June 26, 2022, Sermon preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year C; FB. Proper 8; 6.26.2022

Luke 9:51-62

            “Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.” This phrase tells us that there was no turning back as Jesus made his way to his death in the most holy city of his tribe. He had just made the second prediction of his death to his disciples which they never did take in until his arrest. They were heading toward Jerusalem and took the most direct route, through Samaria. And their enemy, the Samaritans refused to receive them.

You can’t really blame James and John for their desire to respond to those RUDE Samaritans, those inhospitable Samaritans by asking Jesus if they could call down fire to smite them. After all, at the beginning of this chapter in Luke we learn that Jesus called the twelve together and GAVE them power and authority. Before that, they were mostly just young working guys.

After he called them to follow him, Jesus gave them POWER over all demons and to cure diseases. They had witnessed Jesus use this power to raise the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus from the dead. Who could blame them for wanting to call upon this same power to destroy their enemy?

            But power seems to have gone to their heads. Just before this passage, they all argued about who was the greatest. We can just see Jesus placing the palm of his hand on his forehead and sighing, “You are following me and you STILL don’t get what I’m teaching!”

            And now, Jesus is on his way to the capital of their faith, Jerusalem. He set his face, singularly focused on doing God’s will. He was destined from birth to be the holy one to redeem the world and to bring people to God. And he knew this would lead to his death.

Going through enemy territory, Samaria, they are received with hostility. So, James and John said, “Hey Jesus!”  Like puppies, they went to him almost panting to exercise their new-found power – ”Hey Jesus! Do you want us to call on the heavens to produce fire and destroy them?” “No!” Jesus rebuked them.

            At our June Vestry meeting last Thursday, we paired up to discuss this passage and then we shared our partner’s comments with the group. We wondered what Jesus’ rebuke might have been like. One of the comments made us laugh, “It was like boys learning their power. Boys will be boys!”  Another vestry member said, “Jesus must have said, ’Um, guys that’s NOT what the power is for.’” We laughed again.

            I wonder why Jesus chose to travel through Samaritan country. Was he in a hurry to get to Jerusalem where he would be put to death? I don’t think so! Maybe he wanted to make a point with his followers, about loving the enemy. “Yes, you have power and authority that I’m giving you from God. But here is how you use it. Not to destroy those who reject you. Not to wage violence on those who are not in your tribe.”

“Rather, your power is to be used to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus was just as serious about also using power to “love your enemy.” In the next chapter of Luke’s gospel, when a lawyer asked how he could achieve eternal life, Jesus answered him by saying, “Keep the commandments and love your neighbor as yourself.” But the lawyer wanted to split hairs and asked, “And who exactly is my neighbor? Does that mean EVERYBODY?”

Yes. Even a Samaritan. And Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Can a Samaritan be good? Let me tell you how. In the story, the enemy, the Samaritan was the only one who showed the beaten Jew mercy and love. His point is that neighbor love is also loving your enemy and treating that enemy with compassion.

Most of us can’t do it. Certainly, we do it only by God’s power and love.

Many of us have had strong feelings of anger and hurt at the recent news that our country’s highest Court reversed a right that women have had for nearly 50 years; access to a safe way to end a pregnancy. Like access to proper shelter and food, access to proper healthcare is a right. When I counsel women on the question of whether or not to end a pregnancy, I begin with the miracle of life. It is holy. The Episcopal Church states this clearly.

And I help the woman, who is always in dire straits when she seeks counsel…I help her discern the decision, and I walk with her in it. At this point in our country’s history, I feel myself drawing a line against those who have eliminated a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. I disagree with them. and I confess that I am letting my anger get to me.

And so, I go back to the disciples and their response to their enemy, the Samaritans not welcoming them. It’s a story about being on the other end of hospitality or lack of hospitality. Since Christian Hospitality is a deep calling for our parish, it is important for us to revisit just what hospitality means. “The Dictionary of Christian Ethics” describes hospitality as, “…taking in strangers or travelers…the practice was common in ancient Israel and is referred to in several places in scripture…” most notably in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

But here is an expanded ethical definition that surprised me: “Hospitality was also to be shown to enemies or those of whom one was afraid. The Christian Church placed great stress on an obligation of hospitality.”

The Christian Church, our church practices hospitality which gives the possibility of opening God’s way of love to enemies that would be permanently blocked.

Divisions are deepening even more in our country.  The growing power of White Nationalism, a loud minority feels like another enemy to me. Even as I desire to follow Jesus, even as my love for Jesus grows and grows, I despair that I have no desire to open way of mercy and love to my enemy.

Still. Still. I’m preaching what I need to hear and what I need to remember as a follower of Jesus. I’ve revisited some of the writings of Abraham Lincoln in a biography I’ve read. In his writing and his speeches, Abraham Lincoln declares his desire for unity. He DID NOT want the South to split off. Yet he DID NOT want slavery to continue. He knew it was not sustainable, was morally unjust and must not be allowed to expand to the West. He mustered Union troops to fight a war, yes, a bloody, violent, brother against brother war, to overpower the South and bring them into the fold.

Yet, throughout the violence and messiness of the Civil War, Lincoln kept his eye on the end goal – unity and love of the enemy.

“When [Lincoln] was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and was reminded that it was his duty to destroy them, he gave the great answer, ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? We must never regard him as an enemy to be destroyed, but as a strayed friend to be recovered by love…”

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Powerful and wise counsel. What if the people who raise our ire in these difficult days of our country are really “strayed friends?”  May God’s power work in us for this good.