March 6, 2016

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Journeying with Jesus: Are We All-In or Are We Avoiding

Given by Pastor Jonathan Friesen

I am greatly enjoying our collective journey through the book of Luke this Lenten season.

Speaking of journeys that is the topic of today’s sermon – entitled Journeying with Jesus:  Are we All-In or Are We Avoiding?

Now, in the very beginning of our study section of Luke this week we hear Luke make the transitional statement – that as the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  Or as it says in some other translations – Jesus SET HIS FACE – toward Jerusalem.   It is Jesus saying, “It’s time – Let’s Go.”

So we understand that this part of Luke is going to be a travel narrative.  Jesus is in fact on a journey.  Not so much from one place ultimately to another location.  But as the first part of the first sentence reminds us – Jesus is on a journey that we know won’t lead to political kingship or worldly glory – but rather will lead to the cross – worldly suffering but heavenly glory and the ultimate flipping of the script that Luke likes so much – this time flipping the script on death and evil.

But Jesus is not the only one on a journey in this part of Luke.  There are disciples, and strangers that he meets along the way.  Some of these people are healed, some join Jesus, some oppose Jesus, some can’t bring themselves to commit to Jesus, and some are condemned by Jesus for their hypocrisy.

But it is even not just Jesus and the other characters in Luke that are on a journey.  For we the readers are also on a journey as we SET OUR FACE toward Jerusalem and the cross that will be here soon.   Our individual and collective faith walks are absolutely a journey, a progression, a process.  We have not arrived – that is for sure.  And we know that our faith development is a journey – much like parenting is a journey, or growing up is a journey.

So, Jesus may be on a journey – but let’s not forget that we are too.

Now we find out as we read on in todays scripture that Jesus had an advance team.  Some messengers that went ahead of him on his journey.

And the shortest route from Galilee to Jerusalem is through Samaria.  But herein lies the issue, most Jews avoided Samaria.  Samaritans were seen by Jews as inferior, unclean, heretics.  It was definitely a racial/ethnic kind of conflict.  They didn’t touch things that each other had laid their hands on or touched their lips to.  They really did not like each other.

So knowing their dislike for one another it isn’t surprising to hear that the Samaritans were not too excited about this radical Jewish rabbi to roll through their village.

When disciples James and John hear this report they get upset and ask Jesus if they should call down fire to destroy the Samaritan village.  They are ready to make those nasty Samaritans pay for rejecting Jesus.

But Jesus quickly and decisively rebukes James and John – in the Kingdom of God rejection will not lead to revenge.  And Jesus simply and quickly moves on.

James and John have a lot of journeying to do to understand the way of Jesus – and maybe we do too.  Jesus shows in this passage a sense of tolerance that we would be wise to pay attention to.

When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and he was reminded that it was his duty to destroy his enemies, he gave the following answer:

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?  Even if a person is utterly mistaken, we must never regard them as an enemy to be destroyed but as a friend that has strayed that needs to be recovered by love.”

With it being an election year in 2016 a lot of our journey this year will include the political realities around us, nationally, state-wide, locally.   And our current political situation I fear can be so toxic for Christians – with language about defeating the enemy, defeating the other party no matter what.  There is nothing about engagement or tolerance, or transformation.  Just winning at all costs.

Can you imagine any of our current politicians making Lincoln’s quote – considering an opponent to be someone not to be defeated but to be recovered by love?

We would do well to learn from Jesus in this passage – and fight the urge to bring fire and burn bridges and destroy those who you disagree with or who reject you. And so Jesus shakes off rejection with tolerance and he and his disciples keep journeying.

And immediately a man comes up to Jesus, apparently convinced by Jesus’ teachings, and blurts out that “I will follow you.”    You’d think Jesus would be celebrating another convert.  High-fives all around.  Another disciple.   Another worker.  We find out in this section that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

But that is not Jesus response.  Jesus instead replies essentially – “this is no easy road,  are you really ready to be on the journey with me?”  We are totally dependent on the hospitality of others and strangers – are you willing to be?  There is no going home to a comfortable place.

Jesus is giving this man the fine print – my alternative sermon title this morning was “Journeying with Jesus:  the Fine Print”.  It is no small claim to follow Jesus wherever it leads – not for them then – not for us now.

And here I want to tell a story about Christian faith and discovering how uncomfortable it can be – realizing that home might not be so comfortable.

