June 26, 2022
1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62
+ I don’t want to toot my own horn, but for any of you who have worked with me, at least on the Vestry level, I am not one to let grass grow under my feet.
When I focus on something, I will work on it until either I succeed at it, or I have to admit failure on it.
And even, in those times when I have to admit failure, I still kind of find myself gnawing on the failure.
Because it’s hard for me to give something up I’ve focused on.
That’s not always a good thing, let me you.
It’s actually weirdly obsessive.
But being that kind of person means I really have issues with what Jesus is telling the young man in our Gospel reading for today.
We hear Jesus say, Let the dead bury their own dead.
That’s not what I want to hear after these last several months in which I have done a record number of funerals.
It’s an unusual statement.
It almost boggles the mind when you think about it.
And yet….there is beautiful poetry in that phrase.
We hear this saying of Jesus referenced occasionally in our secular society.
It conveys a sense of resignation and putting behind oneself insignificant aspects of our lives.
Still, it is a strange image to wrap our
Let the dead bury their own dead.
What could Jesus possibly mean by this reference?
Does it means we shouldn’t bury our loved ones?
No. This statement from him, as always, has a deeper meaning—and really only starts to make sense when we put it in the context of his time and who his followers were.
When we find this man talking about having to go and bury his father, and Jesus’ response of “let the dead bury their own dead,” we might instantly think that Jesus is being callous.
It would seem, at least from our modern perspective, that this man is mourning, having just lost his father.
The fact is, his father actually probably died a year or more before.
What happened in the Jewish culture at that time is that when a person died, they were anointed, wrapped in a cloth shroud and placed in a tomb.
There would have been an actually formal burial rite at that times.
And of course, Jesus himself would later be buried exactly like this.
This initial tomb burial was actually a temporary interment.
They were probably placed on a stone shelf near the entrance of the tomb.
About a year or so after their death, the family gathered again at which time the tomb was re-opened.
By that time, the body would, of course, have been reduced to bones.
The bones would then be collected, placed in a small stone box and buried with the other relatives, probably further back in the tomb.
A remnant of this tradition still exists in Judaism, when, on the first anniversary of the death of a loved one, the family often gathers to unveil the gravestone in the cemetery.
There’s a wonderful liturgy in the New Zealand Prayer Book that I’ve used many times for the blessing and unveiling of a gravestone.
Which I think a very cool tradition
So, when we encounter this man in today’s Gospel, we are not necessarily finding a man mourning his recently deceased father.
What we are actually finding is a man who is waiting to go to the tomb where his father’s bones now lie so he can bury the bones.
When we see it from this perspective, we can understand why Jesus makes such a seemingly strange comment—and we realize it isn’t quite the callous comment we thought it was.
As far as Jesus is concerned, the father has been buried.
Whatever this man does is merely an excuse to
not go out and proclaim the kingdom of God, as Jesus commands him to do.
Now to be fair to the man, he could just be making an excuse, which really under any other circumstances, would have been a perfectly valid excuse.
Or he could really have felt that his duty as his father’s son took precedence over this calling from Jesus.
Certainly, in Jewish culture, this would be an acceptable way of living out the commandment of respecting one’s parents.
It doesn’t seem as though he doesn’t want to follow Jesus or proclaim the Kingdom.
He doesn’t flat-out say no.
He simply says, not now.
In a sense, he is given the choice between
the dead and dried bones of his father or the living Jesus who stands before
Jesus’ response, which may sound strange to our modern, Western ears, is actually a very clear statement to this man.
He is saying, in a sense: “You are attached to these bones.
Don’t worry about bones.
Break your attachment, follow me, proclaim the goodness and love of God and you will have life.
How many times have we been in the same place in our lives?
How many times have we looked for excuses to get out of following Jesus, at least right now?
We all have our own “bones” that we feel we must bury before we can go and proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst by following Jesus.
