The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: June 26, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector, St. Michael’s Church
In today’s Gospel, we hear a sense of urgency in Jesus’ call to follow. Don’t put your hand to the plow and look back. Don’t look ahead to the things you have to do in response to tradition or family. Don’t expect to have a place to rest—the journey itself will become your home.
This urgent call to discipleship—a call to let go of our fear, trust God, and dive into the joy of new life in God is met with some hesitancy. Some fear. We are not always ready or eager to proclaim the kingdom of God.
This same dance between urgency and hesitancy—the fear of commitment reminds me of the feeling I get when I’m about to dive into a pool. Diving can teach us a lot about how to handle fear and commitment in our lives. In order to dive properly, you cannot focus on what’s ahead or what’s behind you. You have to simply let go and trust in the moment. You have to trust your hands and feet and body to work with the force of gravity—you have to embrace the unfamiliar—letting your hands and head lead rather than your eyes and feet. You have to get comfortable the uncomfortable in jumping off into the unknown. You have to be poised, not too tense, not too relaxed. If you try to look up, or look behind you—pain awaits with the dreaded belly flop.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to follow him. To dive in to discipleship—to make a radical commitment and turn our face towards a radically different path—one where we must learn to see ourselves, our families, the world in radically different ways.
Following Jesus means letting go of the desire for revenge—the desire to hurt or destroy those who reject us. Following Jesus means letting go of the edge of what is familiar and diving into what is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, unknown.
Following Jesus means our identity in God is the thing that ultimately shapes who we are–that we are no longer defined or influenced by our culture, our traditions, our status, our families and relationships, or where we live. Following Jesus calls us to dive in to freedom and new life in loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others.
Following Jesus does not mean we reject our responsibilities to family and vocation but rather encourages us to see those needs in the light of our faith and through the lens of our deepening love and commitment to God.
Recently, I’ve been reading about the Enneagram personality theory that describes humanity as a series of nine different types each labeled as numbers 1-9. The basic psychological premise is that we are essentially driven by our deepest fears. Fear is what motivates us. What makes us who we are.
One thing I like about this theory is that fear can become for us a fuel for good in the world. For instance, those who are afraid of being corrupt are driven to be virtuous. Those who are afraid to of being unloved and unwanted are driven to selfless acts of service. And so on.
As human beings, we are driven by our needs for love, acceptance, and affirmation. Fear directs us—tempts each of us to seek love, acceptance, and affirmation in different ways. Fear remains a core part of who we are—and as such it plays a strong role in creating and shaping our identity.
If we accept this as true, we are forced to face just how much power fear has in our lives. And if left unchecked, fear has the power to manipulate and control our thoughts and actions, to twist our good and noble intentions to their evil extremes.
But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus offers us another path—one where we don’t have to follow fear anymore. A path where love becomes the basis of our thoughts and actions. A path where goodness is rooted in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit-a path that bears the good fruits of love, joy, peace,patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus call to follow him—to dive into God’s love each and every day becomes our chance to choose love over fear; life over death. Following Jesus seems like a good concept on the surface—easy enough to do. But as our faith grows and matures, we come to realize that the Way of Jesus—the way of loving as God loves is more than just a private practice of our individual spirituality.
In order to have true meaning and integrity, our faith, our love must be lived—loving God and loving others must be at the heart of who we are as followers of Christ. Our identity must be rooted in the love of God that casts out fear.
This summer, don’t spend your time swimming in the tides of fear—dive into a new life with God’s love instead. Dive into the radically new ways God is calling you to love yourself and others in the world—calling you to love and cast out fear.
The living waters of Christ are here—dive in! Amen.