A sermon preached by Bob Keller on June 27, 2010 based upon Luke 9: 51 – 62.
Mother Teresa said, “One filled with joy preaches without preaching.”
Being here with you, as it does every Sunday, fills me with joy and, according to Mother Teresa should negate the need for me to preach, but I’m going to go ahead and preach anyway because I know how disappointed you’d be if I said, “Service is over. You can go home now.”
The bright, warm days that we’ve had over this past week took me back many years. I was about 12 or 13, I guess, and I had a paper route delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in my hometown of Turtle Creek, PA. I liked getting up at 4:30 in the morning on those bright summer days because I knew I would see Patty Kane. Patty was an old man in the mid-1960’s so he must have been born in the late 1800’s.
What I liked about seeing Patty on those mornings was that I could hear him well before I saw him. My paper route took me through the downtown, or as we called it – downstreet, section of our small town. It was an area of storefronts with two, three or four stories of apartments above them. It formed a kind of canyon that amplified any sounds made during those still, quiet hours before most of the world awoke. Patty would sit on one of the benches in the small park in front of the elementary school and play Irish tunes on his harmonica. Often I would deliberately walk slowly just so I could take in the joy of the music being produced by this old man.
When I would finally reach the bench where Patty sat, I would ask “What are you doing, Patty.” I tried to call him Mr. Kane, but he told me that all of his friends called him Patty and he asked me to call him by that. I never knew anyone that called him Mr. Kane.
He always responded that he was waiting for his paper. I always made sure I gave him an unwrinkled paper and was kind of relieved that I wouldn’t have to walk up the three flights of stairs to his apartment to drop the paper at his doorstep.
As I would get ready to leave I would always ask, “Feeling OK today, Patty?” His response would always be, “I woke up on the right side of the grass today so I guess I’m OK!” He would share a smile with me and that always made me smile back.
That little exchange would warm my heart and put a lift in my step that frustrated my attempts to walk slowly so I could hear his music as long as possible.
I’m so glad that I had that memory come back to me this week because it was a frustrating and, in some ways, a frightening week for me.
It was about a month or so ago that Pastor Jeff asked if I would fill in for him today so he could spend some time with his son Andrew who is visiting from Colorado. Of course I agreed and checked the lectionary for today. Did you hear the passage that Linda read for us this morning? I put it away and tried to forget about it. I couldn’t. The Jesus in this passage isn’t the loving, accepting, warm-hearted, joyful Jesus that I like to think about. This isn’t the Jesus that offers me eternal hope. This Jesus wants something from me. My frustration came from questioning my ability to give it to Him. My fright came from questioning my desire to give it to Him.
In just a few sentences, Luke tells us of Jesus’ encounters with three “potential” disciples and the demands He places on them. Let’s look at them.
The first man that Jesus meets says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” How many of us would say that? How many of us could say that? Could we have known then where Jesus was going? If we did know, would we have been willing to follow? Jesus “set His face” toward Jerusalem. He was headed to fulfill His mission – death on the cross. Would we have followed?
And what was required to follow? Just everything! No less than everything! Jesus said to this man, “You better know what you’re getting into, because you better be willing to give up everything!” Foxes have their holes, birds have their nests, but I don’t even have a place to lay my head.”
Jesus left heaven, His throne in glory, to come to the earth and live and die for us. He exchanged wealth for poverty. He left the ivory palace and came to a crude cattle shed. He exchanged kingship to become a servant.
He had no earthly security. He was loaned accommodation by those who loved Him. He borrowed a coin to tell a story. He borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem and fulfill prophecy. He was even buried in a borrowed tomb! He gave up everything when He came and stood by you and me.
It’s not the security of possessions or money. It’s the security of God’s faithfulness, and a life beyond this one that NOTHING can take away! Though the Christian has nothing to his name in this life, he is more secure than the richest and most powerful of men. Jesus was asking this first man to count the cost – following Me may cost you everything!
