Inspired by Luke 9:51-62
So, the last two Sunday’s Gospel readings were pretty intense. I don’t know about you but they left me feeling like I need a break from those hard-hitting stories! And then I read the one for today and thought my goodness Jesus, could you let up a bit for crying out loud! Ease up already! But no, Jesus just keeps coming at us, continues to challenge us, continues to make us question things about ourselves that we try really hard to suppress. Why does Christ do this? Well, because Christ loves us, wants the best for us, is eager to transform us, and sees possibilities in us that we just don’t. But before we get into that…
I want to point out something to you that we should keep in mind for the rest of the Summer and Fall. In our three year lectionary, our three year cycle of readings that we repeat every three years, we are currently in the year of Luke. That means that throughout the rest of the Summer and most of the Fall, we will reading right on through the Gospel of Luke, skipping very little of it to be honest. And this Gospel reading that we have today begins a large section of Luke that some have called the Road to Jerusalem. Our reading began with “As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem.”
stained glass by Kathy Thaden
Again, why? And maybe you have already noticed, and wondered, why is pastor always talking about death and resurrection, likewise why is pastor always talking about baptism? Because it is foundational to our faith. We are constantly urged by Jesus to allow him to conquer death in our lives so that we can be raised, not after we die, but in the here and now. Christ is constantly urging us to allow Christ to change us, to transform us, and to die and rise. So, it is with this spirit that we will tackle our Gospel story we have before us.
It’s pretty straight forward. Jesus, once again, pulls no punches. I’m going to skip the part about the disciples little, albeit disturbing, temper tantrum where they ask Jesus if they can rain fire on those that won’t welcome him, and go straight to these three people that Jesus encounters on the road to Jerusalem, on the road to his death. All three of them say the same thing, I will follow you, I will follow you, I will follow you. Sounds good right? What leader wouldn’t want people to say I will follow you? Well, I don’t know if Jesus woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day but he was in a pretty sassy mood. Each of his responses was dripping with sarcasm and double-talk.
He tells the first person, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.” If I were that person I’d probably react with OK, thanks Jesus for that creepy image, as I slowly walked backwards away from Mr. Sassypants. But what Jesus was really talking about, in his very Jesus way, was sacrifice. It was his way of saying, “You want to follow me? Really? You realize you’re asking to follow a homeless guy right? Someone who has given up everything to do God’s will in this world and expects his followers to do the same? You really think you’re up for this?”
Sacrifice is foundational to our faith. I’m not sure where along the way the church got this idea that faith should be all rose petals and tulips but following Jesus means sacrifice—it means having to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions like, what about me needs transformed, what about me needs changed, what about needs to die so that new life can rise. The answer to any of those questions is going to lead to sacrifice—it’s the way of Christ. Whether we are talking about a sacrifice of our money, our time, our skills, a change in the way we think, a change of heart, it’s all going to lead to a sacrifice of some kind.
The next person he runs into on the road to Jerusalem, on the road to his death, is someone who wants to bury his father first. And Jesus, seemingly harshly says, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom.” Now to be fair, the phrase, “bury my father”, didn’t mean that this person’s father just died. It was a common phrase that meant, I need to live in my parent’s house until they die. Either way, Jesus nixes this idea altogether. Why? Because following Jesus requires dedication. And there’s an urgency in Jesus words too. Not unlike today’s world, Jesus knew that the world had a lot of needs, that the world needed his followers to be his presence in the world, and that presence was needed now, and it takes dedication—it’s the way of Christ.
And I know you know a little bit about dedication here at Bethlehem—you who have remained here, who have dedicated yourselves to this church, through thick and thin, for better or worse. And if that sounds a little like a marriage, that was intentional. Because that is the kind of dedication that Christ calls us into. In a marriage, we don’t run when things get rocky. In a marriage, we don’t run after a disagreement. In a marriage we don’t give up until all solutions have been tried. But Christ calls us to apply that kind of dedication, to not just Bethlehem, but outside Bethlehem, to Auburn, to our country, to the world.
The last person Jesus encountered wanted first to say goodbye to those in his house. And again, Jesus says, rather cryptically, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.” Is Jesus saying that we should leave our families in order to follow him? Of course not, although for some that has had to be the case. But what Jesus is saying here is that following Christ takes focus. For those of you who don’t know what a plow is, when you pass a farm and the ground is turned up in nice neat rows ready to be planted. That’s a plow that does that.
And whether you are using a manually operated hand plow, or one that is pulled by an animal, or a great big machine, it takes focus in order to get those nice neat rows. It’s not a job for the easily distracted. Following Christ is very similar. It takes focus, because there is a lot in this world that wants your attention, that wants your time, that wants your money, that wants your skills. To use another farm image, it’s like blinders on a horse, to keep them focused on what’s ahead and not get spooked by what’s around them. We too are called to keep moving forward, moving ahead, without looking behind, without living in the past, to stay focused—it’s the way of Christ.
So, there you have it. I don’t know what it is about pastors and threes, but those are my three takeaways from this Gospel reading. Sacrifice, dedication, and focus—the way of Christ. This was Jesus way of laying all the cards on the table, so there are no surprises, so that we know what we are getting into from the word go, so that we know that this isn’t going to be an easy road. But it will be worth it, for you, for the church, and for our world, a world that desperately needs our spirit of sacrifice, dedication, and focus—knowing that we are never alone, but that we travel with the author of life, on the road to Jerusalem, on the road to his death. Thanks be to God. Amen.