The 5th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 8C (6/27/2010)

Called to Follow

Lessons: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 (8) Galatians 5:1, 13-25 St. Luke 9:51-62

Semicontinuous Series: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 (15)

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  Deliver us from the death of sin, and raise us to new life in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"  55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

St. John 16:12-15. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Follow me. These are words that Jesus speaks numerous times, according to the New Testament. When we imagine ourselves being Peter or Andrew or James or John, or the various individuals referred to in this week’s Gospel, it is hard to picture ourselves leaving everything behind, and heading out-of-town, following this itinerate preacher. I can imagine myself saying, “Can I get back to you in a week? If I could make sure my wife isn’t scheduled to travel out of town, line up some daycare for the kids, get someone to walk the dog, hire a neighbor boy to mow the lawn and water the plants… then I’ll follow you wherever you want me to go” I can also imagine Jesus saying to me: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus has harsh words to say to those who are considering the prospect of becoming his followers. To the one who offers to follow him anywhere he goes: Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. To the one who wants to attend a parent's funeral before following Jesus: Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. To the one who wants to become a follower, but simply wants to say goodbye to family and friends: No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

These are troubling words, and to those of us whose lives are encumbered by family and friends and homes and possessions and jobs and all the responsibilities that go with them, they are words that knock us back a step or two. How do we appropriate these words to our lives? How do we interpret them and share them with friends and neighbors, most of whom are just as busy and just as tied up as we are?

The most helpful bit of information is included in the first sentence of today's lesson: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus, cognizant of his fate, begins moving towards Jerusalem and the cross. This is the turning point of the Gospel. Everything he does from this point on will contain in it shadows of the cross. Jesus is aware of how important his mission is. And he is aware of how important it will be to have a band of faithful followers to spread the word once he is gone.

It will be dangerous, and unless they are absolutely committed to him, they will never make it. And so he teaches them. You think having and maintaining a home for your family is important — well following me is even more important than that. You think taking time to bury your father is important — well following me is even more important than that. You think letting your family know where you are is important — well following me is even more important than that. Jesus is trying to teach his listeners that there is nothing more important than the mission he is about to accomplish. For those who believe in him, there is nothing more important than being faithful in following him in that mission: not homes; not parents; not friends or family.

Now if you take that to mean that Jesus isn't pro-family — or that he doesn't have strong family values (which is how we would probably spin that today with our headline mentality...) — you badly misunderstand Jesus. Remember that one of the last things he ever does — while he was hanging on the cross — is to make sure that someone was responsible for taking care of his mother. No Jesus isn't anti-family. And Jesus isn't inviting us to be lax in fulfilling the duty that we all have to our families. Jesus is simply saying that even something as good as family can become a hindrance to discipleship.

And as we discharge our responsibility to our families, we had better remember that we also have a responsibility to God's family. If any of us, in our hesitancy to truly become followers of Jesus, use our family as an excuse, well then his words to us will probably be as pointed as they were to those people that day. Families are like all of God's gifts to us. They can be a blessing, and serve to strengthen and encourage us. Or they can become a distraction, and cause our focus to be misplaced, and our ministry to be unfulfilled.

Jesus and his followers didn't carry many possessions with them because they knew it would be a distraction, and they would spend more time caring for their possessions and less time carrying out God's ministry. I find myself wondering, some times, whether he wouldn't tour through many of our homes, and shake his head; thinking, "No wonder they are too busy to be out doing my work — they've got to take care of all this stuff!"

What's the answer? Do we get rid of it all? Do we sell the miscellaneous toys we've collected? Do we cash out our homes, give the money to the poor, and rent a two-bedroom apartment for our family? Or for that matter, do we get rid of our families as well, and go on the road, preaching the Good News in every city we visit? No... I doubt that this would be pleasing to our Lord.

But today we are cautioned by the words of our Gospel. We are cautioned to take stock of all that God has chosen to share with us as blessings, and make sure that they remain just that: blessings from God, intended to strengthen and encourage us; not distractions from the many aspects of ministry that God intends us to do. Our loving God has chosen to work through human beings in order to touch the world. There is much that you and I can be doing to see that others get the chance to hear the Gospel. My prayer is that we might constantly be examining and re-evaluating our lives, so that nothing is able to prevent us from carrying out the marvelous opportunity we have to go forth as ministers of our God.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does it mean that Jesus’ face is set to go to Jerusalem?
  2. How does that change his relationship with his listeners and followers?
  3. What is his response to those who want to “take care of business” first?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Jesus call me to leave behind, in order to follow faithfully?
  2. What am I most reluctant to be without?
  3. How might removing that from my life strengthen my discipleship?