06/30/13 Sermon (June 30, 2013)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 11:24 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Sep 3, 2013, 11:24 AM ]

06/30/13 Sermon (June 30, 2013)

Scripture Reading: Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
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?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
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."
To another he said, "Follow me."
But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."
Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Sermon: "The Tyranny of the Immanent"

I once heard some wonderful advice about preparing a sermon, I think it was from Barbara Brown Taylor. She said that when you are getting ready to preach a text from the Bible, run your hands over it, and feel for splinters. And then preach about the splinters.

And one doesn’t need to be a Bible Scholar to feel some of the splinters in today’s text.

We find Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus has turned the corner, so to say, and is facing his final destination, the city that kills the prophets. Jesus is entering the final phase of his calling as the Messiah.

And as he embraces this new role, as he begins to follow the path that leads to his unique and final identity as God’s chosen Son, those who would follow Jesus begin to see the the true meaning of what it means to be a disciple.

And it’s not an easy thing is it?

Being a disciple of Christ means that not everybody is going to be your best friend. Not everybody is going to understand your priorities. Not everyone is going to appreciate your choices. Not everyone is going to welcome the things you think or say.

And that can be infuriating. After all, you have earned your place at Jesus’ feet, you have paid your dues as Jesus’ disciple, and yet, folks still don’t give you the respect you deserve as his messenger. We can almost understand the disciple’s desire to call down fire, and destroy those foolish, disrespectful, unreligious Samaritans. Who are they to close their doors in the face of the Good News of the Gospel? Let’s see how they like the flames of Hell licking at their doorsteps. That’ll teach them to pay attention!

But Jesus says, no, that’s not how we do things. Yes, sometimes we are disappointed by the reception we are shown when we say there might be a better way to treat one another. Sure it hurts when people are mean to us when we suggest that our God is a God of welcome and forgiveness.

But the rejection of our message isn’t license to threaten those who disagree with us with destruction. That’s not how it works. Because a belief in God that is coerced by threats and guilt is not an expression of a freely offered faith. We cannot punish those who reject us into accepting our message. Because that’s not love. That’s subjugation. That’s enslavement.

The Gospel message cannot be inflicted on people. It cannot be forced, it cannot be shoved into our souls. It can only be confessed, and lived, with the hope that in our confession and living of a self-giving life, others might be see, if just for a moment, the self-giving and loving nature of a God who comes to us.

And even if these days we mostly refrain from outright physical coercion, there are times that we utilize other forms of manipulation to convince people of the truth of our Message. One of these has been the threat of eternal separation of God, or from each other. Graphic descriptions of the pits of hell, the fire, the pain, the agony, the loneliness of being cast into the pit. These images have been key weapons for us when we just can’t seem to convince people of the love of Jesus using words like forgiveness and peace.

But in our story today, when the disciples ask Jesus if they can’t just, please, just call down a little heavenly fire on these heretical Samaritans who just can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that Jesus is our loving savior, Jesus just smiles, and says, no, let's just keep moving down the road. We are not called to wipe out everyone who disagrees with us. That’s not the way it works.

But it is frustrating that other people don’t see it like we do. It makes us wonder if other folks really get what it means to be a disciple. If people really understand what it means to follow Jesus.

And this question is bothering the other characters in this story as well. We see the reactions  three different people who have to come to terms with the idea of following Jesus, and each of them has questions.

They are experiencing what it means to heed the call of Jesus Christ, and their conversations with Jesus remind me of my own experience of what it has meant to follow my own call to the ministry. Their questions may also remind many of your own thoughts about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

One of the people tells Jesus that he would like to follow Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t particularly welcome or affirm the person’s decision. In fact, Jesus’ answer is a little bit off-putting. “Yeah, whatever,” Jesus says. “You know you won’t have a pillow, or a bed, but if that’s your bag, I guess you can tag along.”

I know that if I had been that person, I would felt like I’d just been hit in the stomach. I had just made what I thought was a pretty momentous decision, had mustered up the courage to commit my life to this itinerant Rabbi, and all he can say is, “You’d better pack light. We stay on the move.”

It’s hardly the cheers of welcome and encouragement and congratulations that I might have expected, you know what I mean? I guess I would have expected a little more reaction, a little more applause. But sometimes, that’s the way it works. We give our lives to God, and the response seems muted. Almost as though we are doing that which was already sort of expected of us -- and, we usually don’t have parties for folks who are simply doing what they are supposed to be doing. Like breathing, or eating, or sharing what we have with others, doing what all of us should already be doing isn’t necessarily cause for celebration.

Now, the next story is a little bit different. Jesus personally calls a man to follow him. And the man has reasons why he just can’t, right now. He’s got to take care of some business first. He has family obligations, you see. In fact, he can’t follow Jesus because of the Torah. Yeah, that’s it. It’s the law that prevents him from following Jesus. He has to be there for his father’s burial. There are rituals to attend to. There are certain religious duties that must be taken care of. Honor your Father and Mother, and so forth. Jesus can’t possibly want him walk away from these things, can he?

And Jesus says, “Yes, I can. Follow me. Let others do what others do.”

And the third man who talks to Jesus wants to hedge his bets before he even starts to follow Jesus. “I’m going to do it.” He says. “I’m going to be a disciple. I just need to take care of some things first. I’ve got some folks to talks to. I’ve got some final details to nail down. Just let me get my life in order, and then I’ll be right behind you, I promise. I really want to go where you want me to go. I’ll just be a second. I’ll be right back.”

You know, when I first read this passage, I wanted to soften Jesus’ answers to these people just a little bit. It seemed like Jesus was pretty strict. The first one wants to follow Jesus, and Jesus tells him how hard its’ going to be. The second one is just minding his own business, and it’s Jesus that calls out to him. And when he makes a perfectly normal request to go to his dad’s funeral, Jesus comes down on him like a ton of bricks. And when the third one simply wants to say goodbye to his family, Jesus declares him unfit for the kingdom of God.

These are tough things that Jesus is saying. And I really wanted to find a way to sweeten them. I wanted to find reasons that Jesus might be saying them, some sort of cultural, societal, contextual reason that Jesus might say such hard things.

And I prepared this sermon, I found out that other people want to soften these things up as well. In my study commentaries and reference books there are all kinds of excuses that I could have used to let Jesus off the hook for being so mean to these well meaning wanna-be followers. It turns out that there are many different ways you can make Jesus seem to be be not quite so strict.

But then I realized something. Why do I need to make excuses for Jesus? What is it about myself that makes me feel like I need to somehow apologize for the way that Jesus is responding to these folks? What is it about these stories that make me want to dig around into arcane Jewish burial rituals in order to find out some obscure reason that would explain what Jesus means when he says these things?

In other words, why was I so unwilling to simply let these words from Jesus stand on their own two feet? Why did I feel the need to take away their sting?
And it came to me maybe that the reason that I didn't want Jesus to be so strict with those who would follow him in this story, is because I don’t want him to be so strict with me. I guess that I felt that if I could find some wiggle-room for these potential followers of Christ, that if I could find some ways to soften Jesus’ words to them, then maybe I wouldn’t feel their weight so keenly on my own shoulders.

Because the reality is, there have been times that I have used these same kinds of excuses to delay, to avoid, to reject and to rationalize my own sense of call to be a follower of Christ. And so, while I may not have used precisely the same words as these folks, I have certainly borrowed their intent in order to not have to live fully into the life that Jesus calls me.

Have any of you all felt the same thing? There is truth in this story, not just because Jesus wants us to trust him with our lives, even when that trust means letting go of things that are important to us, but because the reality it, there are few of us who are really able to do this. For most of us, there will always be something in our lives that hold us back from a full participation in the life that Jesus promises that we would have if we could just surrender to his call.

But here’s the thing: In those rare times that I was able to truly put aside my fears and reasons for not following Christ’s call to be a disciples, and have put aside those things which would, or should have held me back, I realized that more often than not, the call of Christ included being able to attend to those things as well.

In other words, while Jesus’ call at times seems like a call away from family and friends, if you look at Jesus’ own life, even to the very end of it, he pursued his own call all the way to the cross, without leaving behind his mother and his brothers and his friends. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t always or necessarily mean that we have to give up those things that we love. But it does mean that we need to being willing to give them up if they cause us get our priorities out of order.

There was a time in my life that I thought that being called to ministry meant that I was called away from music, and while I willing to do that, the truth is that I resented God for that, because I thought that was what God wanted. But as I followed my call, and become more aware of the full scope of what God wanted from me, I realized that I was called to both music and ministry. The point wasn’t that I was called to give up music. The point was that I was to follow a new path. Music is still part of that path. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I am no longer anxious about being called away from music.  It’s in God’s hands.

And I also realized that while the frequent upheavals that come with being a preacher are difficult for my family, my call to follow Jesus Christ includes my family. I am not called away from them. I am called with them. And the longer I spend in this congregation, in this town, the more grateful I am for the way that God tends to my family through your generosity, and the friendliness of West Texas.

The call to follow Jesus is mysterious and unpredictable. But it comes with a promise: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you. I believe that if the men in our scripture passage today had put their their trust in Christ, they may have found that those things that they were so worried about would have been tended to.

Our God is a gracious and loving God. The life of disciple is hard, but is not harsh. Following Jesus means both challenge and reward, and the reward is that the one through whom all creation came into being is walking beside you every day, and there’s something to be said for that, no matter how hard the journey might seem to be.

Thanks be to God. Amen.