“The Urgency of the Moment” Colchester Federated Church, June 26, 2022, (Luke 9:51-62) Third Sunday after Pentecost

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus becomes determined to go to Jerusalem.  He sends messengers ahead to prepare the way.  Along the way, Jesus and some of his disciples enter a Samaritan village.  However, the Samaritans didn’t welcome Jesus.  We can recall that Samaria was the area just south of Galilee.  The Samaritans worshiped God.  But their temple was located on Mount Gerizim, and the Samaritans and Jews considered themselves to be separate ethnic groups.[1]  This conflict isn’t just about Jesus and his ministry—this conflict had history.  But James and John are incensed by the reaction.  They ask Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to consume those Samaritans (like the prophet Elijah called down fire).  As if they could in the first place?  That’s not exactly clear.  Though Jesus doesn’t take James and John up on this offer, he speaks sternly to them.  Because Jesus had already instructed his disciples to simply walk away when people didn’t show them hospitality.  How soon they forgot and sought revenge for bruised egos.  At any rate, they head on over to another village.

Now things get more interesting for Jesus and his disciples as they travel along.  They encounter someone who says to Jesus, “I will follow you where you go.”[2]  Finally, a willing recruit!  Except Jesus’ response is curious, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.”[3]  Jesus is warning this person—those who choose to follow may not have a place to call home.  Following Jesus was not always a popular decision.  Let’s face it, following Jesus still may not be a popular decision in some circles.  But as the saying goes, what’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right.  Jesus wanted to make sure that this person knew exactly what they were getting into with the eagerness of the response that they would follow Jesus wherever he would go.  Did they actually mean it?  That’s the question.

Moving onto the second person.  Jesus says to follow him and this man replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”[4]  Now that is a completely legitimate response.  The man wants to honor his loved one in death.  He wants to be a good son and fulfill family obligations.  Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own dead.  But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom.”[5]  Similarly, the final person in our Gospel story asks to say goodbye to everyone in their house.  Once again, Jesus seems to harshly respond with, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.”[6]  Yikes!  It’s another legitimate concern, to be able to say goodbye to loved ones before embarking on a journey. Jesus is depicted as single-minded with his priorities and pursuits. 

These responses from Jesus can be viewed as harsh.  The responses can be viewed as a rejection of family obligations.  But the Way of Jesus encourages us to see the demands of our lives (including our responsibilities to our families) in light of our commitment to Christ.  The truth is that following Jesus is not always easy, sometimes we make sacrifices.  Sometimes it’s a balancing act that we don’t always get right.

Now I am an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ.  We are required to abide by the UCC Ministerial Code which guides our ethical behaviors with God, with ourselves and our families, with the UCC, with our ministry settings, and with fellow ordained ministers.  The UCC Ministerial Code includes covenants involving our families.  One such promise is, “Relying on the grace of God, I covenant with self and family to honor my family commitments, including my family’s need for privacy and time together.”[7]  This seems like a wise promise to make because time spent with loved ones is necessary for human beings to flourish.  And ministers are human beings last time I checked.

Perhaps what Jesus is getting at here is not as ruthless as it seems with the rejection of family obligations.  Perhaps Jesus is saying that sometimes we have to leave behind old habits or perspectives in order to embrace the new life freely given in being a follower of Jesus.  The path that we walk as disciples of Jesus changes our perspectives.  We start to become identified by what we treasure, by what we prioritize.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[8]  We can walk the path of love—loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  Maybe this path changes our life’s trajectory.  There seemed to be people who wanted to follow Jesus, but perhaps they had not considered the implications of such a choice, especially in the present moment when Jesus himself was walking and talking among them.  Jesus called on them to do so.

In the end, our Gospel story is about having a present and future orientation, not being mired in the past.  Author Arthur C. Brooks recently reflected on how to make the baggage of one’s past easier to carry in one of his “How to Build A Life” columns in The Atlantic.  Brooks shared that the famous philosopher and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson dreamt of having a new life in Naples.  Emerson mused about this in his essay “Self-Reliance”.  Though Emerson was self-aware as he wrote, “At home I dream that at Naples … I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness . . . I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples.  And there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.”[9]  It ends up that we can’t so easily escape our past.  If it were that easy as to pack a bag, get a change of scenery, and therefore forget all the bad stuff that we’ve been through—well then, life sure would be less complicated!  But that’s not how it goes. 

Making peace with our past, living in the present, and having hope for our future can be a difficult mindset.  How often do we rehash the past, including the pain of the past, when we are invited to be present and enjoy this day that we are given as a gift from God?  This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!  We are invited to step forward into being the people that God is calling us to be.  Jesus used the urgency of the moment to invite people to walk forward with him.  Not alone, but with him.  To follow him wholeheartedly.  Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.”[10]  Onward, together my friends.  That is the invitation.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Footnote on Luke 9:52 in The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, 130 NT.
[2] Luke 9:57, CEB.
[3] Luke 9:58.
[4] Luke 9:59.
[5] Luke 9:60.
[6] Luke 9:62.
[7] The Ordained Minister’s Code of the United Church of Christ, https://www.ucc.org/what-we-do/justice-local-church-ministries/local-church/mesa-ministerial-excellence-support-and-authorization/ministers/ministers_ordained-ministers-code/
[8] Matthew 6:21.
[9] Ralph Waldo Emerson as quoted by Arthur C. Brooks in “How to Make the Baggage of Your Past Easier to Carry”, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/06/how-to-change-past-perception-positive-memories/661240/
[10] Luke 9:62.

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash