Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Pentecost 2019
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62
The younger sister reassured her older sister, “Those frames are so flattering.” She had just gotten new glasses after twenty years and wasn’t happy with them. She said, “They’re OK,” she said staring gloomily at herself in the mirror. “Can you see better?” “Yeah, I can see better.” “So, what’s wrong?” She said, “For one thing, I thought I was still cute.”
What does discipleship look like? Discipleship must always be the priority. But the precise demands of that discipleship will vary at different times in different places. Luke sets up the circumstances: Jesus is heading to Jerusalem to die. He knows that once he is in Jerusalem, the authorities will arrest him. He has no choice but to “set his face” to go toward his death. Any would-be disciples must be ready to follow the Messiah, who will die, and face up to the implications of all that.
James and John want Jesus to model Elijah, where fire comes down and consumes two groups of fifty soldiers who have been sent to bring Elijah to King Ahaziah. But Jesus makes it clear this is not how opposition is handled in the Kingdom. Instead, this Samaritan village is a model of how he is going to be treated in Jerusalem.
Given this focus on his journey to face death, Jesus needs to make clear to any followers that they need to make the reign of God everything and be ready to give everything. Home with all its comforts is contrasted with discipleship. Jesus explains it saying that the Son of Man has nowhere to live, just a journey that must be walked. To the first potential disciples, Jesus explains that homelessness is the invitation; to the second, Jesus explains that the dead should bury the dead (by that Jesus means the spiritually dead who are unwilling to commit to the reign of love and justice should bury the dead); and to the third, the need to say “farewell” demonstrates that the true implications of discipleship of this moment are being evaded. Potential disciples two and three are not appreciating the demands of discipleship at this time. The point is discipleship is a priority. For that moment, the journey is more important than the home. For our moments, the priority of discipleship will make different demands on us.
With discipleship comes faith. Faith, is belief, trust and obedience to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It can be expressed and experienced in a variety of ways, but there comes a time in each of our journeys when it is necessary clearly and unequivocally to declare the depth of our commitment. God’s place in our lives is neither a matter of convenience nor is it something that can be taken for granted or assumed. Unlike other human endeavors, our commitment to God is heartfelt, rather than the result of logical decision-making. When choosing to turn with Jesus “to go to Jerusalem,” factors such as love and grace play a far greater role than criteria such as how long we have known Jesus and how well we have known him.
Adopting a life of discipleship can’t be a part-time or momentary commitment. It is life-changing. It is a shift in the direction and priorities, in which our human needs and wants become secondary to the call of our Lord.
There is a tendency to resist. The journey Jesus walked was a difficult one, eventually ending in the cross. In an era of numerous choices and instant gratification, that kind of commitment is difficult to wrap our minds around. Luke 9:51 marks a significant transition in Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus had been teaching about the sacrifice that would eventually be required of him; now his realization that “the days drew near for him to be taken up” caused him to change direction, heading toward Jerusalem and the death he would meet there.
In our own lives, we also face significant times of transition. Early in our faith development, we are often focused on learning more about Scripture, the church and what it means to be a child of God. We revel in the knowledge that we are loved fully and completely by a wonderful, caring Savior. We share together in the marvelous fellowship that is the body of Christ. We feel renewed, nurtured, and marvelously fulfilled. As our faith grows and matures, our life in Christ slowly merges with our life in the world. We come to realize that living as a disciple of Christ is more than just a private endeavor, no matter how meaningful. To have true meaning and integrity, it must be our identity; we must recognize and live it in every part of our being. No matter what our gifts or imperfections, the mature Christian must willingly walk alongside Jesus, even if that journey compels us to make difficult choices that those in the world might avoid.
Frederick Buechner tells of an evening near the end of his five years of teaching, when he had planned to have dinner with his mother. She was living alone in New York at the time, and it must have been some occasion, but he didn’t recall which one. The apartment looked unusually nice, with candles on the table and the best silver. It was just the two of them, not simply mother and son, but two old friends who no longer get to see each other all that much. Then, just as they were about to eat, the telephone rang and it was for him. It was a friend that he taught with. He had only spoken a few words when Buechner heard his voice break and realized to his horror that his friend was crying. His mother and father and a pregnant sister had been in an automobile accident on the West Coast, and it was uncertain whether any of them would live. He was at the airport waiting for a flight to take him to them. Could Buechner come down and wait with him till the plane left?
He thought that there were many people in this world who in the face of such a cry for help would respond immediately and rush to the airport. He had known many such people in his day and could only explain on the grounds that they were strong and compassionate and Christian by instinct. His instinct, on the other hand, was nothing but to be afraid. He was afraid of his friend’s fear and of his tears. He was afraid of his faith, that he could somehow be a comfort and help to him and afraid that he was not friend enough to be able to be. He was afraid of opening the door of his pain or anybody’s pain. So, although he knew as well as anybody that he had no choice but to say that he would come, what he said instead was, that he would come if he possibly could, but there were things he had to take care of first and would he phone back in about ten minutes.
In the other room, dinner sat on the table and his mother waited. He said the scene that played out became one of the watersheds of his life. Because when he told his mother what had happened and that he was probably going to leave and skip supper, her reaction caught him off guard. The whole thing was absurd, she said. His friend was a grown man. He had no business carrying on like a hysterical child. What earthly good could Buechner do anyway? It was outrageous to think of spoiling their evening together that they had both been looking forward to for days. Everything she said was precisely what, at some level of his being, he was already saying to himself, and that was what made it so appalling. It was when he heard it from someone else’s lips that he heard it for what it was, and as much out of revulsion at himself as out of pity for his friend, he resolved that as soon as his friend called again, he would tell him that he would come immediately.
Then, as a final absurdity, when he did call again, his friend said that he had gotten hold of himself and there was really no longer any need for Buechner to come at all. The consequence was that he did not go, did not go and such as it was, he and his mother spent the evening together. But in the long run, the consequences went much farther than that because the result of that phone call and of his response to it was the start of another kind of journey for him. His mother’s apartment by candlelight was haven and home and shelter from everything in the world that seemed dangerous and a threat to his peace. And his friend’s broken voice on the phone was a voice calling him out into the dangerous world not simply for his friend’s sake, as he suddenly realized, but also for his sake. The shattering revelation of that moment was that true peace, the high and bidding peace that passes all understanding, is to be had not in retreat from the battle, but only in the thick of battle. To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world’s sake – even when the world bores and sickens and scares us half to death – that little by little we start to come alive.
For all of us, resistance can take many forms. Jesus’ new direction met with considerable opposition, sometimes hostile, often puzzled. Many of those who were sent to prepare the way were opposed rather than received. Although they clearly misunderstood the reason for his journey to Jerusalem, the people of Samaria were defiant, seeing him only in relation to his pilgrimage to the Holy City. Because he was not welcomed, his disciples James and John were indignant, suggesting that punishment be brought down from heaven. Jesus does not choose to punish those who are reluctant to support him, even today. That is our message too. Instead, we are reminded again and again that ours is a Savior of love, who is not about punishing all who resist or is not about compelling everyone to get in line or face the consequences. Our Savior is one who invites those who believe to walk the journey with him.
The Christian journey does not demand that we reject our responsibilities to family and vocation, but rather, encourages us to see those needs in the light of our faith and through the lens of our deepening commitment to Christ. God is still speaking – Christ is still calling us – listen – listen to your life – let your life speak. Amen.