The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Father Jon Hullinger
Luke 9:51-62

A little less than a month ago, after I had been received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Wolfe, Fr. Steve invited me to preach on this, the last Sunday of June. The first thing I did after finding this out was to go on line to look up the lessons for this weekend. My initial thought was, ‘Really’ – These are the readings for my first homily as an Episcopalian? And then I thought … it will be okay; I have a month… I’m sure in that time I can come up with something.

The first week or so I would glance at the lessons from time to time. Then I began to read some commentaries on each of the passages. I even looked up old sermons both my own and those of others. There was always plenty of time left…

… So, I really didn’t start to panic until late last Wednesday night…

What I did discover along the way was that normally these lessons inspire thoughts about the cost of discipleship, the importance of fidelity, single mindedness of purpose and the demands of our particular vocations… all very important and wonderful things and generally very simple themes to develop.

Just look at the Old Testament Lesson: It tells how Elisha faithfully remains with the prophet Elijah who three time asked him to stay behind and each time Elisha replies, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” (v. 4 is omitted from our lesson)

And then we have the three men in today’s Gospel who respond to Jesus’ request to follow him with excuses – and good reasons actually – to put off and delay the call they have received. Both provide excellent opportunities to reflect on those themes.

But it was the last sentence in our Gospel Lesson that was giving me problems: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It was there that I got stuck

You see, about 22 years ago I joined the Roman Catholic Church.14 years ago I was ordained a priest. Some might argue, and indeed not only a few have, that leaving the Roman Catholic Church and the priesthood to become a member of the Episcopal Church is indeed taking ones hands off the plough and looking back and most certainly makes one unfit for the kingdom of God.

But then, about mid-week, something happened…

Maybe it was the result of listening to the news reports and discussions concerning U.S. Senate legislation on Immigration and the resent Supreme Court rulings while also spending time reflecting on our Second Lesson and what St. Paul had to say about strife, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions…

Maybe it was a reaction to reading again, in that same lesson, the list of the of fruit of the spirit from the letter to the Galatians; hearing of love and patience and kindness and generosity and gentleness and seeing how some churches choose to publicly treat broken and hurting members of their own communities…

Maybe it was just because I was getting down to the last minute and had to come up with something soon… whatever the case, when I re-read the Gospel Lesson this time I was struck by Jesus’ message of tolerance.

This passage comes from the end of the 9th Chapter of Luke and is the turning point in his Gospel. Jesus has just spoken twice to his disciples about his passion and death. Peter, James and John have already witnesses his Transfiguration, the journey though Galilee is finished and Luke tells us, “…the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up,” and “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

The most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem was to pass through Samaria; but most Jews avoided this. There was a centuries-old quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be racially and spiritually impure, and often treated them like inferiors and with hatred. The Samaritans for their part did everything they could to hinder and even to injure pilgrims who attempted to pass through their territory. For Jesus to take that path to Jerusalem was unusual; and for him to attempt to find hospitality and lodging in a Samaritan village would have probably been considered a little nuts. The move through Samaria wasn’t smooth or easy.

Just as Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, and just as he will be rejected in Jerusalem, he is rejected by the Samaritan villagers. James and John no doubt believed they were doing the right thing and it is not hard to understand why they offered to call down fire from heaven to wipe out that Samaritan town and all the people in the process.

Just as many times we feel justified using violence, hostility and aggression and anger to deal with the enemies, heretic, unbelievers, and opponents of all kinds that we face from time to time. Today, however, Jesus rebukes that tendency in us… just as he did when it surfaced in James and John.

In our second lesson St. Paul reminds us that the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Tolerance must be based not on indifference but on love. We ought to be tolerant not because we couldn’t care less; but we because recognizing Christ in the other person we couldn’t care more.

John Westerhoff in his book, Living Faithfully, writes, “As Episcopalians, we have historically tolerated a wide range of theological and moral convictions. We have been united by worship…” This idea, that we are united by our worship, and not by virtue of some doctrinal or ideological purity is what first attracted me to the Episcopal Church. It implies that if we can truly learn to love God first, we may actually figure out how to love our neighbors as ourselves. And it tells us that it is in gathering together as God’s children in love to worship and pray that we can stay focused on the task ahead, keep our hands on the plow, and become the people and parish God has called us to be.