26 June 2022
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
| Centering Prayer |
There are two essential Christian tasks
Every faith community faces
which draws a chorus of groans and eye-rolls
from even the most loyal and faithful:
suggesting a stewardship drive, and
deciding to recruit new members.
Today’s message is not about stewardship.
It is about discipleship: making disciples for Jesus Christ.
For the first 200 years of the Methodist movement,
we were the leaders in evangelistic
disciple making efforts.
Circuit riders won the West on horseback,
planting more than one church per day,
building more churches than post offices.
It is quipped that Methodist won the west on horseback,
The Presbyterians by stagecoach, and
The Episcopalians by Pullman coach.
We Methodist were rightly called “Evangelicals;”
Back when evangelical meant
Recruiting and instructing disciples of Jesus.
Over the past 40 or 50 years
Most mainline, Protestant denominations,
Have been in decline.
Then, the pandemic.
Now, the impending schism of our own United Methodist Church.
Many well-meaning programs have been implemented
to plug the leak in the dike,
to keep the dam from breaking,
to stop the flow of people leaving the denomination
… but to no avail.
We carefully inspected our motives and metrics,
“It’s not a numbers game.”
“It is not to build up the budget.”
“It’s not growth for growth sake.”
… but to no avail.
We observe the freedom of independent churches
Where the message is a fundamental black-and-white simplified gospel
of prosperity, works righteousness, and cheap grace.
… yet the decline continues.
Be careful of what you wish for.
Dangerous, unintended consequences wait at every turn.
We desire commitment,
but we’re afraid to say the “C” word
For fear of scaring even more people away.
It is frustrating to observe boomers, gen x, gen y, and gen z folks
searching for religious meaning in their lives,
being easily led astray by political operatives,
fortune telling psychics,
and salespeople of good feet shoe inserts.
We know that people’s hearts are warmed when they are introduced to Jesus.
Still, we have not had to radically change our passive evangelistic approach
From one of basic hospitality welcoming the occasional visitor
to a more transformational or effective means.
We will not go door-to-door.
“We don’t want to be like Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses.”
What then are we to do?
We are out of practice making disciples.
Where do we start?
Today’s Gospel lesson is a great place to start!
It is part of the travel chapters in Luke,
Where Jesus makes his way from Galilee
To his final destination, Jerusalem.
Our lesson identifies four essential elements to bring disciples to Jesus:
1) How NOT to be effective disciples for Christ,
2) Ability to travel required,
3) No excuses accepted for family leave, and
4) No “but first…” clauses.
First, how NOT to be an effective disciple for Jesus.
Disobey Jesus at your own risk.
In the first 6 verses of this 9th chapter of Luke,
Jesus teaches his disciples what to do if they are rejected.
“Where ever they do not welcome you,
as you are leaving that town
shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (6:5)
In our Gospel lesson for today,
messengers sent ahead of Jesus into a Samaritan town are not welcomed.
James and John asked if eternal fire would be sufficient punishment.
“But he turned and rebuked them.”
Bottom line: Disciples of Jesus do not punish,
or threaten those who refuse to welcome Jesus.
Do what Jesus tells you; “shake the dust off your feet” and move on.
Don’t be easily discouraged.
When Jesus began his Galilean ministry
and today when Jesus turns and starts to head to Jerusalem,
he is rejected and turned away in disappointment by hostile locals.
In Galilee, he was turned away by family and friends in his own hometown.
Here, Jesus is a failure in reaching out to people in a Samaritan village.
Fact is, failure is to be expected when ever we make attempts to introduce Jesus to others.
Neither should we be wishy-washy, spineless, or passive.
In today’s lesson, it says Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
He set a goal and was determined to follow through with it.
Jesus was so determined because he had YOUR life on the line.
He knew that he was to suffer,
die for our sins,
and be resurrected from the dead
for our salvation.
He did not ask for a vote, or even seek consensus re: going to Jerusalem.
It is what had to be done to be faithful to his heavenly Father,
so Jesus went.
Secondly, ability to travel is required.
The first of three potential disciples states:
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
This is an absolute, unqualified promise.
We are led to assume he is willing to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, even unto death.
Jesus couldn’t ask for a better prospect, could he?
This person is willing and presumably able to follow Jesus wherever he goes.
There are certainly many wonderful places and opportunities
followers of Jesus may be led.
