Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21 | Psalm 16 | Galatians 5:1, 13–25 | Luke 9:51–62
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14).
All our Scripture readings today, in one way or another, call us to contemplate devotion: to reflect on what it means to be completely committed to the Living God and His will for us. But more than that, they also highlight how the Living God is completely committed to us. Devoted to rescuing and re-creating His broken world, and drawing us who trust in Him deep into His blessed life.
But before jumping into our readings today, let’s remember that there are plenty of ways we can misunderstand devotion… plenty of ways we can get off track when we follow our assumptions about what the Lord wants of us, instead of looking intently to Jesus and following His lead.
Thankfully, our Gospel reading today invites us all to reflect on what a Christ-shaped devotion looks like, both back then, but also today:
St. Luke tells us that “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). This marks a clear change of direction in Jesus’ ministry. Up until now, He had been travelling through the northern region of Galilee, sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God with all the countryside. But now, the time had come for Him to head South to the holy city… wholeheartedly determined to carry out His great rescue mission: to go to Jerusalem, to take up His cross, and give His life to save the world.
As the amazing culmination of the entire Scriptural story… the story of God’s faithful love for His stubborn, sinful people, and our whole broken world… Jesus, the Son of God was going to Jerusalem to die. To be betrayed and rejected by the ones He came to save, but then to turn that tragedy into a gift of New Life for all.
But long before He and His disciples even get close to Jerusalem, Luke tells us they faced resistance: Travelling through a Samaritan village, they were not welcomed.
Now Samaritans have a long and fraught history with Jews. Both communities have a shared ancestry, as the Samaritans were descendants of the remnant of the Northern tribes of Israel, who survived the Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles. Yet even so, both communities saw each other as ethnically and religiously compromised, to the end that Jews and Samaritans despised and avoided each other. And so, because Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish religious and cultural life, the Samaritans wanted absolutely nothing to do with Him or His disciples. Despite Christ’s willingness to share God’s Kingdom work with them, they only saw an enemy… and so they rejected Him.
Of course there are lots of examples of this kind of dynamic at work in our world these days: of people who share so much in common… yet remain deeply divided over the few differences.
I’m not talking about the tensions that naturally rise from people holding conflicting values. Of course we won’t agree with everyone, and there will be times when we must stand firm and resist what we understand to be wrong.
But the question for us is: how are we to treat those who hold onto conflicting values? What do we do with the people we cannot seem to come to peace with? Can we deeply disagree about many things without demonizing… or trying to destroy the lives of those we disagree with?
As we heard today, the disciples didn’t seem to think so. At least two of them, James and John, thought their devotion to God’s Kingdom called for burning up those who were ‘opposed’ to them and their message. “Lord,” they said, “do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). In the back of there minds must have been the stories of the great prophet Elijah, who in 1 Kings had himself called down fire from heaven against soldiers of a wicked king.
But instead of unleashing fire against the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His own students… and simply moves on. He doesn’t engage in debate. He doesn’t repay their unkindness with anger. Despite the rejection that Jesus faced, He does not let it deter Him from carrying out His mission. He remained devoted to laying down His life to save, not only His fellow Jews, but these Samaritans as well… and all peoples under heaven.
Christ-shaped devotion is not about winning every argument, or coming out on top of every conflict. Nor is it, for that matter, about keeping everyone happy… as if that were even possible. What Jesus did was to not let rejection or conflict distract Him from God’s great rescue mission… from devoting His life wholeheartedly to the life of the Kingdom that He had come to bring, even though this would mean walking the road of rejection and suffering.
As Christ’s followers today, will we walk this road with Him?
St. Luke goes on to introduce us to others, who wanted to follow Jesus… but who had their own visions, and assumptions of what it would look like to devote their lives to Him: One said “I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57), but Jesus then pointed out that His own life was one of never quite belonging… of never really settling down and fitting into society. A life of a pilgrim. A wandering misfit. Is that what you want?
After Jesus invites another to follow Him, the would-be disciple says: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Luke 9:59). In other words, ‘Let me first fulfill my family obligations.’ Again, Jesus pushes for wholehearted devotion, saying to them: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).
Yet another says: “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62).
All three of these would-be disciples wanted to take part in the Kingdom… but up to a point. They wanted to follow on their own terms… in ways that they were comfortable with… but Jesus pushed back on their assumptions… on their ideas of what wholehearted devotion means… not because He was cruel, or uncaring… not because He didn’t want them to follow Him… just the opposite! But He wanted them, and wants every would-be disciple to know what we’re getting into. Jesus was inviting them, as He invites us all to share wholeheartedly in His life… with all its challenges and struggles… and so to know what it means with Him to be devoted to God’s kingdom.
We all come with our own ideas about what it means to be a devoted Christian: what following this religion requires of us, and how our lives will be shaped by it (or not!). But Christ-shaped devotion isn’t bound by our own assumptions, or ideas… but by a whole new way of life given to us by the Living God. A life completely committed not to a religion, but to Jesus our Lord… and to one another!
As St. Paul points out in our reading today from Galatians, there’s no such thing for those who follow Jesus as private devotion. Our commitment to the Living God connects us to all His children… set free to share together in the life of Christ Jesus our Lord.
To the Christians in Galatia, divided by serious religious and cultural disagreements, St. Paul took great pains to point out that devotion to Christ Jesus is not just a bunch of rituals to practice, or rules to follow… and argue over. Truly Christ-shaped devotion, the fulfillment of the righteous law of God, is His holy love at work in us, setting us free from everything that keeps us from loving one another.
Galatians 5:13-15, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
St. Paul goes on to point out the destructive signs of what happens when we’re devoted to our own desires, which run in the opposite direction of the holy love of God: Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
But then St. Paul points us towards what it looks like when we are sharing in the new life Jesus gives us: what begins to take shape in our lives as those devoted to walking with Him. Galatians 5:22-25, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
Remember, all these things are the results of the Spirit of God at work in us. This isn’t a list of things we need to do or have in order to make ourselves holy, or prove we’re devoted to God. These are the signs of God’s new life that the Holy Spirit is devoted to bringing to life in us His people. The Living God Himself is wholeheartedly committed to re-creating us to be like Him! To be shaped by God’s own love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is the gift that Christ won for us at the cross: to share in God’s new life, and through the Spirit, for His life to set us free to love Him and one another. This is what the Living God is devoted to doing in us and our world. Will we follow our Saviour and let His faithful love guide our way? Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School