The Third Sunday After Pentecost: The Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato

St. Michael's new deacon, Richard P. Limato
Deacon Richard P. Limato

               “He set his face to go to Jerusalem”

Can you just imagine this scene in a film version of this Gospel?  Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Camera close up, dramatic music begins to play. Jesus’s piercing dark eyes staring directly into the lens, leaving the viewer to wonder, what is he thinking, what is he seeing, as “he sets his face toward Jerusalem?”

What kind of America does Jesus see this day as he sets his face towards the United States?

In an Op Ed piece in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks gives us some insight into our nation’s 21st Century society.

He writes, “too many people feel left out of our story, there is no longer a single American mainstream to serve as the structural spine of the nation.  Mainline Protestantism is no longer the dominant religion and cultural force.  There is no white majority in our kindergartens, and soon there will be no white majority in our society.  The big three TV networks no longer dominate the culture.  There is no longer one dominant musical genre.  The nation’s ruling class has lost legitimacy.  Social trust is stronger at local levels; politically we are in an age of extremes. 

The challenge, Brooks writes, is that America has become radically pluralistic.  We used to be one dominant majority culture with a lot of minority groups defining themselves against it.  Were all minorities now.”

We only need to turn to today’s Gospel for insight into confronting our destiny, a changed America.

All three Synoptic Gospels tell this story.  Jesus’ ministry moves from Galilee.  He leads his disciples to Jerusalem – the place of  his destiny. 

We find a Jesus who might appear to be a bit snarky and harsh. “The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” “Let the dead bury their own dead.” “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

We find a Jesus who leaves us a bit bemused.

Yet, the Jesus we encounter is resolute, single-minded, and prophetic as “he sets his face toward Jerusalem,” the ultimate mission. 

Jesus knows that this will be a rugged journey, one that will require the “all in” commitment necessary to build God’s reign.

He isn’t limiting his invitation to ministry to the dominant majority, the prevailing culture, the mainstream; he’s extending it to all.  Even the racially and mixed Samaritans. 

Jesus’s invitation to heal, to forgive, to accept, to live amongst is extended to ALL people.

At first glance, the disciples appear to understand, they are willing to go beyond their familiar boundaries.  But James and John seem ready with a scorched earth policy if they are rejected.  Jesus rebukes them.

Retaliation is not an option.  Jesus won’t abuse power.

In today’s Gospel, Our Savior of Love invites us to journey with him, to set “our faces” on his vision, a different type of life, a new prevailing culture, God’s reign.

Where we live the sanctified life Paul describes in Galatians, a life lived in freedom, where love of neighbor is powered by the gifts of the Spirit.

Where we embrace the “full stature of Christ,” a mature faith, a life fully integrated where our life in Christ becomes and is our identity.  

Where who we are, who we hope to become determines how we choose to live our lives in a more pluralistic society.

Yet this life comes with a cost, a depth of commitment that requires more than we believe ourselves capable of delivering.

This life requires us as Mother Kate suggested last week to be counter – cultural.

Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel is radically counter – cultural to the materialistic, self-indulgent culture of our society.  

Our Christian values are not always politically correct and culturally popular. 

We will be tested at every level.

We will face rejection.

We will confront power that will try to push us back to the days when things appeared to be greater and obstacles that will challenge our endurance.

And, bombarded by so much, we might even begin to think this is the “new normal” and allow a mind numbing complacency to set in.

Let’s face it.  Another incident of gun violence will be reported.

There will be additional faith based, gender based, /identity based hate crimes.

And there will be more bad news about children; beyond the horrific images we saw this week.

One of my elementary school students, a Rector’s son, protested to his mom when a Minister of the Cup at a communion rail passed him by, “I wasn’t given my Cup of Salvation!”

Out of the mouths of babes.  We are denying our children and so many others, their share in the “Cup of Salvation.”

We are denying them and the Son of Man a fitting place to rest their heads.

God yearns for us to care for the world in its fullness and diversity, making choices that renew and sustain life.

As Christians we are identified by what we treasure, the priorities we set, and the way we treat others.

“Follow Me,” Jesus says, follow me on a journey of faith, be single minded in purpose, “keep your hand on the plow,” don’t look back.

Let your hands build, let your hearts and minds be set on establishing God’s reign, even when it takes us to difficult places, even when it sets us apart from family and friends. 

This means living out the Five Marks of Mission adopted by the Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Communion:

  1.  To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2.  To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation and
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and renew the life of the earth.

At the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Maya Angelou was invited to read her poem, “A Brave and a Startling Truth.”

It called out the many injustices in the world.

It talked of hostilities towards others, bloodshed on battlefields, the storming of faith communities, those too eager to reach for the bomb, the blade, and the dagger.

Yet in her poetic manner, she reminded the listeners of the beauty of the world we live in, the beauty of our diversity that Brooks captures in his article.

Angelou ended her poem with these stanzas.

“When we come to it (the day of peacemaking)
We, this people on this wayward floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
And without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
hat is when and only when
we come to it.”

Friends, we have come to it.
We have the collective power to refashion this world.
Let us be the miraculous, the true wonders of the world.
Let us like Jesus, set our faces on Jerusalem.
Let us share his Cup of Salvation with all.

Your Daily Dose of Optimism: The America that lies beyond our current despair. David Brooks, Opinion Columnist, New York Times, June 20, 2019.

Maya Angelou, A Brave and a Startling Truth, Delivered June 1995 on the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations.