Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Donna Joy

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Psalm 77, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

I think we all know the experience of wanting/needing to be in control. We often say that so-and-so is a bit of a control freak, or that someone is a person who likes to be in control of whatever situation in which they may find themselves. I suspect, however, that this, to some degree, is true for us all. It’s probably just easier to recognize this in others that in ourselves.

There’s a certain comfort in that sense that we’re in control. But in fact, that sense of being in control is little more than an illusion. And when we are faced with the realization that things are getting out of control, we may often feel somewhat terrified.

A few years ago David and I were on a canoe trip and were capsized. It was a beautiful day, the waters were calm, and the whole experience was idyllic. We were, in a sense, in control of the situation. Suddenly the water current changed and we completely lost control. I’ll never forget how terrifying that experience was. Fortunately we were not far from shore, so once our canoe became overturned along with everything in it, we made it safely to short and simply waited until the waters became calm.

Anyone who knows the experience of being diagnosed with a serious illness knows how it feels to lose control. People who live long enough to become old or elderly know how it feels to lose control of their lives piece by piece, and I have often had people tell me that this can be quite terrifying as they learn how to adapt to one new normal after another. Whether it’s storms or illness, sudden death of a loved one or job loss – all kinds of things unsettle our plans and wrestle that sense of being in control away from us. And that is often deeply troubling. It is this sense of losing control that, in part, explains some of the reactions to Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem.

This morning’s Gospel reading speaks of Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem, having sent messengers ahead of him. He, himself, is letting go of all control and trusting in God as he embarks on this terrifying journey, but those around him are, instead, attempting to maintain some sense of control by holding on to that which they know. There are three sets of reactions that require our attention.

The first is that of the Samaritans, who recognize that Jesus “has set his face to go to Jerusalem” and will not receive him. They seem to recognize that Jesus is on a mission and they clearly are not willing to have anything to do with it. As I read this passage, I find myself wondering if part of what’s going on here is a fear of the unknown, and at the same time it seems they have expectations he is not meeting so, quite clearly, they reject him.

The disciples react to this rejection with a surprising and rather alarming request: they want to call down fire from heaven to destroy them.As Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, it seems that things are beginning to unravel, things are getting out of control and often when this dynamic sets in there is an attempt to destroy those who are in opposition.

It seems to me that this is what is happening here. In many ways, it has been forever thus.

As we reflect on the history of the church (Crusades for example) along with so many wars (past and present) a common theme is the attempt to destroy those whose views are different from our own. Jesus, however, clearly shows us a different way.

There’s a third reaction which is worth noting, and that is those who insist on maintaining control by holding on to what they already know. They seem to be saying that they’ll follow Jesus, but on their own terms and only when they’re ready. While it seems reasonable that they will want to bury their loved ones or take time to prepare in whatever ways they deem necessary, Jesus clearly expects them to drop all their plans and follow him.

I think each of these three reactions have something to do with control. Each is trying to control the situation according to what they know, according to what they believe to be right, but Jesus is urging them to move beyond that: he demands that the call to follow him must come before all of our plans, even those that seem most reasonable. And he does this because he knows that we are never really in control, that this sense of control is never any more than an illusion, and that any kind of a storm, or illness, or loss, or tragedy, or any one of a number of devastating surprises may eliminate our expectations as well as our plans and take us into unknown territory within the blink of an eye.

But, as we anticipate these inevitable storms and challenges that absolutely will occur throughout our lives, and listen to Jesus’ call to follow Him, what exactly does this mean?

Well, Jesus in this passage is firmly on his way to Jerusalem, which we all know is a perilous torturous journey, and he is inviting others to follow him. This, then, suggests that God in Jesus is joining us as we dare to recognize our lack of control, walks with us, holds onto us, and brings us into a different kind of safety: a place that finds its security in the Presence and the arms of God in Jesus.

In terms of what this actually looks like, we find a fabulous description in our Psalm this morning: Psalm 77. There is a recognition here of the sense of weakness and anxiety that takes hold as we realize that we are lost and not in control. The psalmist identifies the growing sense of panic that occurs at such times as he says, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hands were stretched out by night…” But in the midst of this place of being lost, the psalmist then discovers courage and hope in remembering the works of God, “Your way, O God, is holy . . You are the God who works wonders and have declared your power among the peoples . . . By your strength you have redeemed your people . . .” The psalmist here is giving voice to this deep sense of losing control and being lost, and at the same time offering hope in recognizing that God’s miraculous Presence has restored the strength of the people before, and this same miraculous Presence will restore the strength of the people today.

And furthermore, this has been done in and through Jesus. So, whenever we dare to acknowledge our lack of control, our sense of being lost, we are called to remember the words of the psalmist and recognize that they have been fulfilled in and through Jesus. The promise of the Gospel is that Jesus joins us, walks with us, holds onto us, and brings us into a different kind of safety: a place that finds its security in the Presence and the arms of God in Jesus.

So, today, as we identify any terrifying things we may be facing at this moment in our lives….. as we identify the current challenges within mainline traditional churches at this particular moment in history . . . as we identify the challenges we experience as disciples, followers of Jesus at this moment in history . . . as we identify the unsettling circumstances throughout the world in which we live . . . As we recognize all this, we find in this morning’s Gospel an urging to give up the illusion of being in control, take some risks, throw ourselves into this turbulent, tumultuous life and world God loves so much, and trust that God will join us in the adventure, walk with us, hold onto us throughout all the uncertainties and the possibilities, and bring us – in time – to a place of peace and comfort and hope. I believe that this is what actual faith looks like. And when we fall short of this call to faith, all we can do is give thanks that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem not just with us, but also for us, carrying with him our uncertainties, joining us in our turbulent lives, ensuring us that with him we are on the path that leads to home.