First Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20
Second Lesson: Galatians 5: 1, 13-25
Gospel Lesson: Luke 9: 51-62
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
July 2010: The city of Cleveland got dumped by the girl of their dreams with the entire world watching. LeBron James, the best Basketball player in the entire world, wanted to hang out with prettier friends in Miami. Cleveland’s reaction to being dumped was somewhat predictable. Kids would tear James’ poster of bedroom walls. People would burn James’ jerseys in the street. People were saying every kind of nasty word that they could about LeBron James. While we don’t live in Cleveland, we can understand “Cleveland.” Factories and plants were shutting down. People were losing jobs. Cleveland had gone “46 years” without a championship in any sport (Football, Basketball, Baseball, or Hockey). Talks of Cleveland’s curse grew “louder” and “louder.
June 2016: The Cleveland cause was again looking hopeless. The Cavaliers basketball team was down 3-1 to the greatest NBA regular season team of all-time in the Golden State Warriors. They were going to need to win “three straight games” to have a chance at the long awaited title. LeBron James though after running back into Cleveland’s arms one year earlier, would play three of the greatest games any NBA player ever played. Six years had changed everything! So many people on this championship night flocked to downtown Cleveland to celebrate that the authorities had to stop allowing people to gather “downtown.” People were dancing in the streets, people wearing hugging complete strangers, and people were running with joy that didn’t know that they could run. The Prodigal Son had come home, only instead of celebrating with a fattened calf they were hoisting a NBA championship in Cleveland.
Cleveland had their hours of heartbreak. Cleveland had gone through 145 years seasons of receiving an answer of “not now, but someday”. People’s faith in a payoff would be tested. Six years earlier! The most unlikely of stories of a city’s redemption had become reality.
The story of Cleveland’s redemption leads us into our Gospel lesson for today. Today’s Gospel reading is a tale of pain and rejection with seemingly the whole world watching. The disciples James and John had gone into a Samaritan village. James and John went into this village expecting to change the world. James and John experienced nothing but indifference. James and John left this village mad. Their sales pitch was shot down. James and John wanted “God to bring the thunder down from Heaven upon this village.” James and John wanted the Samaritan village “wiped out”. James and John weren’t in this moment acting like calm heroes of the Christian faith but rather like children throwing a temper tantrum only after a few more decades on Earth. James and John went to Jesus with their problems. James and John were hoping that Jesus would give a blessing to their anger and revenge. Jesus’ advice to these men was simple; Jesus suggested finding another village instead.
What’s going on in James and John’s life at this moment is this, they could recall the past; they were experiencing the present, but they could only imagine the future.
The sixteen-year-old boy dumped for the first time can believe that they stand no chance of meeting anyone ever again. The boy remembers the past, is experiencing the present, but can’t imagine the future. The person who loses their job in the present moment can’t imagine that their pain could be part of God’s master plan. They can only see their wallet getting squeezed tighter and tighter in the days ahead.
James and John couldn’t believe that God might send them into a Samaritan village to experience dead ends. James and John couldn’t believe that God is using this experience to set them up for something else. The Disciples would rather wallow in anger and revenge than hope.
Let me tell you a story about why we need to embrace hope. Eric Thomas grew up with a defeatist attitude because his father abandoned him. When Eric Thomas was sixteen, he got in a big fight at home and ran away. Thomas spent the next two years of his life living out on the streets of Detroit. Thomas spent nights figuring that the world would possibly be better off if he were dead. Thomas one day by circumstance encounters a preacher who tells him “That he has the gifts that could save lives.” Thomas decides every breath he had moving forward was going to be about saving lives like his own. Thomas goes back to school. Thomas gets a GED degree. Thomas then spends twelve years working towards a college degree. Thomas begins a youth program to help similarly troubled kids get their GEDs. Thomas becomes a preacher. Thomas gets hired by Michigan State University. Thomas obtains a Masters than a Doctorate.
What kept Eric Thomas going on those nights sleeping on the street, above all else was that he had a vision. Thomas was going to become the father that he never had for his future children. Thomas today is one of the most in-demand motivational speakers in the country.
How does Jesus seek to calm James and John in the midst of their anger about the present? Jesus encourages James and John to embrace a vision and look towards the future. “Bury the dead and move on.”
