Saturday, June 26, 2010

Focus on the Way

Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51 – 62

It takes a lot of focus to throw a no-hitter baseball game. But on Friday, Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks did just that against the Rays. It wasn’t pretty; he threw a lot of balls, and several Rays made it to first base because of that; his pitch count was really high; one batter was hit by a pitch; one batter made it to first base because of a fielding error; but in the end, he threw enough strikes to get the batters out. The Diamondbacks won the game, and Jackson has a no-hitter on his record. In the interviews at the end of the game, Jackson admitted he really had to focus to be successful. It would have been easy to be distracted and lose the no-hitter at the end.
… A while back, I was trying to get out of my neighborhood and there was a young woman in a pick-up ahead of me weaving all over the road, going about 10 miles an hour, When we got to Forest Ridge Boulevard, where I could pass her, I was able to confirm my suspicions. She was texting while driving – typing on her cell phone and paying more attention to the keyboard than the road, which should have been her primary focus.
… We’re at that part of Luke’s story of Jesus where he has left Galilee for Jerusalem. He has been preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, and gathering followers for one to three years. There will be plenty of encounters and parables along the way, but Jesus knows he is on the way to the cross. His primary focus is getting to Jerusalem.
The first encounter mentioned is in Samaria. The advance team entered a village, to let the folks know Jesus was coming, but they rejected him. Samaritans were sort of a break-away sect of Jews. They believed only the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – was sacred and rejected the other writings and the prophets. The believed Mount Gerazim was sacred, not Jerusalem. Because of these and other differences, the two peoples hated each other. Most Jews going from Galilee to Jerusalem went around Samaria, but Jesus chose to go through it.
I suspect that in other Samaritan towns, Jesus was well received – John tells the story of the woman at the well, for example – but in this particular town the folks refused to accept him. The disciples are angry and want to burn the place down, but Jesus reminds them that violence is not his way of doing things. And he continues on his way to Jerusalem.
As they travel, Luke briefly describes three more encounters. In the first, someone says to Jesus, “I want to join you and your group of followers.” Jesus answers, “My way is not easy. For me there is no rest, and no hiding place.”
Jesus invites a second person to join him. But this person’s father has just died, and he needs to observe the proper rituals and bury him. Jesus’ response is for him to choose between the living and the dead, between life and death. Choosing life means proclaiming the reign of God.
A third person wants to follow Jesus, but wants to have a farewell party before he goes. Jesus essentially tells him that those who look back have a hard time staying focused on the road ahead.
In the first few decades of the Christian Church, it was called “The Way.” It wasn’t organized religion, it was a way of life. Following Jesus meant living the way he did, selflessly proclaiming and living the reign of God. It meant justice for all, Jew and Gentile, slave and free person, man and woman. It meant love and acceptance and forgiveness, not hatred and rejection and division. It meant making sure all people had – have – enough to eat, a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, and a warm welcome wherever they go.
Jesus modeled the Way to live and love and love and accept and forgive. He single-mindedly obeyed God’s instructions to demonstrate what God wants for all people on earth, to the point of giving his life for us all.
We’re gathered here because we honor Jesus and what he did for us. We’re gathered to worship God, to spend an hour or so focused on God and what God wants for us. At least that’s what we try to do. But it’s harder than we think.
It’s so easy to get distracted. There are so many possible distractions. We wonder, as we sit here, if we turned off the coffee maker. We wonder what color nail polish our neighbor is wearing. We wonder where she got her shoes. We wonder if we should have a steak or a hamburger for lunch. We wonder what made the pastor choose that terrible hymn, or why the organist plays the way she does. And, then someone’s cell phone rings and we think unkind thoughts about the other person’s intelligence – or breathe a sigh of relief because it wasn’t our phone ringing.
When we leave here, it’s easy to be upset with the other drivers on the road; and quickly forget that we just came from worship and promised to follow Jesus on the Way. So we utter some swear words about the nature of the other person.
During the week, it’s so easy to be so caught up in the matters of living – earning a pay check, going to the doctor, golfing, boating, cooking and eating, that Jesus and his Way are far from our minds. We wonder just how we could possibly follow Jesus as single-mindedly as this collection of stories implies we are “supposed to.”
Jesus, of course, knows it’s not possible to follow him so closely that we don’t have time to take care of our families, or see to our health, or earn a living, or enjoy our relaxation time. But Jesus does want us to live in such a way that we know everything we have comes from God, and that we proclaim the Good News of God’s love for us in all that we do.
Living with our focus on Jesus can become a habit, a way of life, part of who we are. We follow Jesus on the Way when we respect all people, forgive those who hurt us, make amends when we find we’ve hurt someone else, put God high on our priority lists. We follow Jesus on the way when we demonstrate Paul’s fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We can start the day asking God to be with us throughout the day, and end the day thanking God for being with us all day. We can give God thanks for every meal we eat – even if we are at a restaurant and wondering what other people will think; even if we are alone and think no one is watching, so why bother? We can love others – with some people, it helps to remember that God loves them. We can give God thanks for the words that seemed to come from outside ourselves, that helped a hurting person. We can take a deep breath before speaking hurtful words, and seek patience with them and within ourselves. We can be generous with what we have, so others may also have something. We can tell someone God loves them, especially if they think they are unlovable. I’m sure you can think of many more ways to help you focus on following Jesus on the Way.
This is your challenge for the week. Notice what helps you focus on following Jesus, and what distracts you from it.
Please pray with me: Jesus, you showed us how to live, how to follow you on the Way. Call us back to following you when we stray from your path. Amen