A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Text: Luke 9:51-62
This has been a momentous week on many fronts. Supreme Court rulings have held the headlines. All over the country lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning folk are celebrating along with our allies the recognition of our right to marry under the laws of the land. There may be a million or more celebrants on the streets of San Francisco this morning as we worship here. To tell you the truth, there is a little tug on me to be sharing in that celebration.
It was 17 years ago on an equally hot Pride Sunday that I was ordained at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. We have come a long way since that day in providing a fair and equitable society for lgbtq people in this country. Last Sunday, I worshiped at Crossroads Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Crossroads is one of 88 congregations that both welcome and affirm lgbtq folk as part of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. It was AWAB day at the American Baptist Mission Summit. Since we are not allowed to be officially a part of the biennial meetings, we usually hold some sort of alternate event at a site nearby.
The day began with a worship service at which the Executive Director of the Association, Robin Lunn, preached. I was invited to read one of the scriptures, Revelation 21:1-6. The Association is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, having had its first meetings at the American Baptist Biennial, down the road in San Jose, in 1993. However, part of my role as member of the current Association board is to be a kind of living history, reminding folks that the birthing organization of the Association was American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities, an organization, advocating for full inclusion of lgbtq people in the life of the church. I was involved in ABConcerned leadership for some 20 years before the Association came into being.
Before I read the scripture, I reminded people that our little movement within Baptist circles is 40 years old, not 20. It seemed significant, as we read the passage from Revelation, to remember that the full sanctuary and the growing movement started as the dream of a few faithful people a long time ago. It also seemed important to recognize that, whatever progress we have made in building an inclusive witness in Baptist circles, there are still dreams to be dreamed and long, dusty roads to walk. For many it is rightly a time to celebrate, but we must not forget that tomorrow will, of necessity, be a time for moving on.
Jesus set “his face to go to Jerusalem,” Luke writes. As an old friend of mine used to say, he was “a man on a mission.” Up to this point in Luke’s gospel we have heard the wonderful stories of Jesus’ birth, witnessed him wowing the elders in the temple at 12 years old, the same age as Daniel Ha. He has proclaimed in his home church that “The Spirit of [God was] upon [him], because [that Spirit had] anointed [him] to bring good news to the poor…[had] sent [him] to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of [God’s] favor” (Luke 4:18-19). He has taught and healed and driven out demons and fed the hungry throughout Galilee. He has established his credentials. He has assembled a large group of followers. Now he is off to Jerusalem to confront the forces that have corrupted the religious tradition of his people and forsaken their covenant with the living God. He is going to challenge the imperial powers where they hold people captive in systems unjust and evil. Along the way and in the heart of the holy city itself, he will proclaim the in-breaking reign of God on earth with the promise of salvation for all who turn to God and God’s reign.
The text is tough. Here Jesus has no time for villages that will not readily receive him nor for those who are not prepared to hit the road. This is not the tender and compassionate Jesus we would prefer to meet along the way, the old friend who will sit and chat with us in the corner café, the beautiful dreamer who takes to time to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. This is someone intently focused on the road ahead, a man on a mission, one completely absorbed with moving on. There is a certainty to his step, a sharp focus to his gaze, an urgency to his voice. The reign of God is breaking through all around. There is good news to proclaim the poor and oppressed. A new age is coming. It is vital that people see and understand, that they repent of being on the wrong road and come along with him on his journey to new and abundant life in the realm of God.
We ought to be careful not to read this text as saying that we should not be concerned for family life. Jesus still loves and cares for those around him. One could read the hyperbole of his pronouncements here as instructing his followers to let go of anything that binds them to a past that does not see and move on toward that realm of God in which they will be free of anything that has ever bound them. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time for mourning, a time for getting your affairs in order, a time for reflection, a time for play. For Jesus and his followers, this time was one for moving on. The reign of God was breaking out everywhere. He had to show the way.
I have to confess that I have never been behind a plow, but according to those who have, you cannot look back and maintain a straight furrow. Long and winding roads have their charms. The twists and turns of a mountain stream follow the natural contours of the land. Up and down and all around can be a merry adventure. But for farming, furrows need to be as straight as possible, otherwise you have chaos in the crops and have not made maximum use of the land. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” says Jesus. “Got my hands on the gospel plow. Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now. Keep your hands on that plow, hold on,” sings the spiritual. “We’re moving on toward the realm of God. Times are tough, the journey will not be easy, but, in time, the goal toward which we move will eliminate all our troubles, free us from every chain and wipe away every tear.
Here’s the challenge as I see it in this week in which so many of us want to be celebrating the in-breaking of justice and equality for people who have been marginalized and treated as second-class citizens. When the party is over and the streets have been cleaned up, we have to see that “it’s not all about us,” that Monday or Tuesday is time for moving on. In the same week that DOMA was overturned and Prop 8 struck down, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was gutted by the same court along with a delay for the dreams of affirmative action for people of color. The prospects of immigration reform were shot down by a recalcitrant House of Representatives and its leadership. Legislators are making headway in taking away a woman’s right to choose how she handles pregnancy. War is being waged in the Middle East and elsewhere, its living victims huddled into refugee camps while others wail and weep the loss of life and livelihood. The very life of the planet is being threatened.
In our Association board meeting, one of our members rightly reminded us that justice is a whole cloth. None of us is free to all of us are free. Too often little victories are won at the expense of others. Sometimes we are unwilling to look beyond our self interest. We are too preoccupied to hit the road when Jesus calls us to be moving on. In the end, however, we can’t stay put or we will suffer the dire consequences.
I know the burden can seem overwhelming, the road impassible, the work impossible, God’s realm unreachable. But we just can’t afford the luxury of giving up or resting on our little islands of security. Ethicist Sharon Welch challenges people like us when she writes, “The despair of the affluent, the middle class, has a particular tone: it is a despair cushioned by privilege and grounded in privilege. It is easier to give up on long-term social change when one is comfortable in the present—when it is possible to have challenging work, excellent health care and housing, and access to the fine arts. When the good life is present or within reach, it is tempting to despair of its ever being in reach for others and resort to merely enjoying it for oneself and one’s family…Becoming so easily discouraged is the privilege of those accustomed to too much power, accustomed to having needs met without negotiation and work, accustomed to having a political and economic system that responds to their needs” (Sharon Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 15 quoted in Alyce M. McKenzie, “Keep Your Hand on the Plow!” Edgy Exegesis, 6-24-2013, patheos.com).
In a sense, this is the same challenge Jesus gives to those along his way who are not ready to join in the journey. There some things, things that are sacred to us, that we have worked long and hard to develop and preserve, that we must let go of in order to move on with Jesus. I really don’t want to be so presumptive as to say what those things are for you. All I can do is invite you to listen to Jesus’ call. What is being asked of you to help ensure the reign of God in your here and now, in this time and place?
If Jesus walked into our sanctuary today – his face set steadfastly toward Jerusalem, or Washington, or wherever captives need to hear a liberating word, wherever the poor need to find economic equity, wherever the oppressed need to be lifted up, welcomed and affirmed, wherever the blind need to see, the deaf hear and the mute speak, wherever the year of God’s favor needs to become a living reality – how would you or I respond? Would we be prepared to let go of the past and dream of God’s new thing? Would we be ready for moving on? As my friend, D. Mark Wilson, sang at my ordination service long ago, on one of those days when we stopped to celebrate as millions are celebrating today, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” (Bernice Regan Johnson, “Ella’s Song”). Today, tomorrow, the next day, in the strong and steadfast name of Jesus, it’s time for moving on. Amen.