Pentecost 6C Galatians 5:1,13-25 Luke 9:51-62
Do or Do Not, There Is No Try.
That may be what Jesus is saying at the end of our Gospel text for today. Be a part of the Kingdom of God or do not, there is no simply trying it out.
“Do or do not, there is no try” is a fairly famous line from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back. The great Jedi master, Yoda, is training a young and somewhat whiny young man who is supposed to be someone who will make a significant difference in the lives of many people, bringing peace and justice to everyone. The young man is tired, grumpy, and for the most part can only see the obstacles in his way. When Yoda asks him to do something he replies half heartedly, “I’ll try.” He has failed a great deal in his training and he is uncertain if he will be able to actually accomplish both the task at hand and his greater calling in life. Yoda responds firmly, though not with cruelty, “do or do not. There is no try.”
That sounds like exactly what Jesus is saying in the Gospel lesson. Do or do not, there is no try.
The text begins with an intense phrase. If this were a movie, you could imagine the music changing to something very serious at this point. “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” There is a sense of unwavering resolution in these words. Without hesitation and with full commitment to what lies ahead, Jesus starts down the path that leads directly to the cross. It is not an easy road. It will be hard and tiring, with much blood and sweat and conflict and at the end there is something that looks very much like failure.
When a few people say they’d like to follow him BUT they have something they need to do first, Jesus’ response is not quite what we’d expect. It sounds like a good thing, that people would want to follow him. Jesus collects followers pretty much everywhere he goes. Last week, there was the man who had been possessed by Legion who wanted to follow Jesus. He tells the man no, but he gives him a task to do instead.
However, these requests to follow seem to be a bit different. The last one in this section is a good example. “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” I’ll go, BUT I want to do this other thing first.
Some of you may have heard me say before that often times, BUT stands for Behold the Undeniable Truth. As in, I’d like to visit my grandmother BUT it’s raining. I want to do something, behold, the undeniable truth, I don’t want to bad enough to make it happen. Sometimes BUT is legitimate, but often, it reveals what we are or are not really willing to do.
This is the attitude of some of the people Jesus meets and, if the truth be told, it is sometimes our attitude, too. I know I’m guilty of it. We want to follow Jesus’ teaching, follow in this footsteps, be all that he has made us to be, BUT—behold the undeniable truth—we might not want to bad enough to really make it happen, to actually change the way we think and act.
Sometimes, those things that follow the BUTs are not always illegitimate. Sometimes there are very reasonable things that impede us. And sometimes, fear impedes us. We might fail. Behold the Undeniable Truth, we are afraid that we might not be able to do it all.
We will likely never feed all of the hungry people in the world. Jesus does say, after all, that we will always have the poor with us. And what about war and violence and conflict and natural disasters? Some of that we can’t stop and much of it we cannot understand even if we spent our entire waking lives trying to figure it all out. And, well, Jesus also said we’d have things like this: war, famine, earthquakes, disease. What’s the use? It will always be a part of the world. I’d like to do something about it, we are even called by God in the scriptures to be blessed peacemakers, bind up the broken hearted, give a cup of cold water to those who thirst, and to care for the vulnerable among us. We are called to strive for justice and peace in all the earth, BUT I really don’t think anything I could do would make a big difference. I suppose we could try, but we know we’d fail. We could try to feed those who are hungry, give compassion to those who weep, advocate for those who are oppressed and whose bodies and hearts and human rights are violated, and seek ways to live in harmony with all of God’s good creation. We could try to understand human conflicts and maybe work on some kind of peace. BUT I just don’t know how far we can get with all that.
Behold, the Undeniable Truth.
Well, here is an undeniable truth to behold: one thing that Jesus did not say was that it was ok to ignore the poor, hungry, homeless, sick, suffering or to turn a blind eye to war, violence, oppression, conflict. Jesus did say there would be struggle. Jesus did not say we should just let it be that way. Quite the contrary. In fact, I believe that in a manner of speaking, Jesus said: Do or do not, there is no try.
But, what if we fail? What if you do your best; not just try but really with all your heart “do” and fail. That is reality, after all. We fail. We fail a lot. We fail not just by all the times we say “but”, we also fail even when we go with all our heart and mind and strength out into the world and seek to enact the one law that is, as Paul reminds us in the second reading for today, Love your neighbor as yourself. And Yet We Fail.
A young mother, wishing to encourage her son’s piano practice, took her boy to a performance of a great piano master. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy began exploring and ended up going right through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.” When the houselights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the piano on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.” Then leaning over, he reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Then his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added another part. Together, the old master and the young novice created a masterpiece and the audience was mesmerized.
This is an excellent picture of the grace of God at work in the world.
When Jesus speaks of fitness for the Kingdom of God in this part of the Gospel, he does not say that only perfect farmers are fit for the Kingdom. He says that those who plow with commitment are engaged in the Kingdom. Do or do not is not the same thing as succeed or fail. Success or failure isn’t the point at all. Doing is the point. Doing what we are called by God to do is the point.
It is not: try to love your neighbor even though they are different from you and it is hard. It is love your neighbor. We may succeed at some times and we may fail at others. Loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, striving for justice and peace in the world, binding up the broken hearted, being the hands and feet of Christ in the world are all things that we are, for the most part, like a little child plunking out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And it is God who, while embracing us with infinite, immeasurable, loving grace, creates a masterpiece of our work.
There is much in our world that is broken and seems beyond repair. We can try to fix it and we will accomplish little. Yet we can be about the business of loving, helping, lifting up, showing compassion and empathy and kindness—that is to say, doing the work of the Kingdom of God—and know the arms of God encircle us and all of creation, making beautiful music out of all we are doing.