June 26, 2022 Third Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 9:51-62.
51 When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 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?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Those who have heard me preach will recall that often I’m not very kind toward St. Peter; in fact, I tend to pick on him quite a bit in my sermons. Now, this is not intended to be mean-spirited or judgmental, but let’s face it, Peter neglected to understand what Jesus was all about; on more than one occasion, I might add. That being said, it gives me great comfort, knowing that the person who was closest to Jesus messed up so often. And if Peter was such a numskull, that makes it so much easier for me to let myself off the hook, when I fail to fully grasp Jesus’ message or I misunderstand what he is telling me to do.
I figure if it’s okay for Peter to botch things, it’s probably all right if I do also.
But this morning we read that some of the other disciples didn’t get it, either. Peter isn’t alone in his often misunderstanding of Jesus’ message of love, mercy, and forgiveness. James and John exhibit stark evidence that they too fall into the category of “knucklehead”. Now, we know that there is no love lost between the people of Israel and those of Samaria, but the reaction of these two at not being shown hospitality shows that Jesus’ message of grace toward everyone hadn’t yet sunk in. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” they ask Jesus. James and John, two of the original twelve disciples are so incensed that the people of the Samaritan village didn’t offer to put them up, that they thought the best reaction to that slight would be to reduce the town to ashes and burn all its inhabitants to death. Compared to this behavior, it seems that my occasional misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching isn’t all that bad.
And, just as Jesus had to do so often with Peter, he now chastises James and John, telling them that it is more important that they continue on their way to Jerusalem; it’s time to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of Good, to “move on”.
And, we read further that three different “would-be” disciples approach Jesus on his travels and announce that they are willing to follow him in his mission and ministry. Jesus sets forth some rather harsh conditions for these potential new followers. Firstly, he acknowledges that his mission will be completed in Jerusalem, and until then he will have no place to rest. Jesus will no longer have an earthly home; he is encouraging the one who states he will follow Jesus to proclaim God’s kingdom, to “move on”; to strive for abundant life.
Another is told to let the deceased be tended to by those who are already dead; those who remain in the past, or even the present. For those who follow Christ are encouraged to disregard what has already come to pass; the future is what’s important. We are all new creations; the old Adam is gone, it’s time to proclaim the coming kingdom, it’s time to “move on”.
To the third person who was willing to join Jesus in his mission, and wanting to say “goodbye” to his family, Jesus references not looking backward once one has begun to plow a field. On its face, this seems obvious; simply look ahead as you walk behind the plow. It turns out that this admonition goes a bit deeper and it is rooted in need to be vigilant when preparing a field for planting, especially when employing a plow pulled by draft animals. A few weeks ago, I found myself watching a TV documentary series about a group of British anthropologists who spent a season working on a farm in England. They took part in every facet of farming, using methods from a couple of hundred years ago, in an attempt to recreate how agriculture was done in the past. In one scene they were plowing a field with a pair of yoked oxen and the person who was the expert advising them of proper technique continually stressed the importance of always looking far ahead in order to keep the plowed rows straight. If one were to take one’s eye away from the plow to look backward the oxen would invariably waver to one side or the other. It seems that if the plowed rows aren’t perfectly aligned the soil won’t be adequately turned over, seed won’t grow, and the harvest will likely suffer. Jesus was telling his would-be follower that there was no time to look back; the kingdom of God needed to be proclaimed and it was time to “move on”. And that looking behind and not forward would only cause the proclamation of God’s kingdom to be hindered.
Jesus is acutely aware that it is necessary for him to go to Jerusalem; in fact, the term Luke uses, “he set his face”, is translated in other bible versions as, “steeled himself” or was “steadfastly determined” to continue toward what he knew awaited him. For the sake of his mission and ministry, Jesus was unwavering in his resolve to “move on”. And while Jesus acknowledged that he has no earthly place to rest his head, to find respite from his work, his pronouncements to those who seek to follow him are not all that far removed from his own circumstances. There is no time to return home to bury a family member and looking backward while plowing will not result in a bountiful harvest. Jesus is laying out for those who wish to follow him the importance of moving forward, of practicing a discipleship that embraces the future, and doesn’t linger in the past.
And this is what we are all called to do, to “move forward” as disciples of Christ; in thankfulness for the freedom that the gospel has secured for us. In Galatians Paul reminds us that “Christ has set us free”, and that we are called to “live by the Spirit”. Now, we’ve heard from Paul this morning all those behaviors that are contrary to life in this Spirit, all those ways of living that oppose the freedom we’ve been granted. This freedom is what allows us to pursue life abundant in the Spirit; and yes, this requires a new way of thinking. And, a way of living that pursues the “fruit of the Spirit”, all those things that make life better for all. It’s time for us all to “move on”, to strive for that which will result in an abundant future for the people of God.
We are free to explore new and unique worship practices, different and engaging ways to enjoy Christian fellowship with one another, and innovative means to practice charity and service to our neighbors. This church has been doing these things for over 125 years, and if we are going to continue to engage in worship, fellowship, and servanthood it will require that our efforts are adapted to relate to the needs of those we serve. We can’t look back, the plow will stray from its path; returning to the past to tend to that which is already gone will not help us to care for that which is to come. The kingdom of God is coming, its up to us to determine what role Emanuel will play, and whether or not we hinder its coming, or help it to “move on”.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen