Sermon prepared for the Presbyterian Church of the Good Shepherd, Melbourne
Primary text- Luke 9:51-62
This passage isn’t one that comes up on “Favorite” lists often, probably because this isn’t the happy, welcoming, forgiving, healing Jesus we like to celebrate. This Jesus isn’t out looking for the one lost sheep. He’s not dressing down those Pharissees that we all love to hate. He’s not even giving one of those Leroy Gibbs back-of-the-head whacks to Peter that says, “I love you, but you’re a bone head.” No, this time, Jesus is speaking hard words to people who are really way too easy to recognize in ourselves.
- In a moment of zeal, James & John are ready to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus. He doesn’t just say, “No thanks boys.” He rebukes them
- When another man offers to become a follower, Jesus says that unlike the foxes and the birds, he doesn’t have a home or place to rest.
- Next Jesus challenged a man to follow him. When the man replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, you go proclaim the good news.”
- And finally we hear about the man who wants to follow Jesus but wants to go back and say good-bye to his family. Jesus’ response, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I can just imagine the disciples watching all of this and wondering what in the world had gotten into Jesus. We have the advantage of looking back at a detail Luke the storyteller provides at the beginning of the passage. In Verse 51, we read “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
It’s easy to run right past that bit, isn’t it? But we need that context, really.
You see, this is a determined Jesus, turning his face toward Jerusalem. It’s as if Jesus can see the faintest outline of a cross in the distance. I wonder if he didn’t wince a little bit in anticipation… not so much at the physical pain he would surely bear. No, I think he was anticipating a different sort of pain… the pain of rejection, isolation, humiliation… all in obedience to God and out of love for people who just didn’t get it. Still don’t get it.
In these terse, harsh statements, Jesus is asking us- each of us who would call ourselves disciples – to truly follow him. And he makes it clear that there will be some hard choices to make along the way.
In a culture as wrapped up in owning things as ours is, it’s hard to imagine taking on the itinerant life that Jesus and his followers led. It doesn’t get any easier when you read on into Chapter 10. There, Jesus sends seventy-two followers out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. They were to count on the Lord providing through the hospitality and generosity of those they met. Just as he did.
Meanwhile, I spent yet another day of my life yesterday shepherding laundry through the machines and into closets that need another purging… helping our son determine which of the toys, school supplies and books in his room need to stay in his possession. On days like that, I remember listening to George Carlin talk about how we don’t have houses to live in, but to hold all of our stuff. To a greater or lesser extent, that seems to be true for most Americans. Even those of us who have decided to follow Christ…. Who had no place to lay his head.
Over the years, my son has bought and traded many video games. The ones he most enjoys involve navigating through a game environment solving puzzles and battling enemies. There are often “levels” which have to be completed in one sitting. You can pause, but your efforts are only saved if you stop at specific points. (Oh for the simplicity of a book and bookmark!). This programming decision works great for game sellers- the players get totally immersed and want to complete the game so they can go back for the next installment.
This programming decision is awful for parents. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had that run something like this. Time to get ready for bed, son. Ok, I just have to get to a save spot. Fine… you’ve got 5 minutes. (5-7 minutes go by…) Ok, now really, it’s time to get ready for bed. Mom, I have to get to a save spot…
Somewhere in that game world, something needs that character’s attention and the goal of completing the task makes the player lose track of time and place in the world OUTSIDE the game. At that moment, the words, “It’s just a game. Stop and step away” seem equally as harsh as Jesus’ admonition to let the dead bury the dead.
Looking back, I’m not proud to admit that I’ve told God more than once that the work I’ve been called to needs to wait, that I’m not ready. That I haven’t gotten to a “Save Spot.” Only my excuses were never anything like burying a father or saying goodbye to my family.
In reality, what I wanted in those moments was the chance to be my own boss, to make my own way in the world. I might make a mess of it, but by golly it would be my mess and not my parent’s, my church’s or some other authority in my life. There’s something in me and that I’ve see in other people, too, that our American tendency to value self-reliance brings to the fore. And it’s just not helpful when it comes to submitting to God’s authority, God’s lordship. To following Jesus and Jesus alone. It’s as if we don’t really believe that Jesus really is all that we need.
While it is not one of his documented “I am” statements, time and again, in this passage and throughout the gospels, Jesus is saying to us, “I am enough.”
The same Jesus who said, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” reminds us to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air… God provides for them. God will provide for you. God is enough. No matter what the world tells you… I am enough.
The same Jesus who said “Let the dead bury the dead” wept over the death of Lazarus and taught that though we are dead in our sins we might be reborn. He promised life that is both abundant and eternal, when we are in him and he is in us… He says, “I am enough now and for eternity”
The same Jesus who said that “the one who puts his hand on the plow and looks back is not fit to serve the Kingdom,” reached out to Peter on the water as if to say, “Look at me, Peter… not at the waves, not back at the boat. I am powerful enough to calm the storm and to calm you.”
It is that very same Jesus who set out resolutely toward Jerusalem, following God’s plan, focused on what God had sent him to do: To take to the cross the sins of the world, to endure separation from the love of God, and to redeem the each and every one of us, so that we might be called brothers and sisters, children of the Most High. And as if that weren’t enough, Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and empower us to be ambassador’s from God’s Kingdom in this broken and sinful world. Starting from the very first moment we commit to following him.
But following Christ isn’t easy… it’s counter-cultural, counter-intuitive and can count against you in some settings. Even hearing his voice can be hard when so many claim to speak on his behalf. That is why we don’t follow Jesus alone… we are called to be communities of faith, discerning, living and going into the world together in the power of the Spirit. Holding one another in prayer and holding one another accountable. Being the Body of Christ.
As Good Shepherd enters this new and exciting part of its journey, there will be times you are tempted to look back – at the ways things were before. Other times you will be tempted to ask God to wait. And still other times you will be asked to let ministries, things or even people go in order to do the work God is preparing for you even now. A quick read through the rest of the New Testament remind you that being the church isn’t any easier than being a disciple. After all, churches are made up of sinful, bone-headed disciples, just doing the best they can. There are times we might be tempted, like Elisha, to as God for more- “Make it a double, please!” As if God’s grace isn’t enough.
Those difficult moments are nothing new. They are the reason we read, like generations of Christ-followers before us, Paul’s encouragement to Press On! No turning back.
Press On! Keeping our eyes on the prize, which is Jesus and his righteousness.
And that, sisters and brothers, is more than enough.