A Place for us

Jun. 26, 2016

2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14; Gal 5.1, 13-25; Luke 9.51-62

I learned the value of holding a place in a line when I was a kid. I'm the oldest of five children and I was raised in a household that only had one bathroom! If you listened to my Dad when I was growing up, you'd think that God was holed up in our bathroom, because my Dad's constant complaint as he pounded on the bathroom door was, "Good Lord! Are you still in there?" If you lost your place in line, bad things could happen.

People do all kinds of things to make sure their claims on spaces are honored. We save places in line for others. If you find two seats together in the movie theatre, invariably someone will say, "Sorry, these are saved." If there's an empty table in a crowded cafeteria...you can put an article of clothing down on it, which says, "This is mine!" you'd think you've got it. But if someone moved your stuff to another table, you'd probably get pretty upset because they'd dishonored your claim.

And once we claim a space, we all do things to those places. Where we live and where we work, we want it to be our own. If someone works in a cubical in a big office, they will invariably personalize that space with pictures or other memorabilia that makes the space their own. I know the name over the door to my office still says, "Rector," but I've put pictures all over the wall that claim it as my own. And we fiercely defend our spaces. I think that was the core issue behind the "Brexit" vote in England this past week. Their motto said, "Taking back the country". All of us fiercely defend our space.

Let me give you an example. For a time, I lived in Southern Indiana. Now, I know, everybody thinks the Hoosier state is all about basketball...with the Bobby Knight tradition and all that...and basketball is important, but more people than I could count were also bike riders. I'm not talking about Harleys...I'm talking Trek, Cannondale, and Schwinn. With miles and miles of winding and gently rolling hills, Southern Indiana was the recreational bicycle capital of the USA. It was a challenge and a genuine pleasure to peddle over hill and dale many afternoons after work.

I had a friend I always rode with on the country roads around the college where I taught. And there was one stretch of road that was always a particular challenge...not because of the topography, but because a particular canine who ruled a length of highway about a 1/4 of a mile long. That dog was 80 pounds of muscle and fangs with an even darker temperament than his deep gray coat suggested. That Weimaraner had the appearance of a bolt of lightening when he ran--he looked like the logo on a Greyhound bus. That beast came from dogs that were bred in Europe, to hunt bears and other large beasts. He seemed absolutely infuriated by any intrusion onto the turf in front of his house. I wondered if the post office could even bring the mail and I'm certain they never got a package delivered. He patrolled his space with religious devotion...because this was his stretch of firmament and he didn't want to share it with anyone or any thing.

My friend and I always had the same strategy in getting past him...we'd come over a little rise and then sprint down through the area where the dog made his rounds. Sometimes we'd get lucky. And we always respected that sacred dictum that says, "Let sleeping dogs lie". And at other times, when we'd think we'd beaten him, suddenly he'd come cruising up along side us as if we were parked, but we were going over 30 miles an hour and he'd still nip away at our ankles. We called him "Greased Lightening" because he was so fast. Once he was waiting for us in the middle of the road, we slammed on the brakes and we turned around and rode an extra 10 miles out of our way to keep from being struck by "lightening". We ceded to him his claim on that stretch of highway.

The same principle is at work in the scriptures today. The mantle of Elijah came to represent the powers the prophet had been granted by God. And so Elisha in possession of the mantle held the same powers in Elijah's place. Likewise, St Paul in Galatians said, "Stand firm"..."Live in the Spirit"...not in "enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions." But test that place where you stand to see if it is bearing the fruit of the Spirit...that is..."love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control". Because when we judge others, we are not respecting their space...I had a beloved old Bishop who many years ago used to say, "It's not right to judge others, but we can be fruit inspectors." Is the space where have been planted bearing the fruit of the Spirit or something else?

In the gospel today, when the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus and the disciples, the disciples were ready to bring down fire from heaven to blast the malefactors, but Jesus rebuked that option so they just went to another place. But I think the most challenging thing that the gospel says today is this, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." What Jesus is telling us is that our place is in God and any other place will keep us from doing the will of God. Whenever we desert that place with God, we are re-placing the Kingdom of God in our lives. "(the Lord) said, "Follow me." "But first" one said, "...let me go and bury my father."...Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me 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." There is no "But, first..." with God's claims on our lives.

Then, what do we have as Christians? Well, we have a place with God. It's our place in the cue, and it has been saved for us. That's the promise upon which our hopes are built. That space is claimed by saying "Yes, Lord, I will follow." But there is this thing... there can be no "But first" with the Kingdom of God. Our place is to worship, serve, and proclaim the good news and to be bearers of the fruit of the Spirit as we do it. Christ took a place on the cross so that wherever we stand in the line, we will have a place in God's kingdom. AMEN.

The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church

Diamondhead, MS