A dozen years ago, I stood on the hillside of the village of Sarra in the West Bank. I was there with Meta Peace Team doing third-party nonviolent intervention. The Israeli military had put a roadblock on Sarra’s main road out of town. A couple hundred folks had gathered to protest.
After some negotiation with heavily armed Israeli soldiers, a leader of the protest called out: “We have seven minutes to vacate or they will begin shooting.”
I thought, All right, that’s it. Time to pack up and go home.
But then I saw five boys younger than ten climb the mound of dirt. They wore traditional Palestinian dress and began to dance the Dabka. Immediately, the tension evaporated in clapping, laughing, and singing. It was a feast of joy set before a display of weapons.
Moments later the air that had just held the sounds of laughter and pride filled with tear gas and sound bombs. The land was trampled by feet in fear. But for seven minutes there had been courageous resistance in the form of joy, and that can never be taken away.
As I read this letter to the Galatians—written in a time of conflict—I am struck by the addition of the word joy to the fruit of the Spirit. Discipleship is hard work, and too often we lose sight of joy. Amid pain, unrest, and a historical moment aching with injustice, joy can feel like the hardest thing of all to find.
I believe living joyfully is a calling—not to happiness that is ready-made or store-bought but to the kind of joy that is birthed only after (or only when) we have touched and known deep pain.
O God of our tears and laughter, give us the courage to stand up before the powers and play, sing, laugh, and dance justice into being. Amen.
This week’s readings open with the dramatic scene of Elijah’s departure. As the prophet is taken into heaven by fiery chariots, his cloak falls to his successor, Elisha—symbolic of the continuation of God’s prophetic work. The psalmist praises the Lord’s mighty works of the past and finds encouragement in them. Paul reminds us that freedom in Christ comes with responsibility. We cannot live to satisfy our fleshly desires. If we live in the power of the Spirit, then our manner of life should stand out and bear godly fruit. In the Gospel reading, Jesus challenges his followers with the cost of discipleship. His statements here may seem extreme, but he is pointing out that we can be tempted to find excuses for not proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Read 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14. When has fire—real or metaphorical—changed your life? How have you seen God working in this change?
Read Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20. Recall a time when you needed God’s help. Where did you look for God’s encouragement?
Read Galatians 5:1, 13-25. Along with our freedom, we are given a responsibility. How do you use your freedom to serve others?
Read Luke 9:51-62. When have you heard Jesus’ call to follow? What have you had to leave behind to follow the one who has “set his face to go to Jerusalem”?
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