Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
How Much Longer?
Ash Wednesday, a short reflection from Luke 9
Preached February 17, 2021 for the 7:00pm Worship
Scripture Luke 9:51-56
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went on to another village.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
Sermon How Much Longer?
It’s been a really long time since their big split. A long, LONG time ago, they were once a people, a family, a nation, all descendants of Jacob, the same one who was renamed Israel after his wrestling match with God. The 12 children of the ancestor Israel, roughly, became the 12 tribes of the nation Israel with its capital in Jerusalem under King David. But like families (or nations) sometimes do, they disagreed and fought over semi-important things, mostly religious and political beliefs, and split from one another. The Southern Kingdom Judah, thus the term Jews, kept the capital Jerusalem. The Northern Kingdom kept the name Israel, and named their capital Samaria, thus Samaritans.
That bipartisan Civil War split was hundreds of years before Jesus, but the pain and anger from that division were still very much alive in the people of Jesus’ time. No one alive had ever experienced that split personally. But others had passed down to them through generations what to believe, who to trust and who to hate, who to accept and who to shun, who were neighbors and who were enemies.
When a town of Samaritan descendants hears Jesus, the one some say might be the messiah, is coming through their town, they might have been excited at first. Then they hear he is on his way to Jerusalem, so they do not accept him.
For as long as Jesus has walked the earth as one of us, his own brothers and sisters, children of God, have rejected him or denied him. We humans are also born into nations or cultures. We have been passed down to us practices and encouragements to treat those with different skin colors differently. We treat those born just over an imaginary borderline differently. We are taught by those older than us or in authority over us who to trust and who to fear, who to follow and who to fight. We carry those sins, the sins of our ancestors, those sinful ways within us. Even if we were too young to know better, that sin we were taught is still ours when we carry it, actively or passively, when we allow it or do nothing, say nothing to stop it. It stains us just as clearly as the ashes stain our foreheads, and the wages of sin, the sin we inherited and the sin we chose, is death. Ashes go back to ashes.
Two of Jesus’ non-Samaritan disciples ask Jesus if they should call upon God to rain fire down on them. After all, they’d been taught Samaritans are the enemy, though no one remembers why anymore. They’d seen firsthand how unclean and unworthy they were when they rejected Jesus. So they practiced the sin of revenge they had been taught, and asked Jesus if they should compel God to show them a lesson!
Jesus rebukes his disciples. Of course not. That sinful response to their sinful rejection will only perpetuate the cycle of sin. I am here to break that cycle, and to bring about a new kingdom that is not divided but reconciled.
This little town of Samaritans might have been one of the first to reject Jesus, but it wasn’t the last. How much longer will human beings drink the kool-aid of our distorted religious, political, or nationalistic beliefs, and in so doing, block Jesus of Nazareth from entering our community and bringing in the new Jerusalem among us?
And those two disciples of Jesus might have been two of the first willing to do violence to protect their way of following Jesus, but they wouldn’t be the last. How much longer will human beings consider revenge or violence as an appropriate way to protect a life, or a family, or a so-called Christian nation?
This Sunday, we will turn to Chapter 10 in Luke, and Jesus will lift up a Samaritan as one willing to stop and help his neighbor. May we learn from him how to turn the other cheek, and see the good.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown