"I Will Follow Him"

LUKE 9: 57-62

JANUARY 26, 2014

 

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            I love Him, I love Him, I love Him,

            And where He goes, I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow,

            He'll always be my true love, my true love, my true love,

            From now until forever, forever, forever...

            I will follow him. 

 

            So sang a love struck Little Peggy March in 1963.  Some thirty years later Whoopi Goldberg resurrected the song in the movie Sister Act and applied it to following Jesus.  Given our passage for today, one wonders what Jesus would have thought about such a pledge of devotion.  Would he welcome it wholeheartedly, or would he challenge Little Peggy and Whoopi about what they were saying, as he did some other prospective followers?  Follow along as I read.  Luke 9:57.  After being refused hospitality in a Samaritan village, Jesus encounters some prospective followers, as enthusiastic and seemingly devoted as Little Peggy and Whoopi. 

 

            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.

 

            Reading this one might think that Jesus got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  He seems a little harsh, a little short in his responses to these three prospective followers.  What do you think?  Did he get up on the wrong side of the bed, or was he simply being honest with them?  Well, if we believe that Jesus was without sin, it's hard to argue that he got up on the wrong side of the bed.  No, if we contend that Jesus was a without sin, then we need to believe that Jesus was simply being honest with these guys about what it entails to be a fully devoted follower of his. 

            In so doing Jesus says three incredibly honest things about being one of his followers.  First, he says the cost is high.  He put it this way, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

            Trudy and I went to see Broadway musical The Book of Mormon a few months ago.  The touring company came to the Orpheum Theater and we went to see it with some friends.  I can't say I recommend it, unless you have a very thick skin, and are not bothered by language that would make a sailor blush. 

            Now, we Presbyterians have some serious theological differences with the Mormons, but we can't deny the commitment of their young missionaries.  And perhaps that commitment is a key reason why their numbers are growing so rapidly.

            All of us have seen Mormon missionaries riding their bicycles, wearing dark pants, white shirts and ties.   Let me tell you more about their life-style.   They do not see their families during the two years of their mission service.  They are allowed to call home only on Christmas and Mother's Day.  Their work day begins at 6:30 AM with an hour of Bible study and prayer.  Then they work until 9:30 PM.  This is their schedule six days per week.  No TV or movies or dates for two years. 

            It costs a lot to be a Mormon.  Alcohol, coffee and tea are prohibited.  They are expected to tithe, to give 10% of their income, to the church.  The overwhelming majority of them do.  Being a Mormon entails some significant sacrifice, some significant self-denial in one's life.  Can we imagine increasing our giving to ten percent?  The average Presbyterian gives two percent. 

            The Reverend Sam Jones was a great African-American preacher in Georgia.  His style was unusual.  Often he would engage the congregation in dialogue.  One Sunday morning he said to his people, "Let's pretend that the church is a locomotive.  What part of that locomotive would you like to be?"  One man held up his hand and said, "I'd like to be a wheel that just helps roll that train down the track."  Someone else said, "Brother Sam, I'd like to be the whistle on that locomotive that sounds God's praises throughout the land."  Another person said, "Preacher, I'd like to be the coal, and just burn myself up for Jesus' sake."

            At that point Sam Jones broke out in a huge smile and said, "Now you're talking. Brothers and sisters, we've got too many whistles and wheels in the church; what we need is more coal."

            Sam Jones was talking about commitment.  He was talking about a little sacrifice.  Coal gets used.  It gets burned up.  Wheels keep on rolling.  Whistles keep on blowing.  The pollster George Gallup says that his surveys reveal that fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians.  Though 44 percent attend worship on a typical Sunday, less than one in four is really committed to Christ.  He said that there is a consumer mentality among many people who go to church, an attitude of "I'm here to be served.  What do you have for me? If you stop pleasing me, I'm gone."

            I'm reminded of the beautiful young woman who was married to a wealthy but elderly gentleman.  One day he asked her, "Honey, if I lost all my money, would you still love me?  I mean, if I lost my mountain chalet, my yacht, and even my French villa, would you still love me?" 

            "Of course I would," she cooed, "and I would miss you, also."

            The first thing Jesus says about following him is ... the cost is high.  "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.  The second thing he says about discipleship is the time is now.   A would be follower comes to him and Jesus says to him,  "Follow me."  The would be follower responds with the words,  "Let me first go and bury my father."   But Jesus responds, "Let the dead bury their own dead."

            That sounds rather harsh, does it not?  Commentators, however, differ over whether the mans father had just died, whether he was near death, or whether he had a few years yet to go.

            G. Campbell Morgan tells of a traveler in the Middle East who was trying to enlist a young Arab man as his guide. The young Arab replied that he could not go because he had to bury his father.  When the traveler expressed his sympathy, he learned that the young mans father had not died, but that this was just an expression meaning that his father was getting up in years and he felt responsible for him.

            Some of us can identify with that.  Our parents, also, are aging.  We feel responsible for them.  As long as my Mom and Dad depend on me, this man is saying, I better stay home.                        Still, Jesus words sound harsh and insensitive.  Maybe so, but the message is clear.  We start following Jesus today, right now.  We don't put it off no matter the circumstances. 

            I watched the NFL playoffs this past weekend.  I remember a key play.  Down by six points at the end of the game, the 49er quarterback threw a high, arching pass into the end zone.  At the last minute the Seahawk defender knocked it away, and it bounced into the hands of nearby linebacker.  The linebacker caught the ball and it was game over.  The Seahawks would advance to the Super Bowl.

            But what would have happened if the Seahawks linebacker had dropped the ball?  Linebackers, you see, aren't accustomed to catching passes.  If he had dropped the ball, I'm sure he would have done what we've seen other defensive players do when they drop an interception.  He would have fallen to the ground in disgust and pounded the turf, and the 49ers would have been given another opportunity to win the game.

            Opportunities come that way.  Opportunities come quickly, often without warning.  We either rise to the challenge or it passes, never to return.  Jesus taught us that time is of the essence.  The time of discipleship is now, not tomorrow.

            The third incredibly honest thing Jesus says about discipleship is this: the way is forward.  He says, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."

            Now, we dont have all the details of this incident, but evidently Jesus recognizes that this man is not ready to break with the past.  We miss the point if we think Jesus is attacking family life.  I think, and I may be wrong here, I think Jesus is talking more about the past than the family.  Jesus must have sensed something in the man's response.  Maybe it was the tone of his voice, or the shifting of his eyes, or a nervous inflection.  Whatever it was, it was not the man's family holding him back.  No, it is his own hesitation, his own inability to break with the past.  So, Jesus says to him: No one who puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back is fit for the kingdom.  The way is forward, not back.

            Jesus was no farmer but he knew that plowing requires that one's eyes be fixed ahead, immediately ahead in case of rocks, and frequently all the way toward some distant landmark so that the furrow is straight.  Most people are forever glancing over their shoulders, worried about something in the past, some mistake, some sin, some missed opportunity.

            The older I get the more I identify with the elderly man speaking at a banquet.  This man, with a broad grin and a twinkle in his eye, said, "I know I'm old because there are three things I can't remember: I can't remember names, I can't remember faces, and I can't remember the third thing I can't remember."

            There are three things that every one of must forget: sins which God has forgiven, failures whose lessons have been learned, and opportunities which have been missed.  Our Lord wants us to focus our attention on the challenges in front of us.  Every day has its Kingdom tasks.  We must be alert enough to see them and faithful enough to complete them.  We'll miss them if we keep looking back. 

            So, that's Jesus' take on discipleship ... the cost is high; the time is now; and the way is forward.

            Let me close with this.  It was a church women's conference.  In a workshop which focused on conflict resolution, the leader asked participants to take part in an exercise.  Her purpose was to demonstrate that many times people do not present what is really concerning them.  They, rather, come forth with a blanket statement that is so broad it cannot be dealt with. Conferees were to break into "twos"; then, one would present something with which they had a problem - something that upset them.  The other half of the pair was then to respond, "That's your problem, but what is your real concern?"

            A woman named Pam was paired with a good friend of hers who immediately offered to state a problem.  She was working as a layperson in a church, with the responsibility of family programming.  She said she gets really upset when people say that the church is very important to them, yet immediately say that they can't help with a specific program or emphasis because they have to do something which is more important.  Her examples were, "I really think that the children are a top priority for the church, but I cannot teach Sunday School because that is the morning that my children sleep in, since they've been up late the night before."  Or, "I think that family outings or fellowship time is important, but I cannot come to the picnic because my son has baseball practice that day."  She gave several other examples, and after listening to her, Pam responded as the leader had asked, "That is your problem, but what is your real concern?"

            Her response was, "My concern is that I wish we could kick all the 'buts' out of the church!"  She then went on to explain that grammatically, anytime a sentence contains the word "but" that it entirely negates what was said before.[1]

            I guess that's what Jesus was doing.  He didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed.  He was simply kicking the "buts" out of discipleship.  Amen.



[1] Pam Laing, Wood River, IL, via Ecunet, Sermonshop, 6/28/98," #31, 6/25/98.