What does it mean to follow Jesus? Is there cost associated with it and whould this ‘cost’ scare us away from following Jesus? We explore a difficult piece of scripture that many of us shy away from, but we owe it to ourselves to explore what scripture is saying to us about our relationship with God.
This sermon is from June 30, 2019. At the present time there is an issue with uploading the audio of the sermon. I hope to have it fixed soon.
Scripture: Luke 9: 51-62
Oh boy, it seems I may have picked the wrong week to come back from vacation. A difficult text that many of us rebel against.
Something that the past few months have taught me is that life is short. It’s very easy to say I’ll start that diet tomorrow. I’ll start going to the gym next Monday. We make excuses and we built walls around ourselves to defend our behaviour.
We get mad at Jesus in this passage and let’s be honest, we don’t like the Jesus who shows up in this passage. We don’t like him because we think he is being insensitive to the needs of others. Surely, we can bury our loved ones. Surely, we can say good-bye to the people we love. When Jesus responds in the negative we are confused. What’s up with Jesus we might ask?
We need to put the passage in context and it’s in the opening sentence. “As the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he will die there. Jesus knows this, the disciples haven’t figured it out yet, but we are privy to that information. We’ve read the rest of the gospel account. Jesus is going to die, a painful, public humiliating death. And it’s coming fast.
When Jesus says no, you don’t have time or that the dead will bury their own or don’t look back, it’s because by the time you catch up to Jesus after doing that task, Jesus will be dead. The passage has a sense of immediacy about it because Jesus is going to die. He will die for you and for me, for us.
Jesus isn’t saying if you follow me you will be homeless. Jesus isn’t saying disrespect your family and loved ones. Jesus isn’t saying you can never have contact with your family again. What Jesus is saying is decide what you want to do.
Karoline Lewis writes, “There are way more “but firsts” than we are willing to admit. We rationalize them as strategic, best practices, following protocol. We justify them as necessary decisions, just balancing budgets, or keeping denominational order.” (reference)
Let’s go serve the poor in our community. But first let’s make sure the kitchen is up to code.
Let’s collect clothing for the homeless in winter. But first let’s clear out a room to store the items.
Let’s be a community of faith that welcomes new people. But first let’s throw a pot luck for ourselves.
Let’s take care of the planet that God created, called good and asked us to watch over. But first let’s buy a case of water.
Let’s love all God’s people. But first let’s spend the better part of a decade debating and arguing about the place of LGBTQI people in the church.
I could go on.
What are our ‘but firsts’? What do we make excuses about? What do we prioritize over following Jesus? Whatever the answer is, it speaks a great deal to our values.
Scott Hoezee recounts a sermon he heard by Barbara Brown Taylor. She once said that if a man in the church loses his job, the pastor may well call this person to offer sympathy and prayer.
But suppose that a pastor one day got wind of the fact that a certain member of his congregation had gotten a big promotion at work along with significantly more pay. And suppose the pastor then called this person and said, “Charlie, I’ve heard your news and so was wondering if it would be OK if I came by sometime to pray with you about this. I’m concerned about the temptations this new venture may throw your way as well as what it may do to your ability to serve here at church. So I’d like to pray for God’s strength for you in the face of this new success.”
Probably we’d be taken aback. You’d probably tell me to take a hike. But as Brown Taylor notes, that is only because we do cordon off parts of our lives from the total claims Jesus makes on us. We act as though we are our own after all and so why would the church have anything to say to us so long as life is chugging along smoothly? If we ask that, however, we reveal that we, too, quietly resist the same self-denying sacrifice that seems so offensive to some outside the church.
It looks as though the only way you will ever see this self-denial as a source of comfort is if you die and are reborn. You need to kill off ordinary ways of defining value and bring to life a whole new set of values. The place to start is by admitting that without God, you are lost in sin’s wilderness and unable to find your own way out. Once you know that, you are wide open to the call of the one who hopefully says, “Follow me.” (reference)
How do we stop saying stop saying, ‘but first…’? I don’t know, it’s hard. This isn’t just a sermon for you, it’s also a word I need to hear. I know in my own life I throw up roadblocks and obstacles, I have my ‘but firsts. ‘
Perhaps it’s helpful for us to focus on the words of the Psalmist, words which we also read this morning. Listen to prayer that the Psalm has for us today:
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Friends, God is good. We need to trust, to follow the path of life, which has been made clear to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s trust in that and get on with the work of making God’s good creation a place where all people and all creatures can thrive. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.