Sunday, June 26, 2016

Walking in the presence of God

Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9 51

This is the year of reading Luke. Bit by bit this summer we are reading the stories that are unique to Luke, meaning these stories are not included in Matthew, Mark, or John’s gospels. So far, the stories we have read have been the development of Jesus’ ministry, what he means to accomplish – a radical reversal of the way things are: thrones toppled, poor people valued, worship with the heart, not just the mouth.

His teaching up to this moment has centered in the Galilee, in the north of the region we call Israel. I believe he lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee and made day trips or overnight trips with the disciples to the towns in the region, returning frequently to his home.

From this point on, Luke tells us, Jesus leaves Galilee and “sets his face toward Jerusalem.” He heads to the end of the story with a single-minded determination he wants his followers to emulate.

There were several ways to get from the Galilee to Jerusalem. One road went east across the Jordan River and into what is now called Jordan, then west as they neared the Dead Sea. Or, they traveled along the west bank of the Jordan River.

The shortest route was south through Samaritan territory. You may remember that Jews and Samaritans came from the same Israelite ancestors, but they quarreled over several key religious issues: Mount Gerazim or Mount Zion, five or twenty-four books in the Bible, Levites or rabbis in charge of interpreting scripture.  They were not on good speaking terms, and many Jews chose to avoid Samaria and take the longer eastern route between Jerusalem and the Galilee.  But, Jesus chooses to travel straight through Samaria.

So, as he begins his journey, he encounters a group of Samaritans who want nothing to do with him, since he is so single-mindedly focused on getting to Jerusalem – instead of Mount Gerazim. The disciples with Jesus are incensed, upset that anyone would reject Jesus. They want to know if they should – it’s interesting that they assume they have the power and authority – command God to send fire down on the Samaritans. Jesus answers, “Of course not!” and they continued their journey.

Along the way, many people want to join Jesus. But, by this time, Jesus is only accepting those who are as single-minded as he is. Do they understand that there is no time for rest, or goodbyes, and or burying the dead? No rest, no goodbyes, that we can understand.

But, wait a minute! No time for burying the dead? When every society on earth makes a big to-do about burying their dead? I have two thoughts about this instruction. One, Jesus could mean that burial rituals are less important than walking right that minute with God. Two, Jesus could know that the man’s father was ill, but not yet dead. How long would he have to wait before he could follow Jesus? A few days, a month, a year?

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he will wait for us, for decades if necessary. But this was when Jesus was walking on earth as a human, and he knew his time was growing shorter and shorter. There literally was not much time left to walk with Jesus.

Now, of course, and for the last two thousand years, it is not possible to physically walk with Jesus. His body is gone, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended. He walks with us now through the Holy Spirit. When we live with the Spirit, we walk in the presence of God.

Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains in clear words how we are to walk in the presence of God. He writes: Let go of personal interest and pay attention to the leading of the Spirit. Do not be led astray by the human desires of loose living, jealousy, factions, and strife. Instead, live by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

One story about walking in the presence of God. And yes, I know I am being an idealist, and bad stuff could happen. But bad stuff is happening anyway.  

In the 1990s, Melina was four years old, and she fled the war in Bosnia along with her family. She left behind lots of family, too. Her family of refugees was allowed to settle in a decrepit building in St Louis, Missouri. There were seven people, one bedroom, and one bathroom. Melina had to learn a new language, a new way of living, and she began to embrace the American culture with a poster of Britney Spears on the wall.

It turns out the influx of refugees into this part of St Louis was good for them and for the city itself. New stores, bakeries, coffee shops, heating and cooling companies, and so much more brought new life to St Louis.

Melina is now in university, and comments, “I will never forget the tolerance, warmth, and love that brought us to America.” The people of St Louis walked with God in opening their city to refugees and has been blessed by God by the people they welcomed.

Today, we ask ourselves if we feel safe letting refugees from Syria into our country. We are letting fear govern our lives. We are letting the human desires Paul mentions rule us. We are not trusting God, we are not walking in the presence of God, letting the Spirit guide our ways.

If, instead, we are guided by the Spirit of Jesus, we are walking in the presence of God. We are trusting the Spirit of God to be kind and generous and offer a place of peace for families desperately in need of some generosity and kindness and some peace.

Now, to make this more personal: Imagine Jesus is walking beside you every moment, and see if that makes a difference in the way you treat others, in the way you think about Jesus, and the choices you make.

Imagine when you are literally walking around the block or through a parking lot that Jesus is present. Imagine when you are sharing beers at the VFW that Jesus is sharing in your conversation. Imagine that Jesus is at your hospital bedside as you wait for test results.

Think about your life and remember the times when Jesus was walking beside you, when you were walking in the presence of God without even being aware of God’s presence. Let those memories guide you to new ways to walk in the presence of God.

Please pray with me: Jesus, you walk beside us daily, hourly. Teach us to be aware of you, to be guided by you, and to not put off having a relationship with you, today, this morning, this minute. Lead us to share your presence with those we meet all day. Amen