I am not a particularly competitive person; I don’t really like to play a lot of games. I went to a highschool that de-emphasized competition to the point that we did not have sports teams. The only competitors in our school were the math team and the jazz band. I didn’t play in the jazz band and y’all know how I feel about math, so, I was saved from the competitive world, at least in highschool. I wish the rest of the world worked that way.
But just because I do not like to compete on a team or even a personal level, doesn’t mean that I don’t like to be right. And, I admit to you my brothers and sisters, that this can be a character flaw of mine, especially if I am convinced that I am right. There is an almost yearly argument that Bill and I have, sometimes on facebook, about which parade is both a better, and a real parade. Being from New York City, I of course say that it is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Bill, being from Southern California, believes that the Rose Bowl Parade is the only holiday parade worth watching. Much to the delight of friends, we go back and forth about the virtues of our side. One of my constant refrains is that “we have Santa”. I mean, really. Santa is kind of hard to beat. And our daughter, who is a perfect Episcopalian, takes the middle ground, and likes both.
Now, our annual debate about parades doesn’t lead us to really get angry with each other, even though we each believe in the absolute validity of our individual claims; and God knows that there have been other arguments in our relationship that haven’t been so light hearted. The good news is that we always move on even if we agree to disagree. The bad news is that it sometimes takes us a while to get there because we both believe we are right. And, sometimes, these kinds of things get pretty personal.
In our gospel today, the disciples who are with Jesus get upset with the Samaritans because they do not receive Jesus. The disciples get so upset that they ask Jesus if they can command fire to come down and consume the village. All we are told is that Jesus rebukes them and moves on to another village. The language of rebuke is harsh; it is the kind of language that Jesus uses against evil and demons. And I wonder, is Jesus trying to say something here about our personal attachments to being right, not to mention other personal attachments that he speaks of later in the gospel?
Jesus speaks a great deal throughout the gospels about our hearts and what it means to be a disciple. He speaks about our innermost thoughts and how they can lead to actions that are not actions of the kingdom, like how being angry can lead to murder. And one might say that he’s making a big deal of nothing, but, really, is he?
James and John are two of the disciples who are in Jesus’ inner circle; he shows them things that others do not see; and yet, here they are, exploiting their relationship with him to ask if they should bring down fire upon these Samaritans. They are more insulted than Jesus appears to be, and they are forgetting who they are, and to whom they belong. They are letting their desire to be right, to be powerful, get in the way of listening to others, forgiving, and moving on. And like demons, they are rebuked.
Beloved, isn’t that the same for you and I? I think there is a good warning here for us. As I look at the climate of political and social discourse around us, I get more and more worried. We are all being polarized into different “camps”. Leaders are pushing us into “us versus them” places, and it gets worse by the day. We aren’t seeing each other as people, just as “issues” we either agree with or disagree with. Is it making you uncomfortable to hear that? Does it sound familiar? It certainly strikes a chord with me. And what I can say to all of us right now is… stop. For the love of all that is holy, we must stop; and not only that, we have to show others how to negotiate through difficult issues and topics peacefully. And let me just say, that peace is hard work; it’s harder than fighting because it requires us to be whom God has called us to be; peace requires that we remember that it is to Jesus that we belong, and that as disciples we have a responsibility to be bearers of peace. Peace also requires us to see others as Jesus sees them, not as the enemies that we sometimes see them as.
Beloved, we know that evil exists. Last week, Jesus cast demons out of the man in Gerasene. This week, he appears to be rebuking the more silent evil that exists in the hearts of his disciples, which for the record, includes us. As Paul says in Galatians, we are all being called to live into and use the gifts of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They are so much harder than giving into our habits of self preservation and our need to be right. Sometimes, we have to forgo being right to be bearers of love. There is so much going on right now and those who are power driven are trying to tear the kingdom of God apart, one disciple at a time. Do not give in. As disciples of Jesus, it is our responsibility to build up the broken hearted, not tear each other down. We may still disagree, but perhaps its time we listen to each other with the ears of our hearts so that we might truly hear what is behind what someone is saying. May we rebuke the evil that tries to call us into the falsehood of fighting and hate, even if that is what we are greeted with. May we not give in to fear that leads us to hatred of our neighbor. May we love God, and in loving God, may we also love our neighbor. May we never close our eyes or our ears to injustice. Lord Christ, help us, your earthbound disciples to see you more clearly, and help us we pray, to proclaim your kingdom in all that we say and do; even at the cost of our pride and social standing. Help us to know that only in you do we live, and move, and have our being. May we be bearers of your peace as we seek to rebuke the evil around us. May we always be guided by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.