Poison Snakes: Luke 9:51-62
#PoisonSnakes is the Podcast for June 26, 2016. When we were touched by God and make him our first priority, is this how we thought our faith journey would go? Some, yes. Most, no. What exactly does it mean to walk the Christian Journey. Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Dakotas #NorthDakota #SouthDakota #Tetons #Wyoming #Snakes #Jerusalem #LordsPrayer #OnEarthAsItIsInHeaven
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 6/23/2016 The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 9:51-62.
One of my favorite memories as a father was a trip that my family took out to the Grand Tetons. As a city kid growing up, the Dakotas and Wyoming were sizeable, yet seemingly manageable, states on a globe, map or projection screen in a class. One doesn’t really understand the incredible size and sparse population of these states until you travel across them.
Truly the Dakotas and Wyoming are beautiful, but driving through them can be long and tedious. The roads look the same for hundreds of miles. So, when you get a chance to take a break, you need a break. Thus was the case, as we stopped by one of the very infrequent rest stops along the way from Munster, IN to the Grand Tetons.
The rest stop was in the Dakotas, and it was a relief. It was nice to have a restroom, of course, but with seven of us traveling in one van, it was also nice to get out and walk around. That is, it was nice until I saw this sign at the reststop: “Beware of Poisonous Snakes”.
The problem with a city boy going out into the countryside is that there are only two kinds of snakes: live snakes and dead snakes. I don’t normally take the time out to ask which they are. As I see it, it is either the snake or me, and I usually choose me. Yet, the point of this for our message for today is that I had never anticipated that I would have to worry about poisonous snakes on the trip. When I was thinking about the trip, I was thinking of Mountains, landscape scenery, and rest among the beauty of the American Frontier. It had never occurred to me that there would be snakes. Now that I encountered snakes, my mind was consumed with finding the snakes and destroying them rather than enjoying the scenery, which was the purpose of the trip.
I had the presence of mind to take a picture of that sign, which my wife told me was a waste of digital space. The picture is featured on the website MySpiritualAdvisor.com for you to see. I took the picture because I laughed at the fact that I had never thought about the inconveniences of going on a trip in search of beauty.
In our Gospel Lesson today there is a whole lot going on concerning Jesus and his disciples. He is doing things that recall the echoes of Elijah and Moses. Elijah encountered resistance from King Ahaziah in the form of fifty men sent to kill the prophet. The Prophet Elijah brought down fire from heaven on them. Jesus’ encounters resistance from the Samaritans because Jesus’ mission had him going to Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus wanted to bring fire down upon them, like Elijah. Jesus said, “no.”
Elijah put his mantle upon Elisha, his successor. Elisha asks to go say goodbye to his family. Elijah says yes, Jesus tells the follower who wants to go back, “no.” Just prior to this story from the Gospel is the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah, two figures who ascended into heaven by tradition, were speaking with Jesus. Jesus, too will ascend into heaven, but first, he has a mission: “His face was set to Jerusalem.”
In the end, the mission will result in the Resurrection and the start of the Kingdom of God. Jesus will have a body that is fully physical, but also fully spiritualized. He will be living in a body that no longer decays, gets old, is subject to gravity. He is a foretaste of what we will be like when He comes again and renews all things. Before He can arrive at the Resurrection, He must first die. When it says, “He set his face to Jerusalem,” it is the same as Isaiah’s suffering servant who has his face set like flint on his purpose for service to humanity. As I have said, over and over again, this renewal is for all humanity and the invitation is to all people. The invitation is to be given by those of us who trust Jesus Christ with our lives and attempt to live “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Following Christ is not a solution to all our earthly problems. There will still be bills to pay. There will still be sickness and death because we are on Earth. The Cubs will lose a series to the Cardinals, even if the Cubs are the best team in baseball (I’m just sayin’). God still invites people to accept his gift of Salvation. God still allows people to reject him. That rejection has consequences, usually unforeseen negative consequences in our lives. Yes, Jesus heals us. I have personally been healed of physical ailments in the wink of the eye. Yet, evey time I have been healed, it is for the purpose of the Kingdom of God, not for my comfort, not for my petty self-interest.
Look at Jesus’ response to the disciples who want to bring down fire. He rebukes them. Why fire; Because people don’t understand Jesus’ purpose in setting his face to Jerusalem? Jesus rejects that outright and even rebukes them. His purpose is Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem. If people don’t want the blessings of living in the renewed heaven and earth with Christ, OK. OK, he respects that. We are all adults here. The Lord made us with free will. There is no need to beg people to follow the Lord.
Look at Jesus’ response to the one who wanted to go back instead of going forward. Its OK, you can look back, but the way is forward. Those who are trying to be the heralds of “on earth as it is in heaven” are to look forward and not back to some golden age, some perfect situation, some old custom or habit.
The joy of living the Gospel is that there are others who are merciful because Jesus is merciful. There are people who are loving instead of hateful because they know the rejection of the world for following Jesus. There is empathy for the lowest of the low because we have a Messiah who fell to the fate of the lowest of the low. We live “on earth as it is in heaven” because we have been baptized and that is our reality. We are children of God, disciples, apostles, evangelists; all bringing others the Good News until the New Jerusalem comes. We, as a community of people, have our face set to the New Jerusalem. We sing about it. We pray for it. We reference it when we face times of trouble.
I can imagine, though, that each of us set out on the journey thinking that it was going to be beautiful landscapes, ease of life, smooth sailing. When we realized the amazing love that God has for us in Jesus Christ, that our sins are forgiven through the blood of the Cross, and that we can commune with him regularly in the Eucharist, we were like, “Yahoo! Live is going to be all better now.” It is all better in that the God of the Universe is our strength. He is the Lover of our Souls and Healer of our Hurts. He is also the One who gives our lives purpose. That purpose is to be on the road to the New Jerusalem, heralding to all who are not on the road to come follow Him. As we can see with Jesus, even when his face is set on Jerusalem, the way can be filled with snakes and some of them are poisonous snakes.
Our response is not to call down fire. It is not to look back to some golden time or some false sense of obligation to the former life. Our response is to have our goal in front of us guiding our way: Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem.
The Lord does not offer us a holiday, but a journey. He does not offer us a pass, but a part in his mission. The Lord does not promise that the road to the Promised Land is filled with comfort and relaxation, but effort and confrontation. We can always draw from the peace that surpasses all understanding, but we will have to trod the road that he has called us to walk. We must have our face set on Jerusalem, snakes and all. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian