June 2, 2013 - Luke 9.51-62

“Carrying The Cross”

Luke 9:51-62

June 2, 2013

 

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.

57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

I ran into an old friend once, kind of an old timer in ministry, and he reminded me that people used to say, “I’m not a member of a church, but I am a religious person.”  I noted that these days, even the term “religious” has become to constrictive for people, so the usual refrain now is, “I’m not all that religious, but I am very spiritual.”

 

In fact, I told him, it can easily be said that we live in a time a growing spiritual awareness, and awareness of spiritual need.  After all, it is very easy to find resources to help you on your spiritual quest – Kabbala, lots of self help books in all sorts of different genres and trains of thought; the different things available just boggle the mind.  This is good news for the church because it means that there ought to be an new openness to the gospel of Christ among the unbelieving culture.

 

It is good news, but some churches have overdone it a bit, I believe.  Some churches – Christian churches – have become so entranced with the attempt to reach the people who are exploring these vague and mushy spiritualities that they seem to have forgotten what it is the church is supposed to be offering them.  Perhaps they have become so set on meeting the spiritual needs of these folks that they have forgotten what is demanded of us.  If you were to argue with me on this, your best argument would be, “These churches you are criticizing are growing by leaps and bounds – they are very successful.  Are you that successful?”  I can only answer honestly – “If numbers are the measuring stick, then yes, they are successful and no, I do not get the results they get.”

 

But if our text is any indication today, Jesus would have made a terrible pastor – as we normally define pastors.  Three people – spiritual seekers come to him and say that they want to follow him, and he turns them away because he asks too much of them.  How would it look if I turned people away that came to the altar, telling them that what they were asking was something that they were not ready for?

 

“Foxes have holes…” If you follow me, there will be no home, no security, but only life on the move.  “First let me go and bury my father…” Hard words from Jesus – his call takes precedence over family obligations.  “Let me say goodbye to my family…” Jesus is unreasonable.  “Hand to the plow…not fit.”  See what I mean?  Jesus would not have made a successful pastor.  He would have been asked to leave.

 

We in the ministry are constantly trying to find a way to make this thing called faith interesting, entertaining, and marketable.  We want it to attract people.  We are told by the church growth people to gear our church to make it easy for visitors and people who do not know Jesus.  Only problem is that Jesus chases as many people away as he attracts.  IF they pay attention to what he is saying.

 

We can understand when Jesus says to us to give up bad habits or stop sinning.  But give up our family?  Jesus doesn’t ask us to choose him over the worst in our life, he asks us to choose him over the best.  Jesus makes discipleship hard.  He does that because God is our one true necessity.  There is no other.  One thing – Curly in City Slickers.  Rich Mullins – “what they really mean is they need just one thing more.”  God is our one thing.  Jesus is our one thing.

 

We like to make Jesus a little less demanding.  We like to make Jesus a little less rough around the edges, easier to follow, easier to conform to our idea of what it takes to be a “good person.”  Don’t get me wrong at all.  God is a profound mystery to explored and approached with a full awareness of how much we do not know.  The depth of mystery is something we do not have words for and cannot fathom.  But in Jesus – what we have is the revelation of the Mystery in a non-pliable form.  God has a face and a name, and God is Jesus.  We cannot make this faith mean anything we want.  There is mystery, room for wonder, mysticism, doubt and lots of disagreement.  But there are also these nasty little particularities about our faith that we cannot get rid of.  They make the gospel unavoidably abrasive, disruptive of our quaint little lives, and also make the gospel so very interesting.  As mysterious and wondrous as God is, and as far as God is beyond our grasp sometimes, Jesus is right here, speaking to us directly from this text and Jesus makes concrete demands of those who would follow him.  Jesus says, “You are not a follower of mine unless you are ready to pick up your cross and follow me.”

 

Have you ever noticed how some churches have 3 crosses outside their church buildings?  They have them planted beside the road, and they drape them in the color of the current liturgical season.  Once, at the beginning at Lent, at a former church of mine we had a cross lying outside on the front steps of the church. It stayed there through the entire Easter season.  I wanted everyone to see it.  That was our plan.  I can’t tell you how many people came up to me to ask me, “Why is there a cross lying across the steps of the church?  Who is supposed to pick up that cross?  How long is it going to lay there?”  But there was one question I was never asked, and it was the one I was hoping to get asked.  “Pastor, is that MY cross?  Am I supposed to pick it up?”  “Yes.  It is your cross…a reminder of your cross.  You pick it up and you carry it every day.”

 

A typical reaction is something like, “That’s fine for ministers and missionaries.  Where do you think they come from?”  Regardless, ALL of us are called.  ALL of us are called to give ALL.  Jesus was clear about that.

 

Jesus wants us to know what following him will do to us.  As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Following Jesus isn’t about creating a safe, caring environment where people’s needs will be met; It is about living our lives in such a committed way to Christ and living so differently than the rest of the world that those in authority will get mad enough to kill us.”  Following Jesus will cost you all that you have, all that you love, and all that you are.  Jesus does not want us to be fooled about that.

 

After September 11, 2001, a local news person was interviewing a family that had lost their daughter who was working in the twin towers.  In an attempt to end the interview on a note of compassion, the interviewer said, “Well, I guess you will be going to your house of worship this weekend to find some consolation.”  The mother replied, “No, actually.  You see, Jesus told us to love our enemies and forgive those who wrong us.  I just don’t think we’re ready to do that yet.”[1]  Finally an honest answer from a Christian that takes seriously the demands put upon her by her savior.  Too often we water down those demands simply because it makes Jesus easier to sell.

 

Theologian John Henry Yoder says, “You can judge a theology by how often it talks about God, and even Christ against how often is mentions Jesus.  [Jesus] is the ethical stuff of our faith, the unmalleable, resistant facts that give God a face, a name, an undeniable contour, an unavoidable claim upon us.  You need to pray that I as your preacher will have the courage to preach that name, contour, claim, trusting the Holy Spirit to change you rather than attempting, by my homiletical skills, to make the Trinity more comprehensible to you by scaling it down to “God.”[2]

 

In his lecture to the Festival of Homiletics one year in Washington, Will Willimon told us all that sometimes, our preaching failures are not due to our preaching, but due to Jesus.  Jesus says some things which people just don’t like.  If you pay attention, you will see some stuff you don’t like.”  He told us about the time someone came up to him after preaching a difficult text and said, “Pastor, I really didn’t like your sermon very much today.”  Will responded “you know what, I really didn’t either.  Sometimes Jesus is just very unreasonable.”[3]

 

When you leave today, I hope you will look around the world around to see what lies there.  Perhaps you will see a cross lying there.  I hope you do.  Because that cross is your cross.  It is lying there for the entire world to see, plain as day.  But that cross is your cross.  If you do not pick it up, no one else will, and it will remain an obstacle in your way, each and every day.  Every one will see it lying there.  Everyone will know what you are supposed to do, and what you are supposed to be doing.  But it is your cross.  Don’t look for someone else to carry it for you, and don’t wait for someone else to pick it up, and don’t leave it laying there.  It is your cross.  YOU pick it up.

 

 

[1] Willimon, William, in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 32, No. 2, Year C, April, May , June 2004, p. 58.

[2] Yoder, John Henry, in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 32, No. 2, Year C, April, May , June 2004, p. 58.

[3] Willimon, Will; in a lecture at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC, at the Festival of Homiletics, May 2004.

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