This story goes back to 1991.  I was 16 years-old and Gulf War I in Iraq had just broken out.  I had been raised in the church and taught the words of Jesus to love our enemies.  But I had largely grown up in times that were quote on quote peaceful – I was just born as the Vietnam War concluded.

And on that night that we invaded Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, my friends called me to do what teenage kids in Fresno California do – which is cruise around – especially up and down Blackstone Avenue.

But I quickly discovered that this evening of cruising would be different.  There was on the corner of one of the street corners a huge gathering of people celebrating the beginning of the war and expressing their patriotism.  I remember there was an effigy of Saddam Hussein hanging and signs with such messages as “kick their ass and take their gas”.

And I all of sudden felt very uncomfortable.   As my friends expressed their patriotic support for Desert Storm and cheered on the larger group cheering on the destruction of Iraq, I realized that my faith in Jesus was calling me to something different.  And in that moment – in my home city, in my friends car which was practically a second home for me in high school, I suddenly felt very out of place and not at home at all.

Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but those who follow Jesus will indeed struggle to feel at home in a world that runs by a different set of values.  And Jesus says:  before you commit you should know this.  Now, are you All-In?

And this theme continues as Jesus tells a second story about another man who comes to him – and this time it is Jesus who does the first talking telling the man to “follow me”.  But this man has the ultimate justified reason for not following, at least not now.  “Let me go and bury my father” he says,  But instead of saying “OK, great, that’s important, catch up with us soon,”  Jesus simply tells the man to let the dead bury their own dead but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Now, most likely this was not a situation where the man’s father had just died – individuals were buried almost immediately in Palestine.

So, most likely the man’s father is old or sick or both.  Although we can’t rule out that the man was simply stalling Jesus –and his father was perfectly well.  Or that the man knew his father would be crushed if he broke from the family religion to follow Jesus and was trying to avoid hurting his father in that way.  Maybe he was waiting for his father to die so he could feel free to follow Jesus as he wanted to do.

And indeed if the man’s father was sick – this sounds like a very callous and insensitive Jesus.  But again, Jesus is giving the man the fine print.  Jesus is saying: you are going to possibly have to choose following me over even following your family.  Remember that those who first followed Jesus were almost always choosing to make a very difficult break-away from their family religion and heritage.    Jesus is giving this man a hard truth about the possible costs of discipleship.

And our third example is similar.  Like the first story, a man comes and says I will follow you to Jesus.  But he adds that he must go back to tell his family good-bye.  Again, a seemingly reasonable request and a very callous response from Jesus – “No one who puts their hand to the plow – who starts working – and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus probably knows that if this man goes home – he may be talked out of following God by his family.  If this man puts it off – even for a good reason – he is much less likely to follow through.  He will keep finding reasons to avoid following Jesus in full.   And Jesus does give us a truism in his statement – that you can’t effectively drive forward if you are looking in the rearview mirror all the time.  You can’t live in the present and the future if you are still stuck in the past.

It is interesting in all of these three stories  – we don’t know the resolution.  Did they follow Jesus or not?  It isn’t clear.  It is somewhat implied that they did not follow, but we don’t know that.

And what I see in all of these three stories are Jesus offering full disclosure – the fine print – and offering a common idea:

If you want to follow me, then let’s go, but you have to be ALL IN.

I need you to be ALL IN because there is going to be some discomfort, some places where you will be called to go a different way.  There will be hard choices and even rejection and conflict – possibly from those closest to you.   This is Jesus at full honesty.  This is not a sales pitch that emphasizes the positives and brushes over the costs.

And remember this makes particular sense because of Jesus Journey that he is on – a journey to the cross, the ultimate cost.

What Jesus tells these three men is that to be a follower of Christ there is no such thing as a Lukewarm commitment.  You have to be ALL IN.

Jesus says, to follow me I have to be your top priority – even over the best and most important human relationships you have.  That is a tough statement.

I’m sure he lost some disciples over this – both then and now.  WE may face fewer costs in choosing to follow Christ than the first followers but we still have the fight the urge to live a lukewarm Christian faith that puts God low on our priority list.

So, to conclude I offer this:

Set your face – resolutely – to follow Jesus.   You will have to look forward and not live in the past.  You will have to fight the urge to shrink back away from discomfort.  You will have to fight the urge to put off following God for other important reasons.

We will have to be decisive and put God first.  Are we Avoiding or are We All In?  If so, then Let’s Go.  The journey of Jesus awaits.