Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
June 30, 2019 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
I Kings 19:16B;19-21 | Psalm 16:1-2;5;7-11
Galatians 5:1;13-18 | Luke 9:51-62
       + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
       God works, moves, and speaks in myriad and divers ways, too many to count, and in new variations revealed to us every minute. The vastness of God is too complicated for human comprehension. God speaks unexpectedly, often from the mouths of people we least expect. God is ultimately a mystery. About two weeks ago, we heard Deacon Sharon preach about the Trinity. That, too, is a mystery, more than we as humans have the capacity to imagine.
        Yet, the same, mysterious, undefinable God asks, and in fact, demands, our faith, that is, total and unquestioned loyalty. We are expected to put God before all else, yet we do not know who God really is. The same can be said for Jesus, God incarnate, who in the doctrine of the Trinity, is of one and the same substance with God the Father, as we affirm every Sunday in the Nicene Creed. Total loyalty to that which is largely unknown taxes the human person in ways that can only be imagined and do not often understood. Our distinctly human reaction is to put God out of our minds, and focus our attention on the tangible, mundane aspects of our lives, that, is, the people, places and things that are more within the human level of understanding than is God. We instinctively turn our attention to the practicalities of life, that is, our material survival, our personal relationships with friends and family, and those things and experiences that give us immediate pleasure.
         In today’s readings, however, God says no to that way of thinking and living. God says, “I, God, come first.”  The readings challenge us to foreswear our focus on what we perceive as necessary for immediate survival ahead of God and to reflect on whether your immediate instincts are appropriate in light of the long term big picture. Today, God asks us to follow a different path than our immediate circumstances tell us.  
       Look at Elisha, called by Elijah to be his assistant and eventually Elijah’s successor. Elisha focused on plowing a field to make a living until God got involved by telling Elijah to call Elisha to the ministry of prophecy, which Elijah did without hesitation. Elisha kissed his mother and father goodbye, slaughtered the oxen who were pulling his plow, used the plowing equipment as fuel for a fire to boil the oxen flesh to feed hungry people, and then followed Elijah. He gave up not only his livelihood, but its implements, to do God’s work. Of course, like most of that is in the Bible, we should not take that literally. I’m not asking you to quit your delivery job and donate your car to the Church. I want you to focus on the spiritual message of being open to God’s call and give up the important material things in your life in a way for what best fits your individual situation. It’s going to be different for each person.
        In today’s Gospel, we encounter a Jesus ready and determined towards his ultimate destination of Jerusalem to carry out the final stages of his ministry. Yet Jesus did not heed the desire of his disciples to call down fire to consume those who were obstructing him. That’s not how Jesus did business. His response was to move on to another village, not engage in confrontation.  Jesus, as we see here, was always on the move, with no permanent place of abode. Unlike the foxes of the earth and the birds of the sky, Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. Jesus was homeless.  Those of us who decide to follow Jesus must be willing, at least figuratively, to give up our places of security in total trust and loyalty to Jesus.
       And then we have the matter of our family and friends, those who are near and dear to us. In response to Jesus saying, “follow me,” one of his disciples gave the excuse that his family duties to take care of a departed parent came first. Another wanted to go home and say goodbye to his family before going on his way with Jesus. Jesus, however, was not sympathetic to either of them. His response was, “Let the dead bury their dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” According to Jesus, those who are more concerned with what they leave behind are not fit for the Kingdom of God. 
       The bottom line for Jesus is that the Kingdom of God requires total commitment. The message behind this first reading is to be willing to radically uproot yourself and go with Jesus, who wants to see from you with the same attitude that Elisha displayed when called by Elijah.
     So where does this leave us today, June thirtieth, two thousand nineteen, in Palm Springs, California? As the saying goes, it’s complicated, and like God, beyond human comprehension. What Jesus is calling us to do is to empathize with him.  As pastor of a parish, I really do understand how Jesus feels in this situation, whenever I’m told by someone that they’d rather be at work or with family than do church things. It’s even more disconcerting for me if I’ve put effort into planning a liturgy and people expected to participate do not appear for reasons other than ill health or car problems.
        Jesus is working his tail off to preach the Good News and build up the Kingdom of God, but those disciples whom he is asking to help him do that are not as committed to the task as Jesus was.  Read the text of today’s Gospel, putting yourself in the shoes of Jesus. See if you can understand how Jesus feels here. Remember, Jesus is not only fully God, but fully human as well, just like you and me.
         The message today is about commitment. It is a commitment that makes things happen, not only at Church but everywhere else in your life. In thinking about commitment, I am reminded of the struggles of the twentieth century British author and mountain climber William Hutchinson Murray. He did not succeed in everything he tried. He wanted to climb Mount Everest, but could not acclimatize hid body to the high elevation. He wanted to build a hydroelectric dam in a remote Scottish mountain resort, but could never accomplish it. As unsuccessful as he may have been, he was always committed.  Murray did, however, accomplish a description of the importance of commitment and why it is necessary. He said,
       “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of   unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt  would   have come his way.”
         Linguistic conventions of the past century notwithstanding, I am sure Murray meant what he said to apply to women as well.
God does not guarantee us success in whatever we do. Very often, we do not understand why, because God’s plans and the nature of God are not always fully known to us.  We, however, are part of that equation along with God. Much of what happens to us depends on the decisions we make, and what we do.
