Commitment or Convenience - Luke 9:57-62
One day, out on the farm, a chicken and a pig happen to be wandering near the farmhouse during breakfast time. The two of them together, curious, look in on what the farm, his wife, and their children are having for breakfast. There’s a nice spread set: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits, jelly, and butter, along with milk and juice. The pig and the chicken then start debating about which one of them is more dedicated to helping the farm start his day. After hearing the chicken cluck, cluck, cluck away at how important she was for providing the eggs as the centerpiece of the meal, the pig looks the chicken square in the eye and says, for you and your sisters providing those eggs for the meal is a matter of convenience, for us pigs though, providing the bacon and sausage, requires a “whole hog” total commitment.
Jesus was heading for Jerusalem. He had called the Twelve to follow him. They had been with him as he traveled from place to place, teaching, healing, and feeding. As they traveled and Jesus touched many lives through his words and actions, others began following along with him. Jesus had talked to the Twelve about his impending death, and we can almost be positive that they talked about how crazy that sounded as that was not what the Messiah was about. The Messiah was to be a Warrior King who would come in and rally a mighty army that would wipe out all of Israel’s oppressors and take a seat on the throne in Jerusalem, ruling over Israel as the empire that would expand over all nations. Would there be an outside chance that the Messiah might die in battle? Possibly, but most likely not. However, the idea that the Messiah would be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and put to death was not in their understanding.
Jesus had told all of those around him, the Twelve and all of those following, that if anyone wanted to follow Him that they would have to take up their cross and come along. He continued on saying that if anyone is focused on saving themselves, they would eventually lose their lives. However, Jesus said, those who would be willing to put their lives on the line for Him, would find their lives secure.
Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John up the mountain, they had witnessed something that no one else had witness—a sight so amazing that it momentarily, only momentarily though, left Peter speechless. Jesus was changed as the three saw Him in his heavenly glory standing with both Moses and Elijah. After this, Jesus again told them that He would be betrayed and die.
The disciples, though, most likely remembering the verbal woodshed that Peter was taken to when he argued with Jesus about that, refused to question Jesus anymore on the subject. Instead, they started arguing amongst themselves about which one of them was the greatest—who was to be considered second in command to Jesus. Jesus pointed out to them that only one who was willing to be the servant of everyone else could be considered great.
As they continued their journey to Jerusalem the cam upon a village of Samaritans that refused to welcome Jesus. This was probably the moment that several of the disciples had been waiting for. They had watched and remained silent as Jesus talked with, healed, and had compassion upon those “half-breed” Samaritans, but now they reveled themselves for the filthy, unholy creatures that every Jew knew they were. It was time for the Messiah to begin the war to end all wars. The disciples begged Jesus to allow them to call down fire from Heaven to wife out the village. However, instead of hearing Jesus say, “Let’s do this thing,” they caught yet another rebuke, another tongue lashing—as Jesus refused to use any violence to take down those who didn’t share the Jewish ideology. The disciples were ready for war, Jesus was preparing to reign as the Prince of Peace.
Wartime, though, brings up an issue. I’ve heard stories through the years of soldiers that found themselves in a difficult situation, maybe in the midst of battle under direct threat of death, offer up prayers to God, promising to give their lives over to serving God, if he would let Him survive. There are other stories that we may know of where people have done the same thing. Maybe not in the heat of war, but under the threat of illness, natural disaster, or some other threat of violence that would steal either their life of the life of someone they loved and they make the vow—“God, if You will save my wife from cancer,” “God, if You will let us live through this hurricane,” “God, if You will let me survive this gang-attack; I will live my life for you.” Maybe some of us have made a similar commitment under duress, promising to give our lives over to God if only we survive.
The folks that were walking with Jesus after the Samaritan village weren’t under duress and we read as they proclaim, “I will follow you wherever you go.” We may think that Jesus would have been glad and said, “Welcome aboard.” That’s not what we get. What we get are considered some of the hardest sayings that Jesus offers—running right up there with the command to love one’s enemies and do good to those who persecute you.” Jesus had told them about taking up their cross to follow Him, but evidently they had not understood what that meant…maybe they thought that taking up one’s cross was a cross to nail their enemies upon—if they had that in mind, Jesus makes it clear that’s not the case. Jesus cautions them to be careful what they are committing to because it is not to be chosen lightly, before they commit to following him, they need to understand the cost.
Jesus then offers up three conditions that followers must confront within themselves if they are truly going to commit to following Him:
1) Following Jesus means placing our commitment to following Him before our own sense of security and provision.
2) Following Jesus means placing our commitment to following Him before other priorities.
3) Following Jesus means placing our commitment to following Him without reservation
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus warns those that would make a rash commitment to following him to truly understand what they would encounter. These people that were seeking to follow Jesus had come from their homes to see and hear him, and maybe they had in mind that with Him—with the Messiah, especially as He went to Jerusalem to drive out their enemy, that luxury accommodations would be waiting for them. They are possibly thinking along the line of the folks jumping on the prosperity gospel bandwagon today—figuring that if they give their life to following Jesus, then life is going to be like traveling down easy street. Jesus warns, though, that even the wildlife will have it easier than Himself and those who commit to following Him.