These words that Jesus gives almost seem cold, but here’s the purpose. Jesus wanted James and John from that day moving forward to focus their energy not on changing the past which is impossible, but rather on changing the lives of others which is possible. Jesus wanted James and John to know that the Christian faith is not about your past sins, your present reality, but the Christian faith is rather about all sorts of future resurrections.
The future does not promise to be easy. Jesus will soon face hostile religious leaders and crucifixion. James and John are about to have their whole lives turned upside down. James and John are about to start a religion that seems destined for death, yet forces from above will breathe life into their journey. What Jesus is seeking to do for James and John is preach a sermon about the power of faith. Faith is about clinging to a hope of “life” when nothing but death is seemingly all around you.
Faith is not an easy thing to grasp when you hear news of cancer diagnosis. The reason that we cling to faith is that life is that in life, we are more likely to face uncertainty than certainty. James and John left this Samaritan village today with nothing more than faith. James and John would soon be traveling all over the earth in frightening and uncertain circumstances. Faith is that whereas death will mark the past, Resurrection will mark the future.
So how can we tie this all together.
How do the stories of Lebron James, Eric Thomas, James, and John relate to our lives today?
Let me suggest something this morning. I want you to stop thinking of life regarding “buts.” Think of all the excuses of why God can’t change the world or your life or the lives of those around you.
I want to reflect a little bit this morning upon the life story of Ulysses S. Grant. In the early days of the Civil War, the South had the upper-hand. Union generals much like James and John dreaded failure and rejection. They were more concerned with avoiding risks then seizing opportunities. Southern General Robert E. Lee couldn’t compete with manpower or firepower, but Lee was able to act with tremendous conviction of leadership. Now what made Ulysses S. Grant up to the task of standing up to Robert E.Lee, it certainly wasn’t his resume. Grant lacked a high education or any unique talent for the art of war.
Grant had previously been kicked out of the military for drinking and brawling. Grant probably wouldn’t have been let back into the army, if the Union wasn’t so desperate for soldiers. What made Grant dynamic though as a leader is uncharted waters didn’t faze him. Grant knew that clinging to the status quo was a death sentence.
In our lesson for today, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, a Jerseleum rife with uncertainty in the weeks ahead.
This last week, we have had heavy storms hit the Northland. Tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds struck the land. Homes were damaged, and people lost their lives. People woke up the next morning searching for answers. In the storms of life, we need to cling to faith.
Let me close by invoking one of the more famous stories from within our Christian scriptures.
We always talk about the Prodigal Son, when the key character in the story is the Prodigal’s Father. It’s the Father who like Eric Thomas waits day after day by looking not towards the past, not embracing the reality of the present, the Prodigal’s Father is only looking towards the future. The Father believes that someday his son might come home, and he and his son will celebrate with the fattened calf together. I’m sure the Father had his nights of frustration. The Father had his nights of wondering whether it was time to give up hope. The Father though kept imagining the future of receiving his long-lost son into his arms. The Father’s belief that one day his whole world could change kept him going looking for his chance to proclaim grace, forgiveness, and mercy to his son who had run away.
Six years ago, a championship dream was thought to die as Lebron James left Cleveland. A couple of decades ago, life was believed to be ruined as Eric Thomas ran away from home. Nearly two thousand years ago, James and John walked into Samaritan village, failed and walked out angry seeing themselves as failed evangelists. James and John’s story though would soon change. They would encounter the Resurrected Lord. They would receive words that had the power to give “life” to the dead. They would travel to the ends of the Earth. They would experience “Resurrection” from all anger, all pain, and all despair. Who is to say that the same can’t happen to us Today! Amen
 The title is taken from an ESPN 30 for 30 that aired on May 14, 2016.
 Posnanski, Joe. “Titles and Tears.” NBC Sports Online. 20.Jun.2016. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Posnanski, Joe. “Titles and Tears.”
 Luke 9:51-62.
 Luke 9:53
 Luke 9:54
 Luke 9:55.
 “Eric Thomas (motivational speaker). “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July.2004. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Rose, Lisa. “Mission Accomplished: The Truth of Eric Thomas.” Empower Magazine. 29.Feb.2012. Web. Jun.21.2016.
 Luke 9:59-60.
 Stanley, Andy. The Next Generation Leader: 5 essentials for those who will shape the future. Multnomah Publishers. Sisters, Oregon. 2013.Print. P.87-88.
 Stanley, Andy. The Next Generation Leader: 5 essentials for those who will shape the future. P.88.