Patience in Vocation
6th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 8C)
June 30/July 1, 2013
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Marriage was on my mind a lot last Wednesday, as I’m sure it was for much of our nation. For last Wednesday, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional, which means the court basically declared it unconstitutional for the Federal Government of the United States to limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. Now, this ruling should hardly be considered a surprise. This has been coming for a long time now. Neither should it be surprising that the Supreme Court would deliver a ruling that contradicts Scripture. The Supreme Court does not consider itself under the authority of Scripture. They have delivered previous rulings and opinions that clash with our Lord’s Word, and they will do so again in the future. This ruling just demonstrates definitively that the State’s understanding of marriage is different from the Scriptures’ understanding of it. So the helpful question to ask in light of this ruling is not, “How could they do this?” They do this because they are not a Christian court. A better question to consider is, “How should we respond as Christians to this ruling?”
To answer that question, I’ll tell you the other reason that marriage was on my mind last Wednesday – it was my and Mrs. Richert’s 9th wedding anniversary. Yes, 9 years ago today we were honeymooning in Toronto, on our way to a beautiful Bed and Breakfast just outside Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, where they hold a yearly Theatre Festival. It was a wonderful escape before entering our new life together. Since then, she has had to put up with me on a daily basis, and some days, I’m sure, that’s easier than others. I tell you this not to drum up sympathy for her, although she probably deserves it, but to illustrate the point that a lot of days have passed since our wedding, and God willing, there are many more that she’ll have to survive with me. Over the last 9 years, our relationship has grown and matured as we have been blessed with children, lived in 3 different states, and faced the other challenges life has to offer – challenges that I’m sure many of you have had to face in your own marriages.
One of the things that has gotten us through those challenges is the advice given to us by the pastor in pre-marital counseling. One consistent theme that ran through every session we had was the importance of recognizing that marriage is a journey, not a destination. I realize that is a bit of a cliché, but the point he was making was that we must approach every disagreement with the knowledge that we are going to live with this person for the rest of our lives, therefore we should choose our words carefully so as not to cause hurt. He taught us that being right or proving your spouse wrong is the groundwork for a relationship of fault-finding and nit-picking. He encouraged us instead to have forgiveness as the foundation of our marriage. I could list many examples of how he encouraged us to live in this way, but what these examples would all have in common is that we were encouraged to live with patience and humility in our vocations as husband and wife.
Jesus is touching on the same ideas with his disciples in today’s Gospel reading from Luke 9. These particular verses are part of a longer narrative. In the beginning of Luke 9 we read that Jesus, “called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” [Luke 9:1-2]. When the apostles came back to Jesus a week later, probably very excited at the miracles they had just performed, he told them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” [Luke 9:23]. While the disciples were marveling at their ability to do miraculous signs in Jesus name, he reminded them that a life of following Jesus is a life of tasting rejection by the world.
A few days later, an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. While the Bible doesn’t specifically say, given the overall context this argument is probably connected to the apostles comparing the different miracles they had done in Jesus name. Jesus rebukes them for their arrogance, but then the apostles then tell Jesus that they saw someone else, someone who is not one of the 12, casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Jesus again rebukes the apostles for not understanding their role as apostles.
That’s where today’s reading picks up the story. The apostles are sent by Jesus into a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival, but the Samaritans reject them. So James and John ask, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” [Luke 9:54]. The disciples sound like a child who has just gotten a new toy and just can wait to try it out. Like Ralphie going outside in his pajamas on Christmas morning to fire the first shots from his new Red Rider BB gun, the disciples are anxious to use their new found authority to punish this village.
Their question betrays a desire to see immediate resolution from Jesus. “Lord,” they say, “these wicked people have rejected you! What are you going to do about it?” But Jesus rebukes them for their bloodlust and desire for revenge. That’s not what they are supposed to be as Apostles. As Apostles, they are in it for the long haul. They have to get used to rejection and hardship. Following Jesus is not easy, as he warns in the next few verses. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. There will be times where you are put at odds with your family and friends and the world around you. But in these times, don’t look for fire from heaven to wipe them out – be patient in your vocation. Continue to preach the word.
The same is true in the lasting relationships we hold. We live in a culture that idolizes quantifiable results. To put it another way, we live in a culture that tends to live as if life were a movie and we are trying to get to the credits. One of the problems with romantic movies is that they tend to end when the couple finally gets together. Never mind the amount of deceit, dishonesty, or dysfunction present in the formative days or weeks of their relationship, once they are finally together the credits roll. Happy ending. Sometimes I have to wonder how long those couples will actually stay together.
The point is that we face the temptation to view our lives are if they were moving from one roll of the credits to the next. We are tempted to face each disagreement with our spouse as a battle to be won, believing that once the argument is won the credits will roll and we will be victorious. But the credits don’t roll, and sometimes we are left to pick up the pieces of the brokenness caused by hurtful words. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. We are called to be patient in our vocations, as our Lord is patient with us.
And how patient he is! He patiently endured the rejection of the Pharisees in his day. He patiently endured suffering at the hands of the very ones he came to save. He patiently endures with us and our continued meanderings back into the sin from which he has set us free. He has cleansed us with the washing of rebirth and renewal, granting us his Spirit that we may live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yet so often our lives are instead filled with sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Yet in the midst of our continued failure, in the midst of our perpetual falling away, there our Lord waits patiently to bring us back to him, not calling down fire from heaven for our rejection, but continuing to convict us in our sin by his Word of Law, and deliver to us the sweetness of the salvation through his Word of Promise.
So also we are patient with the unbelieving world around us. The government of our country has just issued a proclamation that rejects our Lord’s Word on marriage. How do we respond to this as Christians? We do not call for Jesus to send down fire from heaven as James and John did. Instead, we hear Paul’s words to the Galatians as if they were written to us: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only, do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” that is, to quench you thirst for vengeance, “but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:13-14].
The government may have issued a proclamation, but the story is not over. Our response to the government’s proclamation is to continue steadfastly in prayer and proclamation. We pray that those who are positions of authority would pass laws that were in keeping with God’s Word. We pray that the citizens of this land would know and believe the truth revealed in those same Scriptures. We aren’t surprised when that word is rejected, but we continue to pray anyway, trusting that even in the midst of this our Lord remains the one in control. We continue to proclaim the truth of our Lord’s Word. We live in our own marriages in such a way that the world can see the love our Lord Jesus has for his bride, the church. We live in forgiveness in all of our vocations, readily confessing our sin to each other when we have done wrong, and readily forgiving those who have sinned against us.
Just as we live in patience with each other within the church, we are patient in our vocations with those outside the church. We do not treat this ruling as if the credits have rolled and the final word has been spoken. Neither do we call for Jesus to send down fire from heaven upon the Supreme Court. As with all our vocations, we patiently continue to pray and proclaim the Gospel even in face of rejection by the world, for ultimately that is as much we can hope to do. The rest is in our Lord’s hand.
We continue steadfastly in prayer, confident that on the last day we will be taken to life in a new and perfect creation, life in a world free from sin and its consequences. Until then, we continue to live lives worthy of the calling we have been given in baptism: lives that share the forgiveness we have received, and lives that reflect the hope we have been given. May God grant us such lives for Jesus’ sake. Amen.