June 26, 2016
The Samaritans and the Jews just plain didn't like each other. In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. He knew and we know that his visit there was going to result in his death, he'd told his disciples this as well. But it meant traveling through Samaria. And Jesus intended to stay overnight in one of their villages. He sent messengers ahead. They arrived at a village, “but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem”. Now Jesus has had interactions with the Samaritans before. It appears that it wasn't a personal vendetta against Jesus or his disciples, but one of those prejudices that too often are held onto beyond reason. The Jews rejected the Samaritans back when they returned from captivity in Babylon. They viewed them as unqualified to be one of the chosen ones of Israel. That didn't sit well with the Samaritans and generations later, they won't even let Jesus, because he's a Jew, spend a night in their village.
With that as a background, I want to look this morning at the reactions of the people involved in this story, Jesus, the disciples and the Samaritan villagers.
But consider some of the things the disciples have been hearing from their teacher over the past three years about the new covenant. “The law is summed up in two commands, love God and love your neighbor.” When Peter asked about forgiveness, should we forgive up to seven times? Jesus said forgive seventy times seven. The disciples asked how to pray... he taught the Lord's prayer which includes- as we well know, forgive us our debts as we forgive others. And he told them at the end, “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” It appears the disciples did not take these lessons of forgiveness to heart. Love of neighbors and forgiveness is the basis of how we live in the Kingdom of God Jesus was teaching about. The disciples missed it and went for judgment, revenge, destruction.
You may have noticed the title of my sermon today, WWJD. At this point, it is as if those initials stand for “Who Would Jesus Destroy”. James and John wanted him to destroy this village that dissed their Lord. Let's look next at how Jesus reacted. The disciples asked for destruction, and Luke tells us “Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.” Not much of a reaction, unless the rebuke was full blown. But do you see Jesus yelling at the disciples for a protracted length of time? I imagine this rebuke coming with a tone of resignation in his voice. “James and John, all of you, have I been with you all this time and you still react as children of the world? You are setting your mind on the old way, I have come to establish a new kingdom of love and forgiveness. We do not come to destroy, but to build up. We do not win the world over with force, but with love.” Can't you imagine that kind of rebuke from the Lord. And isn't the soft rebuke of disappointment often more effective than yelling? It would seem that this rebuke of Jesus was one of disappointment and not anger. And as they moved on to another village, I feel certain that forgiveness was given by the Lord, both to the people of the village because of the ignorance of prejudice and for the disciples who continued to show their human failings.
We haven't looked at the citizens of the village. None of us would associate with them would we? Have we ever let preconceived notions, first impressions, or prejudices affect our decision making? Some questions to help us consider this question. Are we as comfortable visiting with a Christian from a conservative background as from a liberal one or with a Jehovah's Witness? Would you receive the young man in a jacket and tie coming into the church the same way as the one in holey jeans and multiple tattoos; greet them both with equal welcome and warmth? Have you ever crossed the street to avoid an individual you didn't know, but didn't like the looks of? I don't like associating myself with the villagers but I'm afraid I do some pre-judging more than I'd like to admit.
Decision time. Who do you identify with? The disciples? Do you react quickly and negatively to slights, rather persevered or real? Are you quick to seek retribution when you feel you've been wronged? If so, you are human. But our journey in the Christian faith is about rising above our natural tendencies for revenge. Our verse of the month is in today's reading from Galatians. Paul is contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Their are quite a few of his traits that relate to my message this morning. Works of flesh include enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy. These were the things the disciples were struggling with.
But as we look at the villages, they also struggled with these works of the flesh and they lost. And as I pointed out, we can identify with them in the way they were set in their ways. They were quick to judge, quick to separate and sadly, missed out on the Messiah.
The one in the story we want to identify with is Jesus. And that is not a pipe dream. We are on a journey and the goal is to become ever more like Christ. Our two banners bring us this message. First, this banner here tells us that when we are in Christ we are a new creation. That means we put away those things of the flesh in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our choir banner lists the traits of the new creation, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Every one of them fits into our story... how we react in the Spirit of love and peace... with patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. James and John were noticeably short of these traits when they wanted to destroy the village. But they were changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus as Lord. And we are changed... but until resurrection, we live with two natures. We continue to struggle against the desires of the flesh. We don't have the power to change ourselves. But God has sent us help and we can be much more intentional about seeking to live in the power of the Spirit.
The title of my sermon is better known as a question that helps us be more intentional about living a more Christ-like life. WWJD; What would Jesus Do? Not too many years ago, there was a whole industry based on those letters; hats, wrist bands, shirts, bumper stickers. I'm reminded of a story Barb shared with me. A new Christian entered a book store to buy supplies to strengthen his walk with the Lord. He came across a display of baseball caps with WWJD emblazoned on them. Being new to the faith, he had to ask the clerk what those letters stood for. “WWJD ask the question, What would Jesus do?” The man thought a bit then said, “I'm pretty sure he wouldn't pay $19.99 for one of these caps.” If the disciples thought about it a bit, they could have been pretty sure Jesus wouldn't destroy a village for disrespecting him. It is not a bad habit to consider that question throughout our days. And maybe we ask it with a prayer to be shown the right thing to do. The power of God through the Holy Spirit changes our hearts to seek to live our the fruit of the Spirit.
Throughout Scripture we find verses that support our growth in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 wrote of love, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Joy: From 1 Peter, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Peace: from Romans, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
Patience: Paul prays for the Colossians, May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father,”
Kindness: In Ephesians we see the contrast again between our way and God's way, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
You can see where I'm going, all of scripture gives us direction to live the life of faith; to live out the fruit of the Spirit. It is not about memorizing the scriptures, it is about living out what scripture says. We've recited these “fruit” for four weeks, how have we done living them out the last four weeks? It is not about knowing what to do, it is about doing. And doing the right thing. As we consider the characters in today's gospel, we see clearly demonstrated how the way of the world dominates, only Jesus did the right thing. Jesus demonstrated in all of his life how our lives of faith can be lived out. As we draw closer to God by our involvement in church, by our private devotions, by a more consistent prayer life, we can be changed from the inside out. Seek the Lord and these traits will follow. But understand that we will have our times of failure, and Christ is there ready to forgive and help us move on. May we be ever more purposeful about how we act and react and may we grow in faith and in the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: Jesus Thy Boundless Love to Me 366 PH