XXIII took seriously the call to care for his sheep, through his passion for equality and his desire to start conversations.

So for today, Who are the sheep in your fold?  What does it mean to “tend” those lambs?

God’s promise, as we hear from Joel, is that God will pour out God’s spirit –
into new and fresh revelations.

The good news today, is that through the example of John XXIII, we recognize a gift of passion for equality and for conversation. 

God promises to pour out God’s spirit into our lives,  refreshing and renewing our lives each day. God continues to supply us with gifts and passions, so that we can hear God’s call and care for the sheep in our fold. 

And, so that we all may be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.