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Spirit and Life…

June 25, 2016

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Can you see me? We went hiking on the Ute Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park with two friends who are also members of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies here in Estes Park. The tundra is in full bloom and Jim & Carol wanted to reveal another wonderful aspect of this place we are  blessed to call home. The trail was originally a route the Ute Indians used to move around the area. Their pathway is what gave name to the highest continuous use road in the US, Trail Ridge Road. We parked on one of the roadside parking spots and headed out with water and cameras in hand. Near the very beginning of the hike we came across two Bull Rocky Mountain Elk lounging about and enjoying their morning breakfast. This particular picture above cracked me up… how well can you hide an Elk in the park? Well, if he has a big antler rack, not very well! They really are majestic creatures and it is always a treat to see them.

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Well, now you see me! The fellow hadn’t moved at all. It was the photographer/hiker who had moved. That is one of the incredible things about hiking in the Rockies. As you move along the path, the vista changes and you see things from a new perspective. The Rockies never change and yet they never look the same. Your perspective changes… the weather changes… the light changes… the seasons change… but Rocky really doesn’t.

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One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is what you will see as you round the next bend on the trail. What can actually survive and thrive (for the short time period that our mountain wild flowers like the Chiming Bells pictured above) at over 11,000 feet above sea level is amazing. A few weeks ago, this entire area was covered in snow with some of the drifts measuring over nine feet in depth. Yet here we are, a few weeks later with beauty like this shining for all to see if they will but take the time to explore and simply “be” in God’s creation.

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So Padre, glad you enjoyed your hike in the Rockies, but what does this have to do with Sunday’s Scripture readings? Good question, Mister Elk! Actually, the fellow was simply enjoying his breakfast and I happened to catch him with his mouth open and couldn’t resist using him for that particular question!

I have been struggling a bit with the Gospel reading for this Sunday. In previous Year C’s in the Lectionary, I have focused on the call to immediate action on the part of Jesus. No time for looking back with longing on a past that perhaps was never as grand as you have made it up to be in your memory. But this year, there is something different tugging at my heart. One commentator I follow said that perhaps the harsh message of Jesus (let the dead bury their own dead) is a bit more metaphorical than that. But when you think about the dead literally burying the dead, I guess you really can’t take it literally as I have never seen a corpse pick up a shovel to bury another corps. Perhaps, wonders Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN, the emphasis is on making every moment count?

Each of the individuals who said they wanted to follow Jesus came up with an excuse for delaying that moment. Jesus, I want to follow you, but… Did Jesus sense an urgency in the need to respond to his call? Or was it a matter of don’t put off until tomorrow what you are being called to do today? Every moment counts! Don’t put off the decision to follow until a more convenient time! Perhaps with the event that had happened just prior to those saying they wanted to follow Jesus impressed an urgency upon him.

In the troubling verses at the very beginning of the Gospel for this Sunday, something very disturbing happens. Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem. He knew what was coming, but he knew he had to use the last encounters with the people and not waste them. What happened as the Samaritan village rejected him is very disturbing to me.

Now we know that the Samaritans and the Jews were not exactly on friendly terms. Their bad blood went back to the Exile. The Samaritans, who were left on the land while the upper class was taken into exile felt that they had kept faith with God and the Law while the exiles became corrupted by foreign influences. On the other hand, the Jewish ruling and theological elite who were taken into captivity felt that they had kept faith with God and the Law while the Samaritans had been corrupted themselves.

So when the Samaritan village rejected Jesus, James and John asked Jesus a very shocking question: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54) Really guys? It’s one thing to wither a fig tree, but another to annihilate an entire village because they rejected Jesus! So Jesus on the one hand has two of his disciples who want to nuke a village because they don’t like them (or believe exactly as they felt they should) and others who aren’t willing to commit to following him until their own agenda has been completed.

Interesting how Galatians 5:13-25 seems to help us to understand the frustration Jesus must have felt along with the urgency of his task. In Galatians 5:13-14 we read: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters… not to be narcissists who want to nuke anybody who is different from you, but rather to serve one another in love. Yes, to love your neighbor as yourself. There isn’t room for a “yes, but” response. Just as Jesus called the disciples and the two in the Luke passage to follow him, Paul is reminding the church in Galatia (and us today) that we are called to give a simple and complete “Yes” to following Jesus.

When you look at the fruits of the spirit versus what Paul calls the desires of the flesh (I would say narcissistic values) there can only be one answer. The answer is not nuke them until they glow… it isn’t build a wall… it isn’t ship them back to their own country… In the words of Jesus (and the Law), “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) What I am seeing today on the streets and in the news and social media is anything but the fruit of the Spirit. When you have a presidential candidate say he could shoot someone dead in the middle of the street in New York City and get away with it there is no love present. Can you imagine if our elected representatives in Washington (or elsewhere around the world) lived by Galatians 5:22-23 and the command to love God and love ALL neighbors?

Maybe that is where the urgency to follow Jesus completely and immediately is just as relevant today as it was when he called the two who said, “Yes, But” in the Gospel reading. With all of the hatred and resurgence of racism which seems to have been released like some sort of perverse Pandora’s Box by Trump and his minions, we don’t have time to bury our dead or say goodbye to our family. As a Christ follower, I feel a strong pull to get off of the sidelines and speak. To lift up the marginalized. To speak against the hatred and fear being spread like a vile disease across our country and world. To join with others, even those who aren’t Christ followers, in spreading a different sort of message. A message rooted and grounded in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

Again, to quote Paul in Galatians 5:25 —  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” I know people who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Pagans, and even Atheists who want to live a life that is rooted and grounded in love. Many of my friends through the years of ministry in the military and in the civilian world fall into those categories and others. Chief amongst their desires has been and is still to do the following: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Spirit blows where it will and inspires in unique ways. We need to respond to that breath of hope and life with an urgency! Will you join with me, dear reader, in accepting that call to love?

2 Comments
  1. CeCe Richards permalink

    I printed this for my bible study group. Hope you don’t mind. It is stated so beautifully. You are missed and still loved. You and yours are in my prayers daily. CeCe

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