Sermon June 27, 2010

June 28, 2010 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Luke 9:51-62

If we only had this fragment of the New Testament,
if we only had this short excerpt from one of the Gospels,
what picture might we construct of Jesus of Nazareth,
the man whom Christians confess to be God-in-flesh?

We might depict a man with a singular vision,
to which every human need and aspiration must be subordinated
and for whom compromise is a swear word.
And indeed, our initial reactions would be negative.
This does not seem to be the gentle Jesus who welcomes children,
who forgives sinners,
who eats with the untouchables –
instead, he is a radical, a man on a mission –
someone who tells the hard truth about what it will cost to get there.

We might well wonder if he overdoes it.
Does Jesus want these would-be disciples
to simply leave everything, to depart from kin and responsibility,
simply to leave everyone behind and go with him?
This Jesus does not uphold family values,
but threatens them.
He is dangerous, he undermines tradition –
he seems to stand against the fourth commandment.
(What’s the fourth commandment?)

To this objection we might cite Jesus’ words in another place,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
He did not say that family was the way, the truth, and the life,
he did not say that serving country was the way, the truth, and the life,
he did not say that becoming successful was the way, the truth, and the life,
he said that he was.
To our objections, I could simply preach that it’s either Jesus or anything else,
and leave us to figure out the details.

Or, we could consider how both in the ancient world and today
family could become an end in itself.
How family loyalty can become an idol,
how twisted family life can become.
We could console and comfort ourselves by saying that Jesus
was calling at least the second would-be disciple out of an unhealthy family,
where his possibilities were being choked-off.
Of course, we don’t know that, but it might make us feel better.
For all we know, this was a healthy family in which there were plenty of kids
to wait for Dad to die and arrange for his burial.

And, we might rightly remember
that the family is not a given reality that can be set up
as another authority that we must obey apart from God,
but it is a vocation, a calling, into which God has called some of us.
In this respect, I wish we had a more Roman Catholic understanding
that God calls all of us into family as children,
and calls some of us to marriage and some of us to singleness.
I don’t know that we do our kids any favors
by setting up a world where their worth is determined
by whether they can find a man or a woman for their own.
What would it be like if we depicted a world for our children
where one was whole without a sexual partner,
where “single” does not equal “no one wants me?”
God wants you.
God may want you to be free to follow where he is leading you,
to travel light so that at a moment’s notice,
one might go where he is calling you.

And I think we are missing the point if we simply focus
on the disciples who are being called away from home and family.
Instead, what struck me this week as I considered this text
is how pathetic our excuses become for refusing to follow where Jesus leads us.
It’s not usually “But I have to bury my father,”
but usually, “But I’m too tired,” “But I really want to do this instead,”
“But I really want to have a life.”
We are burdened with financial debt because we want to have it all,
we imitate the desires of those around us.
We have hopes and dreams for a future of our own
that includes God as part of it to be sure,
but may not extend so far as to put God at the center of our lives.

The reality of the matter is that if Jesus were to show up at our doorsteps
and ask us to follow him,
many of us could not do it.
Is it likely? No.
But God does call people.
We most often talk about a call to the ministry,
but God calls all sorts of people to all sorts of things.
As I mentioned above, some of us he calls into marriage.
In that case, having been called into marriage,
we would be mistaken imagining God’s call
that would take us out of the call of marriage.
But married and single people alike are called to travel light
so that when a call comes, we are prepared to follow.
This call might be a geographic call –
to pick up and go somewhere else.
But it does not have to be.
It might be a call to act with time and talent.
It might be a call to a position on the congregation council or in a ministry.
It might be a call to spend not less, but more time, with family and friends.
It might be a call to a change in career or vocation.
It cannot be a self-chosen call or a fulfillment of one’s own desire.
Instead, it is a call from God: Jesus saying, “Follow me.”
“Follow me into uncertainty and discomfort,
follow me into toil and frustration,
follow me toward the death of self and the life of God,
and let no obstacle stand in your way.”

Freedom!
You were called to freedom, St. Paul tells the Christians in Galatia,
freedom not to live your own life but freedom to live the life of Christ.
Let yourselves become slaves,
neither to a system of rules and regulations,
nor to a life of unchecked self-indulgence,
but to each other through love.
Let God the Spirit produce fruit in you,
the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
“But Lord, first I need to vent my anger,
I need to achieve my desire,
I need to get what I need and have what I want.”
Sounds an awful lot like the guys long ago who couldn’t follow
because they had obligations.
Become free of your needs – travel light.
Travel light so that you need not worry about the past, nor the future,
but entrust oneself into God’s care.

What to do when one is waiting for God’s call?
Lighten up. Get rid of stuff.
Get rid of your junk, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual,
anything that would stand in the way of hearing and obeying God’s call.
Then, when God’s call comes, when through his Word he stirs up the Spirit in you
and brings you into a new way of discipleship,
rejoice and be glad,
for it is in love that he calls you away from what you think you need
and toward what you really need.

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