In Luke chapter 5 we read just a few weeks ago about Jesus getting into the boat with Simon to preach. When He finished preaching, He told Simon to put out from shore and cast the nets. Simon wasn’t happy with Jesus’ request. He was tired, but he did as he was told. They had such a catch that the boats started to sink. When they got the boats to shore everyone, including James and John – Simon’s partners, was astounded at the catch. Then Jesus told Simon to follow Him. And they dropped everything – the catch, their nets, their boats – and they followed. Following Him may cost you everything!
The second man that Jesus met didn’t offer to follow. Instead, he was called by Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”
“Yeah, Jesus. Sounds like a really good plan you got going there, but let me go bury my old man first. Yeah. That’s it. I gotta bury my Dad first.”
Now there are two possibilities here:
Jews in that day buried their dead right away. If this man’s father had just died, it’s highly unlikely that the man would have been anywhere other than making funeral arrangements. If the man’s father had died previously, the man would be in a mourning period of up to a year until his father’s bones could be removed from the grave and placed in a small box for final entombment.
The other possibility is that the man’s father was elderly and it was the responsibility of the child to care for the parents, especially the father, in their old age. In this case there could have been no timeline for the man to follow Jesus.
For all we know, if the man had agreed to follow, Jesus may have led him back to his father and who knows what might have happened. Funny things happened when Jesus got around dead people. Remember, dead folks had trouble staying dead around him. Jesus is not insensitive around those who grieve. In Scripture He has a way of turning their sorrow into joy.
The bottom line is the man was saying, “I’d like to follow, just not right now. Maybe later after _________ and you can fill in the blank.” And don’t we do that? I’ll follow Jesus after I finish my education, after my career gets established, after the kids are grown up, after my nest egg is set, after I find a church that I like, after, after, after…..
You might as well say after the Cubs win the World Series!
Jesus can’t wait that long! We’ve got to be willing to leave it behind and go.
The third man wanted an opportunity to say goodbye to his family and friends first. Now here’s another example where it helps to know the customs of the time. Farewells weren’t done quickly or quietly. This man was likely telling Jesus that he would follow, but like guy #2, it was going to take a while. Farewells took time. Parties, probably several of them, were held for those going on long journeys.
Jesus told him to “forget about it” when He said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
A straight furrow can not be plowed if you’re looking behind you. What good is said about those that looked back? Think of Lot’s wife, Judas and Demas who loved the world and deserted Paul.
Consider the cost of following Jesus. Be willing to do it now, and don’t look back. That’s what Jesus has asked in this passage.
And that’s why I was frightened this week. Jesus isn’t interested in our excuses. He is interested in our obedience. He will take care of the rest if we will just let him.
Because we are no longer talking about what we believe, but the way we live. These three men said they wanted to follow Jesus, but they couldn’t do what he asked them to do. How can you follow someone if you can’t or won’t do what they ask? Think of how long you would last at your job if you showed up one day and said, “I believe in the company and its mission statement and its products and its services, but I will no longer do what you ask me to do.” Bye-bye now!
Jesus said I do not care what you believe if you are not willing to do what I am telling you to do. God sees this a lot, I’ll bet. In fact, that’s just about each and every one of us.
What are the two greatest commandments?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.
And Love your neighbor as yourself, or better yet, as I have loved you.
That eliminates a lot of us right there.
How do we meet that measure that Jesus has set for us; with our fears and doubts and excuses, or our trust and obedience?
The rewards for service to Jesus are great, but the demands of that service are equally stringent. Are we ready to give up everything for Him? Remember those early disciples. They had no idea who Jesus was. They didn’t know where they were going or the harsh realities of what would be required of them. Yet they followed, and 2,000 years later we still marvel at the magnificence of what God did in the lives of these men through his Son Jesus Christ.
And we still wait, hope, and pray that he will do it again through us.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” are we ready to say, “Here I am Lord.”
I’ve asked Barb to help us out here by playing the tune to what our response should be:
Here I am Lord
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go Lord
If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.
Please pray with me:
Lord, we want to be your disciples and to do what you ask of us. Please open our ears and our hearts to hear what you would have us do so that our lives may testify to our belief in You. Help us to follow even if we don’t understand all the time. Help us to want to be used by you for the greatest hunger is to be left unused. Let us not ask what we want to do with our lives, but to ask what you can do with our lives. In your precious name we pray. Amen