We all have our own attachments that we simply cannot break so we can go forward unhindered to follow and to serve.
And they’re easy to find.
It’s easy to be led astray by attachments—to let these attachments fill our lives and give us a false sense of fulfillment.
It is easy for us to despair when the bad things of life happen to us.
Certainly, most of us here at St. Stephen’s have been feeling a bit of despair in these days following Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Now, I didn’t want to preach about this.
In fact, I used to pride myself on the fact that I never really had to preach about it.
I’m a man, after all.
And enough men have given their opinions about this.
But the fact is, there is no way I can’t talk about it.
Our hands have been forced.
And we are here now.
And like you, I am furious.
I am angry—righteously angry.
As most of you saw, I posted a few memes on Facebook on Friday, all of which garnered much conversation.
One of the posts I wrote, which I echoed in my letter to the parish was this:
Dear married gay friends,
please go to a lawyer; get wills, power of attorney and healthcare power of
attorney documents, because it's obvious who's next.
Also, for those not married, I'm more than willing to officiate weddings while we still can do them.
It's the truth.
But, let’s set the record straight on this.
First and foremost, I, like most of you no doubt, am NOT pro-abortion.
No one, I can imagine, is pro-abortion.
Abortion is an ugly, terrible thing—and an ugly, terrible thing that happens to good people.
In an ideal world, there would be no abortion.
But the fact is: abortion is a reality.
And it’s not going away.
The Supreme Court has not magically made abortion disappear, as some people are crowing about today.
Abortion has not ended.
Nothing is really solved.
All it does it complicate the issue.
Oh, and it also puts many, many women’s lives in jeopardy by making it very difficult for thousands and thousands of women to get adequate healthcare.
Let’s not sugar-coat it:
Women AND babies are going to die as a result of this decision by Supreme Court.
So, the rejoicing happening right now is not only empty in my opinion.
And we, for our own part, are in for a long haul.
But we can do it.
Our job is to continue to stand up and to speak out.
We must stand up.
We must speak out.
We might fight!
We must stop being complacent.
But, as discouraged as we might be, as frustrated as we might be, we need to realize, none of this is the end.
Despite these bad things, we as Christians just need to remember: the kingdom of God still needs to be proclaimed.
And not later. Not after everything has been restored. Not when everything is good and right in the world.
Not after we have calmed down.
The Kingdom needs to be proclaimed NOW.
Even in the midst of chaos.
Even when those crappy things happen, we still need to follow Jesus.
We proclaim the Kingdom of God by standing up and speaking out against those forces that seek to undermine basic human dignity.
We proclaim the Kingdom of God by living out our Baptismal Covenant in this world.
We proclaim the Kingdom of God by loving God and loving others—loving people enough to stand up for their rights, their health, their worth.
Let us remember that this is not some sweet, nice, gentle suggestion from Jesus.
It is a command from him.
“Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you, go, and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
We proclaim the kingdom, as we all know, by loving God and loving each other.
You can’t proclaim the kingdom—you can’t love—when you are busy obsessing about the dead, loveless things of your life.
You’re not proclaiming the Kingdom when you complain about things, but then don’t DO anything about them.
We who are following Jesus have all put our hands to the plow.
We put our hands to that plow when were baptized, when we set out on that path of following Jesus.
Now, with our hands on that plow, let us not look back.
Let us not be led astray by the attachments we have in this life that lead us wandering about aimlessly.
Let us not be led astray by our anger.
But, let us focus.
Let us look forward.
Let us push on.
Let us proclaim by word and example the love we have for God and one another.
And when we do, we are doing exactly what Jesus commands us to do.
Now is the time.
Proclaim that Kingdom.
And make it a reality in our midst.
Let us pray.
Holy God, you are a God of justice; send your spirit as a fire into our hearts and into our mouths that we may speak out against injustice in this world. And in doing so, let us know that we are proclaiming your Kingdom. Amen.