Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

So it’s been some time now, like 2 months, since I’ve talked about a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.  I figure most of you are probably going through some kind of withdrawal symptoms because of it, so I thought I better re-break that ice.  And really, with the next Spider-man movie coming out this Tuesday, I just have the MCU on my mind.  Also, I’m pleased to announce that by the grace of God I’ve been able to convince my whole family (excluding Kaylie) to agree to try and watch all the MCU movies in order of their release, minus the Incredible Hulk so far, because that movie, along with the second Thor movie are the ones we don’t like to talk about.

Anyway, the family hasn’t gotten too far in the MCU line-up, we just finished watching “Captain America: The First Avenger” the other day which is just like the fourth movie of the first phase of movies.  And I don’t know how many of you have seen it, or should I say, I don’t know how many haven’t  seen it, because c’mon now, these movies are awesome.  But the particular movie centers around this all-American kid from all-American Brooklyn with an all-American name like Steve Rogers, who for some strange reason really, really, really wants to serve in the army.  But there’s one problem.  He looks like this:

He isn’t tough.  He isn’t tall.  He’s kind of sickly even.  But the kid has heart, but that apparently isn’t enough.  Enter this scientist guy who recognises Steve’s heart and signs him up for this Super Soldier Program, which injects the subject with this Super Soldier Serum and turns them into a Super Soldier.  So poor short, skinny, and sickly Steve turned from this:

Into this:

I know, right?  So he was this:

and turned into this:

Basically, they turned him from my son Ryan into me.

I know, this all seems so fantasy and comic book-y and “Pastor-Nathan-talking-about-stupid-stuff-again-y”, but this story really relates to real life, doesn’t it?  I mean, we have this kid that wants to do good and is told by everyone that he just isn’t good enough.  He tries and tries and tries but he still can never be good enough.  So some scientist comes and gives him this magic formula and *poof*, suddenly he isn’t just good enough, but he’s great.

Don’t we want that formula? Don’t we want to discover that special solution to our equation?  Don’t we often do whatever we can to, not just be seen as or pretend to be, but to actually be good enough?

It is so ingrained in us that we actually start to fight those who stand in our way.  We shake our heads at those who make us look bad by believing different from us,  or we cut out of our lives those who make us look wrong by disagreeing with us, or we wish fire to rain down from heaven on those who make us appear not good enough when they aren’t 100% on board with who we think we are, what we think we’re doing, and where we think we’re headed.  We just want to be good, or maybe more than just good, we want to be like “Captain Christian” or something.

And oddly enough, although no one in their right mind would ever use that name or admit to it at least, we aren’t the only ones.  We aren’t the only ones with this over-developed sense of wanting to be good enough, and we aren’t the only ones who will do what it takes to get there.  We aren’t the only ones who want to rain fire down from heaven upon those who take away from our goals.  Look at the disciples in today’s gospel story.  Granted, I really resonate with them here though.  I mean, darn those Samaritan folk who don’t accept Jesus.  You know if I had the power to call fire to rain down from heaven?  Man alive I’d do it in a second.  And like all the time too.  Disagree with me?  Fire from heaven.  Mock me and my beliefs?  Fire from heaven.  Driving too slow in front of me?  Fire from heaven.  Nothing says “tough” like being able to divinely torch someone who crosses you the wrong way.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that.  He says no, what on earth you guys, gosh.  And he continues on, with his mind on Jerusalem and Jerusalem on his mind.  And as he goes he calls some others and all they had to offer were excuses, procrastinations, reasons for them not to follow just yet.  I tell ya, super soldiers these folk were not.  I mean when they were handing out the solution and formula on being good enough, all these characters must have been out fishing.

Yet, the text tells us, Jesus seeks them out.  He says those who put their hand on the plow and looks back aren’t fit and yet that is what Elisha did but God still calls him.  The disciples have largely misunderstood what Jesus had been teaching them and what he was doing and saying all this time, but he didn’t fire them as his disciples.  But he kept calling them, leading them, allowing them to grow and change and be all that they could be.

See it isn’t a prerequisite for us to have it all together before we are called.  It isn’t mandated that we be always right in our theology and doctrine before we can serve.  It isn’t a rule for us to be good enough before God deems us as worthy.

There is no super soldier serum for us to take in order for us to be Captain Christian’s.  There is no secret formula that can change us to be better than we are.  There is no method or equation to follow that just makes us good enough.

But there is God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s unending love that fills us with that value and worth.  It is this, what can be called God’s Spirit, that reminds us that even when we aren’t good enough, we are not excluded from all that God has to offer.  For as we are filled with the Spirit we are given the ability to act with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And if you’re anything like me, you can maybe check 2 or 3 off that list, and even that is iffy.  But the good news is that even though we have the Spirit driving us to exude that fruit, we are also given the freedom to serve God and to serve others without that fear of failure and insufficiency, because God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s loving forgiveness is more than enough to cover all our shortcomings, all our weaknesses, all our insufficiencies that we think stand in the way of allowing us to be great.  But greatness isn’t defined by what we have done, what we can do, and how many wars we can win single-handedly, but it is defined by our position in God’s kingdom.  This position we have as God’s beloved people, saved by grace, redeemed by mercy, and welcomed by love, is unchanging.  It is eternal.  And it is stronger than anything we could ever throw at it.

The world now is a crazy place.  It is one that is difficult to navigate and even be a part of.  It is one that might seem so lost and broken.  But it is one that God loves.  So much so, in fact, that God sends God’s son not to condemn it even though it totally isn’t good enough, but to love and save it with all the grace and mercy that we could ever imagine.

In this season after Pentecost, may we continue to see and have hope in the growth of our church both locally, nationally, and globally, that while we aren’t and might never be good enough, God continues to call us, provide for us, and gift us with fruit through the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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