June 30, 2019 Third Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Alison Quin
God didn’t have to leave home. God could have stayed in the realm of infinite light where there is no crying or mourning or pain. But God chose to become human—to set aside immortality and enter the rough and tumble of this life.
Jesus didn’t have to leave home either. I imagine he was comfortable in his hometown, following in his father’s footsteps as a carpenter, living with his family, knowing everyone in town. But he chose to listen to God’s call to leave home and go to the Jordan River to be baptized. Then he followed God’s call into the desert where he spent 40 days and nights preparing for his ministry, with nowhere to lay his head.
He started his ministry in Galilee, and he traipsed all over the region, healing, teaching, proclaiming the good news. He stayed with people when they offered him a bed, and he slept outside when they didn’t. He could have stayed home.
Then it was time to turn his face toward Jerusalem—God called him to begin the long journey that he knew would lead to his death. He knew that the truth he was telling would make many angry and they would reject him and ultimately torture and kill him. He could have stayed home.
God didn’t have to leave home, but God was unwilling to let us go through life lost, stumbling, alone, blind to God’s love. God left home to come and find us, and show us how much we are loved, how far God is willing to go for us.
Are we willing to leave home for God? Today’s Gospel lesson challenges us by asking by asking the question—what are we willing to do for God?
In all the great stories of the Bible, God calls people to leave home—Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Naomi and Ruth. Because it is in leaving home that we find God.
The Gospel for today is about leaving home in order to follow Jesus. We may be called to leave home physically, as the disciples were. Or we may be called to leave home by living in a way that runs counter to our culture.
Jesus begins his long journey to Jerusalem—which is the setting for the next four months of readings—with a trip through Samaria. Jews and Samaritans were not friendly—the Samaritans were the Jews who stayed behind during the exile, and they intermarried with the Canaanites and also took on some beliefs that the returning exiles didn’t like. So there was hostility between the two groups. Jesus didn’t have to go that way—he could have avoided it. But his call was to leave his cultural home—to share the good news with outsiders as well as insiders.
Given the tension between two groups, it was not surprising that the Samaritans didn’t welcome him. But Jesus was willing to risk that rejection. Just a short while earlier, he had told his disciples that whenever they weren’t welcomed, they should just shake the dust off their feet and move on, but they weren’t able to do that in the moment. Haven’t we all wanted to rain fire down on people when they reject us and are hostile toward us? That is our instinctive response. I had a spiritual director once who said to me that one of the greatest spiritual dangers is having a justified grievance and it’s true. Jesus and the disciples were in the right—the ancient middle eastern law of hospitality dictated that all strangers were to be received, fed and housed and the Samaritans violated that law.
Our culture doesn’t necessarily support us in letting a grievance go, forgiving and forgetting. Turning the other cheek is often seen as weak. But following God means departing from our culture and leaving behind our instinctive responses. It’s another way of leaving home.
Are we willing to leave home for God?
Sometimes we are called to leave home on a physical level. I think of Heidi Schultz and Monica Vega, our Episcopal missionary friends. They felt called to go to South Africa and work with children who were traumatized, abused, without many basic necessities of life. After many years there, they went to Brazil and worked with women who were desperately poor and trying to earn a living. Now they are in Northern Argentina, again working with youth, creating a community of love and support and nurture.
It is hard to leave home when family ties and duty call. I am sure that our missionary friends sometimes wish they could stay with family rather than living far away in uncomfortable conditions. But God called them to leave home and they answered that call.
We may not be called to leave the country but we are called to step out, beyond our comfort zone, beyond our familiar circles, to meet God in others and to share the good news.
After the raining down fire incident, Jesus meets several would-be disciples, but they each turn back with what sounds like a really legitimate excuse—I’d like to follow you, but just let me bury my father. No, Jesus says—let the dead bury the dead. And the second one just wants to say goodbye to his family. No, Jesus says—no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Ouch Jesus! I was in a bible study about this passage and everyone kept trying to soften it. Surely, it’s descriptive of perfection rather than prescriptive. Surely, it’s a metaphor or a zen koan that is supposed to make us think.
But I think God is telling us that when God calls, it’s time to get up and leave home. Be ready to make choices that cut against social norms, choices that are uncomfortable and disruptive. Be ready to face criticism and rejection. It’s not easy.
But in leaving home, we find our true home in God. In leaving home, we discover who we truly are—God’s beloved. In leaving home, we have the opportunity to share the good news with a world that really needs good news.
God left home for us. God went the whole distance out of love for us. How far are we willing to go for God?