Benediction Online

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Walking your Talk

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62

I suggest you get a piece of paper. On one side is write Priorities and on the other Values.

I’d like you to take a few moments now to write down your Priorities as they come to mind – what do you prioritize in your life? What’s most important?

Now go to the other side and write down your values – what qualities do you think are most important?

When you compare your two lists I wonder whether you notice any discrepancies. Are the things that you are prioritizing in line with your values?

I think this is what Jesus had in mind in today’s gospel reading. On the face of it Jesus’ words are rather harsh, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." But if you are plowing by hand with oxen or another animal pulling the plow, you have to look forward to see what you are doing. Looking back defeats the purpose.

If your priorities in life are not in line with your values it’s the same thing. You say you’re doing one thing but all the time you’re being pulled in a different direction. It’s like the man who wanted to bury his father before he followed Jesus. I don’t for a moment think that Jesus expects us not to bury our parents, but the man is ambivalent. He wants to follow Jesus but later when it’s more convenient. If he really wanted to follow Jesus, he’d do it - like the disciples who immediately left their nets and followed Jesus.

How ambivalent are you? Where in your priorities and values did you put following Jesus, or loving God or serving God? I know there are hundreds of other things you could be doing rather than sitting here today, so the fact that you are here this morning suggests that you want to make God a priority in your life. But is there something getting in the way? Are you waiting until you grow up? Waiting until you retire? Waiting until your ship comes in? Have you decided to put God first but then gotten distracted, like the man who started to plow his field but started looking back at where he’d been rather than forward at what he was plowing?

It’s as though we start every day with a certain amount of energy. If we are caught up in the past, remembering how things used to be, held captive by loss we’ve experienced or prone to nostalgic remembering, then some of our energy is being spent in the past and isn’t available for today. In the same way, if we are caught up with worrying about the future or the things we have to do, then we are spending energy on the future and it isn’t available for today. Jesus challenges us to pull our energy away from the past and the future and to follow him today, here and now, with nostalgia and without anxiety.

The New Testament reading is all about the question of walking our talk - of making the way we do things match the values we say that we have. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the second great commandment, right after love God with all you’ve got. And Paul says, take it seriously – if you say you’re following Jesus but get into backbiting and gossip it’ll come back to bite you. You’ll find yourself caught up in it again. You’ll stop being free because you’ll get caught up in the gossip and bad mouthing.

In the gospel reading the brothers James and John had a bad case of forgetting to love their neighbor. When the Samaritan villagers failed to offer them hospitality, James and John wanted to destroy the village with fire! We live in a time when American society has become polarized. It is normal for people to demonize those who disagree with them. We divide the world into good guys who think like we do and bad guys who think like they do, and if we could we’d just get rid of them. This is not loving our neighbor. If you are a Democrat your neighbor is a Republican. If you are against the sewer your neighbor is for it. If you are gay, your neighbor is a homophobe. If you oppose oil drilling, your neighbor supports it. As disciples of Jesus we get to practice being Christ-like which means loving those we disagree with, not cursing them or calling down fire and brimstone on them.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the values we are called to cultivate. Joy and peace are inner qualities, but the others are all practiced in relationship; Love, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is in relationships that we are most challenged. Are we following Christ? Are we developing patience, gentleness, self-control?

Being a disciple of Christ is hard work. It may not be for everybody. It’s not feeling good on Sunday mornings and trying to be a good person. It’s watching the plow and trying to get the row straight and even, and doing it over and over again even when it isn’t convenient and even when it’s not much fun.

Does what you do match what you say? Do the things you prioritize match what you say is important to you? Are you living your values in your life? And are your values the values of God?

What are the fruits of your life? Are they love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?


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