This first potential disciple could have been put in front of the parade
leading Jesus to Jerusalem:
everyone would take notice of him
carrying Jesus’ flag through towns and country.
But there are also many other places Jesus goes that are less rewarding.
Jesus tells him that foxes and birds have homes to go to,
“but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus has no home.
Jesus may lead the follower to homelessness,
to live among the homeless,
to spread the Good News to the lonely, the poor, the last, least, and left behind.
Luke doesn’t tell us if man followed Jesus;
if he is willing to give up his home.
Neither does Jesus tell this man
That he may have to travel with him to the cross and death.
Thirdly, as painful as it may be, there are no excuses accepted for family leave.
The second of three potential disciples come to Jesus.
He extends to him the open-ended invitation “follow me.”
What a sad story this potential disciple had to tell: his father had just died.
Most of us know how painful it is to experience a death in the family.
The proper, honorable, respectable thing to do
Is to take part in all the funeral and burial arrangements.
If anyone would have a legitimate excuse
to put on hold a decision to follow Jesus for a day or two,
it certainly would be a man whose father just died!
In a rare glimpse of Jesus’ dark humor, he replies,
“Let the dead bury their own dead.”
But it is also an important metaphor: “as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
If you are dead, go and bury your father’s corpse.
Don’t be dead.
But if you are alive, then proclaim the kingdom of God.
Jesus is calling this man to life!
Only those who are truly living can proclaim the kingdom of God.
Life in the kingdom of God is good and grace filled
Even in the midst of mourning and grief.
Life in the kingdom of God
Weeps forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.
It is overjoyed by the right.
It is always moving on to perfection.
We never learn if this man follows Jesus;
if he is truly dead and he returns to bury his father,
or if he is alive to Christ,
and goes with Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Finally, there are no “but first…” excuses.
The third of three potential disciples come to Jesus.
We can assume that he received the same invitation from Jesus
as the second man,
He begins with a promise, “I will follow…”
(Notice the future tense, will)
“but let me first…”
This man has a conditional clause.
He has a higher priority than following Jesus;
something more important than proclaiming the kingdom of God.
I call these “butt first clauses”
because it’s like he wants to back into the agreement to follow Jesus,
to take an inside track,
or expect preferential treatment.
We generally prioritize our time;
do what is most important sooner rather than later.
So when this man says, “let me first say farewell to those at my home,”
he is telling Jesus that
while he may be leaving family for a time,
those back home will continue to be more important to him than Jesus.
“Let me put you on hold.
I have a more important call coming in.”
Jesus calls upon an image from Jewish heritage,
citing the story of Elijah calling Elisha as he was plowing the field.
If one is a disciple of Jesus,
charged with making other disciples
and teaching them the teachings of Jesus,
charged with proclaiming the kingdom of God,
charged to follow all the commands of Jesus,
then, discipleship to Jesus Christ comes first.
The plowed field is straight when eyes are forward and concentrated on Jesus.
Looking back, and the plow goes off course.
Eyes on Jesus.
All other demands are secondary.
We never learn if this man follows Jesus;
if his priority is with Christ,
with family back home
or someplace else.
These travel narratives in Luke
Rewires the brain,
From our expectations of what we think discipleship involves
To what Jesus expects of those who follow him.
Of waiting for visitors to just walk through our doors is
Like taking our hand off the plow and looking back to the good old days
When worship and Sunday school rooms were filled.
Post-pandemic and denominational division
Mean only the strongest will survive.
Survivors will be those who keep their eyes ahead,
Focused on Jesus Christ,
… Making disciples …
Our top priority.
Let us be resolved
to walk with Christ,
to go wherever he leads.
Today’s lesson tells us what not to do:
don’t disobey Jesus,
don’t get discouraged by failure,
and don’t get wishy-washy or lazy.
In other words, obey his call, be determined, and just do it.
Following Jesus is a call to homelessness.
It is a call go wherever Jesus calls you to go.
Following Jesus means that we choose life over death and burying the dead.
Life is fulling lived when we witness to the emerging kingdom of God.
Following Jesus finally means that we are required to make priorities in life.
Jesus needs to be at the top of the list.
Each person must decide for themselves
whether or not they will follow Jesus;
whether or not they will pay the price of discipleship,
whether or not they’ll keep the hand on the plow
and eyes on Jesus.