“Wait a minute, Preacher! Just because they were committing to follow Jesus didn’t mean that they would have to endure everything that he endured!”
Well, actually, and Jesus knew this, it did. To seek to be a disciple of someone, to follow someone, mean that you were committing to walking in their steps, to walk the path that they walked, not a separate, easier path. Jesus was warning those that would follow Him, and my friends, that includes us if we have committed to following Him, that it will not be easy. There will be places that we go to offer the love of God found in Christ where we will be rejected. There will be things that we do that will bring ridicule upon us and possibly cause us to get run off from wherever we find ourselves. If we are truly living a life patterned after Christ, it is going to bring us into conflict with those who do not.
Have we said that we will follow Jesus? Are we willing to be rejected? Are we willing to be unpopular? Are we willing to be run-off?
“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.’” Ouch! That seems harsh to some of us, confusing to others of us. Did Jesus not have compassion on the poor guy whose father had just died? And, just how are the dead supposed to bury the dead? (Are we going to be literal with Jesus here, and think like Nicodemus and being born again—thinking that Jesus is talking about corpses coming out of the ground with a shovel in hand to bury someone else who has died?) Many folks have responded to this in a multitude of ways, but what Jesus is telling folks is that they have to take what may have been their priorities for a long time an reshuffle them if we are committing to follow Jesus.
To honor one’s parents was a top priority in Jewish life…so big, in fact, it made God’s “Top Ten” list. We have to remember what we do not know about this man’s request. Because the command to “Honor your mother and father” was considered so important, it took priority in a person’s life. A person was bound by the commitment until they offered the final act of honoring their parents by ensuring they received a proper burial. We have no way of knowing whether or not the rest of this man’s family was still alive or whether his dad was even sick. This man’s dad could possibly be very much alive and well and this guy was saying to Jesus, “my dad is not yet dead—when I have completed that final act for Him, and I am released from my commitment to honor him, then I will be ready to follow You, Jesus.”
Jesus responds with the command to “let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus is telling this person and us that our vow to follow Him takes precedence over any other promise that we have made. Jesus tells that follower, the commitment You have made to follow me is greater than any other commitment You have made, stop making excuses. Jesus says let those who are “spiritually dead,” those who refuse to give themselves over to the way that leads to life, let them bury the dead. You have more important things to do—your work is not about caring for the dead, but your task is to proclaim life—a life that continues past the tomb. You are to be about proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come, you are to be about proclaiming a life that never ends. If you are going to vow to follow me, then you have to move that commitment above all other commitments. Have a priority task at work—it has to take a backseat to a call to Christ to follow Him. A class, or group reunion that has always taken place on the same date that the Body of Christ needs you as part of its efforts to share the Gospel—the earthly reunion has to take a backseat to your proclamation of that ultimate reunion to come.
“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.”
We might be willing to be rejected. We might be willing to let Jesus take priority over our work and our social life. Yet here in this passage Jesus proclaims that making a commitment to follow Him has to take priority over even our families. Would Jesus forbid a person from saying goodbye to their mom, dad, sister, brother, spouse or children? Not necessarily, unless it was part of second guessing their commitment to follow Him. Even Elijah, when tapping Elisha as his successor, allowed Elisha to return home to tell his family goodbye. However, I believe that Jesus is saying, “once you have committed to follow me, no looking back with longing or regret.”
Jesus is saying when you have committed and said that you are following me that that has to be the focus of your eyes and your efforts. You can’t look back. Someone who is plowing and spends time looking back behind them tends to plow a crooked path, because as you look back you lose focus on where you are heading and will tend to drift to one side or the next. I have never watched anyone plow, but I believe it because of what I have seen with Davey and other cross country runners. I have listened to coaches tell them over and over again, focus on what is ahead, not on what is behind you—focus on the goal. What happens when a runner looks back and takes his focus off the goal? He or she losses time…they slow because in looking around, they takes the focus off of where he or she is heading.
When Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, nothing could draw Him away from the commitment He made, nothing would sway His determination, and that is the determination that He expects from those who commit to being His disciples, those who commit to following Him.
As we reflect on that, let me remind us of what we did today—in case, in repeating the words, we focused on saying the words, rather than what we were saying. Not only did Gail and CF declare their commitment to Christ, I asked everyone in the congregation, “Do you, as Christ’s body, the Church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?” And, if you responded, you said, “we do.”
Later on, as I commended Gail and CF to your love and care, you responded, As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we renew our covenant to participate in the ministry of the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
I pray that each of us, myself included, will take to heart the commitment we have made once again—a total commitment to following Christ—a total commitment to glorifying God through our prayers for His Church, in particular at St. Paul’s, through our presence, seeking to be an active and present part of His church in the ministry of this congregation, through our gifts, giving of our finances to ensure the ministry of this congregation moves forward; through our service, that we use the talents and abilities that God has given to do His work in through this congregation; and finally that we use our witness—that the way we live our lives each and every day, reveal to all of those around us, especially those who do not have a relationship with Christ, what it means to truly give our lives over to Him—for Him to reign as Messiah, not from Jerusalem, but through heaven, in our hearts.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen!