June 26, 2022 The Third Sunday After Pentecost

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

June 26, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2,11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
From the Gospel according to Luke, “Jesus said ... ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and
looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son
and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sometime ago, presiding bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, offered a rousing
sermon that encouraged the faithful to not lose heart in the face of growing adversity, to
stay the course, to love unconditionally regardless of how others respond to that love, and
quoting the old spiritual, urged us to “keep your hand on the gospel plow.”
I thought of that sermon and its stirring message when praying about this week’s
lessons and shaping this sermon. As I have said before, when crafting sermons my prayer is
always “What is it that the Spirit of God desires to say to God’s people through these
scriptures on this Sunday?” Sometimes that answer is easy and the sermon flows. At other
times, not so easy and the path forward is bumpy to say the least. So it was in crafting
today’s sermon because our Lord’s words and that old spiritual kept resonating in my mind
over and over again, “No one who puts a hand to the plow - the gospel plow – and looks
back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Our reading from the Gospel according to Luke this morning, tends to be a bit of a head
scratcher. So it is important to remember the timing of this story. Jesus has set out on his
final journey – a journey to Jerusalem. Previously, he has warned the disciples about his
impending suffering there (9:21-27, 44-45) and even though they confessed their faith in
him as the Messiah (9:18-20) and saw him transfigured with Elijah and Moses (9:28-36),
they cannot imagine the horror that will unfold in Jesus’ last days . But Jesus does know. He
has, “set his face toward Jerusalem” – a metaphor meaning he has an unwavering
determination.
But this is where the story becomes puzzling. Normally, Jesus is very accepting of the
Samaritans and yet, he shocks us by barely even noticing them as he heads to Jerusalem.
Our text says that the Samaritans “did not receive him” - didn’t offer him a place to stay –
probably because they knew he was determined to meet his destiny. I think they had more
insight as to what was going on with Jesus than his disciples. What is puzzling here is why
James and John were so offended by the villager’s appearance of inhospitality. So much so,
they asked if they could command fire to come down and destroy them – as if they ever
could do that! Their words are reminiscent of when Elijah called down fire upon the soldiers
of King Ahaziah in II Kings chapter 1. But notice Jesus’ response. He doesn’t chastise the
Samaritans, but rather, he rebukes John and James and uses this moment as an
opportunity to speak about discipleship and the implications of following him. Now, Luke is
clear that Jesus is speaking to those who are already following him, not potential followers.
And that’s important because Jesus knows what is coming. Through use of hyperbole, Jesus
says his followers must be willing to let go of the past (“Let the dead bury the dead”); and
there comes a time when you have to leave the comforts of home (“let me first say
farewell”), you have to let go of the familiar – and move into uncharted territory. And then
he adds, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now what does he mean by that?
Well, anyone who has plowed a field knows that you must focus on what’s in front of you in
order to keep the furrows straight. Look back and you will swerve one way or another.
And see, Jesus knows that is exactly what his disciples will do after he is gone. Seeing their
Lord crucified, they will not just look back, but let go of that plow altogether – at least
initially. But then, having heard the good news of the resurrection and seen it with their
own eyes, they will take hold of that plow again and their lives will be radically changed and
unexpectedly different from anything they ever imagined. They will leave their past behind,
leave what they have known and done, leave the familiar, and go in totally new directions.
In his life prior to meeting the resurrected Christ, Saul, who later became known to us as
St. Paul, was a zealous persecutor of the church. Just as our Lord had set his face toward
Jerusalem, so Saul had set his face toward the eradication of Christ’s followers.
But just like the disciples, an encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ forever changed
him. He who had at one time upheld the rigorous Law of Moses to the letter, became a
proponent of the freedom offered to the world through Jesus Christ. A freedom that enables
God’s people to live not by the letter of the law but by its intent. And what is that intent?
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In our reading from his letter to the Galatians,
Paul invites us to live and be guided by the Spirit, the fruit of whom is not judgment or
disdain for one’s neighbor, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. Paul says that is the way of life God has made possible through
the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. It is a way of life marked by love – a
holy and divine love.
Elisha, in today’s reading from II Kings, is traveling with his mentor, the prophet Elijah,
when an amazing spectacle unfolds before his very eyes. Elijah is carried up to heaven in a
chariot of fire and his mantle now becomes Elisha’s own and he is forever changed, as is his
path and way of life from then on.
Our scripture lessons this morning beg the question, “How are our lives different as
followers of Jesus than what they might have been otherwise?” You know, I saw a bumper
sticker one time that read, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be
enough evidence to convict you?” That’s a really good question and one that I ask myself on
a regular basis. See, discipleship, being a true follower of Jesus Christ, means living in ways
we might not otherwise live. For the truth is that being a Christian – a Christ follower in
every sense of that word – gives us a whole new identity. An identity that should be easily
seen and experienced by all who encounter us. An identity that at its heart resides the
unconditional love of God – love for God and love for neighbor – a love that refuses to be
distracted from its redemptive grace and mercy. A love that urges us to put our hand to the
plow and not look back, not be distracted, nor wish that we had chosen some other path.
I cannot recall a time in my life when life itself has been filled with so many distractions.
In fact, our culture feeds on distraction. When truth is staring us right in the face, someone,
something somewhere will bend over backwards to get us to look elsewhere so that we
ignore injustice, ignore God’s values and way of life, or try to explain them away so that we
can cling to what is comfortable and turn a blind eye to the needs of others. Distractions
urge us to look back and let go of that plow. Let go of it to our own peril.
Our Collect this morning, recognizing that it is Almighty God who has built the church
upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, our Lord Jesus Christ himself being the
chief cornerstone, prays that being joined in unity of spirit by their teaching, we may be
made not just any temple, but a holy temple acceptable to God. Discipleship, following our
Lord Jesus Christ, means living differently, living – embodying and demonstrating – God’s
truth, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and God’s love.
Friends, Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the
kingdom of God.” May God grant us the grace to always look forward, look forward
together in mission even if where we are heading is unknown or unfamiliar. And most of all,
may God grant us the strength and the desire to hang onto that plow. Amen.