        Commitment is a decision followed by action. It is deciding to do something, and then doing it, just like Elisha did in today’s first reading. A statement that you are going to do something is not a commitment if you do not follow through and do it.  Conversely, just doing something without a purpose in doing it is no commitment either.  Commitment is the opposite of how the men in today’s Gospel behaved. They told Jesus they had to put their personal business ahead of following Jesus. The way Jesus thinks, simply saying you want to follow Jesus is not enough. You have to follow through and do it. Commitment is doing what you say you are going to do. That’s what Jesus wants from us.
        We can only commit to something, however, if we have the freedom to do so, as we are reminded in today’s Second Reading. Jesus came to set us free to commit ourselves to God. It is axiomatic that if you are enslaved to one thing, you can’t commit to something else. We see this repeatedly in the teachings of Jesus, like when Jesus told us in Matthew’s Gospel you cannot serve both God and money.
     A commitment is not truly a commitment unless it is freely chosen. A commitment made in response to coercion or fear is a product of exactly that: a response to coercion or fear, not something you really want to do.  A true commitment to the Church does not result from someone telling you that is what you must do or should do. A commitment to the Church, or to anything else, must come from your own heart, from your own free will. If your decision to do something arises from the actions, threats, or bribes of an external source, when that external source no longer influences you, the response that you gave to that source will cease, proving that whatever you were doing did not arise from a true commitment. A commitment to follow Jesus must come from your heart to be effective.
      A commitment to Jesus is not easy. Jesus does not offer, and cannot deliver, material things in response to your commitment. What Jesus offers is Himself, and Jesus, being fully God, is, as such, truly someone we can never fully and truly know.
       When we commit to Jesus, to what exactly are we committing?  Why commit to Jesus? Clergy of days gone by might have told you that you have to follow Jesus because your soul will suffer in Hell instead of go to Heaven if you die. Those clergy seek a commitment from you based on fear. I will never do that. I cannot presume what will happen to anyone’s soul in the life beyond. That is something known to God alone. I, and every other person do not know enough about God to see into God’s mind. But one of the few, and I emphasize, very few, things we know about God is that God is pure, unconditional love. The essence of Christian behavior is quite simple: love your neighbor as yourself.  But being free to make a commitment does not mean you can or should commit to anything you want.  Saint Paul tells us to use our freedom wisely, and for him, the best way is to commit to serve others through love. 
       Paul also implores us to commit to that which is spiritual, not material. Isn’t that what Jesus was asking in today’s Gospel? Isn’t that what characterized Elisha? The tasks Jesus assigned to His disciples, to preach the Good News and build up the Kingdom of God, are spiritual, not material endeavors. Following Jesus is to undertake a spiritual journey.  The spiritual things in life are more important than material things. Too often, however, out of fear, we put our material concerns first. That is a mistake. Where you are spiritually determines the success of your life, not how much money or possessions you have or do not have.
       You don’t need money or possessions to make a profound spiritual impact on others. What you do need is spiritual peace within yourself, and that comes from a commitment to Jesus. That commitment comes from experiencing the presence of Jesus in receiving His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, hearing His words, in prayer, and in our relationships with others.
One of the unfortunate features of American life is its emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s own survival rather than people looking out for each other. Today’s readings illustrate why that kind of thinking is out of step with God. If Elisha had continued to be only concerned with continuing to plow his own little field, he would not have inherited Elijah’s mantle and carried on Elijah’s prophetic work to serve humankind.  In each of the interactions between Jesus and His disciples in today’s Gospel, each of those disciples was more concerned about the material aspects of their lives than following Jesus. But Jesus said the equivalent of, “Full stop, I don’t want to hear it.” Jesus was, of course, taking a risk in saying that. The disciples to whom He said it could have responded, “Having a home is important to me,” or “I have to take care of my family obligations,” and gone on their own way away from Jesus.  But Jesus chose to take the risk of alienating His followers be demanding that they commit unconditionally to Him.
       All of that is true on a micro-level hear at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community. Our success requires commitment from every one of us, not just the clergy. Commitment from every one of us is what will fill our empty seats, and increase our budget to enable us to serve more people. Churches require a commitment of time, talent and treasure.  All of those things are valuable to the parish. Some of us have more of one of those things and less of the others, and over time, that equation will work itself out in the best interests of the parish. Our most difficult task as a parish is to allow God to work through each of us. Committing to Jesus opens the channel to allow God to do that. Committing to Jesus requires each of us to read today’s Gospel and reflect on how we are living our lives in response to Jesus and asking ourselves, “In making commitments about what I do in my life, am I putting Jesus first?” If the answer is “No,” then you have some serious soul-searching to do about who you are and where you are going regarding your spiritual priorities. Deacon Sharon and I are here to assist you on an individual basis in sorting that out.
        Commitment to spiritual enrichment through Jesus will drive success in the rest of your life and get you off whatever marginally productive treadmill is obstructing your success. Finding out who you are, what your goals are, and how to get to your destination will only happen if you commit to moving out of your present mental and spiritual state to where Jesus wants to lead you. Jesus, not money and material things, are what will make you happy. Jesus wants you to be happy. Commit to Jesus. Follow Jesus. And everything will come out ahead for you. AMEN.