Sometimes people say stupid things in the name of religion, or faith or God.
Have you ever noticed that?
Those times when something is said, and the rest of the conversation quietens
and in your mind you contemplate – “did they really say that?”
And as the embarrassment becomes a bit more solid,
people around are tempted to do what is called these days as a facepalm
James and John did it with Jesus every now and then. In fact, they were quite good at it.
And today’s reading is surely one of those where Jesus was facepalming.
We cant find an offer of hospitality in a village, so can we call down fire on them?
It seems absolutely stupid to us.
Unless, of course, we look at the faith tradition that these men were raised in.
Do you know of the story where the prophet Elijah got rather annoyed at a King
who he didn’t think was paying good enough attention to God
So he called down fire on the king’s soldiers.
We think that James and John are being vengeful fanatics.
They think that they are following the traditions of the faith.
But Jesus disassociates himself from this part of the tradition.
It’s not just that Jesus points out that James and John have been idiotic.
In the faith that Jesus lives by, there is no room for revenge or violence
even if it might be able to be justified by scriptural stories.
He is setting up something new. Something different. And he keeps on his way
And on the way there are 3 people who want to join him.
And none of them get a particularly warm welcome.
There is no security at all in what you are thinking about he says to the first
Family obligations, even ones that are right at the heart of social customs,
are second place, not primary he says to the second
Don’t think about what you are leaving behind he says to the third.
This is tough stuff.
This is stuff that would make you think twice.
This is stuff that Today Tonight, or A Current Affair might well like to “expose”
And if there were stories about cults, or non-mainstream faiths
wanting people to disconnect from family obligations and relations
because their faith and their new community was a higher priority,
then we may well see a headline or two.
In fact I can recall over time seeing that very story.
The Uniting Church President, Andrew Dutney,
tells the story of when he was backpacking around Europe in the early 1980s
He did it with those “guide books” – Europe on $20 per day
But Andrew noticed that other backpackers had the habit of tearing the book apart.
And when they were in Antwerp, they would rip out that chapter and only carry it.
Makes sense, doesn’t it – you don’t want to be carrying around info on Berlin or Rome.
And then when they left Antwerp, or wherever, they would leave the chapter there.
Again, no need to know what to do in Antwerp once you’ve left!
Andrew also noticed that this extended beyond books
“Backpackers would pick things up too – whatever you needed when you needed it.
A presentable shirt and a pair of pants in Paris.
A corkscrew in Bordeaux. A sun hat in the Algarve. A scarf in Geneva.
And pamphlets, maps and tourist information sheets
in every place you stopped along the way.
But the principle was always the same.
If you need it to really make the most of that stage of the journey, get it –
buy it, borrow it, or accept it as a hand me down
from a fellow backpacker on their way to the next city.
And once you don’t need it in your pack, get rid of it –
leave it behind, give it away, sell it, swap it, or post it home.”
Today’s story in Luke is very much about Jesus being on the way to Jerusalem
He was very much on his pilgimmage,
and people who were joining him couldn’t be weighed down,
by unnecessary chapters in a travel book, or a family knitted scarf
or a worldview of a bygone era,
or a desire for revenge when things don’t work out right
or by obligations that create a distracted attention.
In God’s kingdom, we are not defined by our past, our history, but by our future.
This is why focusing on the past —
even maintaining obedience to traditional practices, or “sensible” actions,
or placing one’s tradition above “the way”–
does not leave one “well-situated” for the reign of God.
We are not defined, or limited by our past – that’s why it is grace.
But it is hard, and awkward and painful at times.
That’s why Bonhoeffer calls it “costly grace”
We are invited to consider what we have which are our own equivalents
of the travel book chapter from places we have left
of the warm scarf from the ski fields that were an earlier part of our journey
of the heritage of faith from earlier understandings
that no longer fit the world we are in
and of the matters which place a conflict of interest with our discipleship.
May God’s grace give us the strength to celebrate with thanks
and then let go,
and then to continue the journey that lies ahead.