At the Last Minute 6-26-16

In this sermon from Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd interactions that Jesus has with potential followers.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of regular preaching…its that I never know quite where the spark of inspiration is going to come from. This week, I was sitting in the sanctuary, pondering on the text, and the baptismal font caught my eye.

I sat there looking at it for a moment, and I found myself thinking about the various baptisms that I’ve participated in here at Underwood…and then I got to thinking about my own baptism.  Now I don’t remember it, because I was only 6 days old when it happened.

Now, that’s pretty early…typically a child is at least a couple months old before we baptize them…not because they need to be, but because logistics of lining up a date usually take about that long…but in my case, it was a little different.

At the time of my birth, Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa was served by Pastor Auto Reitz…he’d been there for a few years, long enough to have baptized my brother in 1974 and my sister in ’76…but by late April of ’79, he was about to leave…in fact…he had one more Sunday to go before he was done…and I was born on Monday…and I guess Mom REALLY wanted him to complete the set, so he said “If you can have him here on Sunday, we’ll get him baptized.” And so, 6 days later, I took a dip in the water…what amounts to the very last official act that Pr Reitz did at Bethel Lutheran. I was, almost literally, baptized at the last minute as far as he was concerned.

Funny enough, that’s not the only time I’ve been on the receiving end of a Pastor’s last deal. Fast forward to June of 2013, and the current Western Iowa Synod Bishop, Michael Last, was in his final days of being bishop before retiring…and if you think about it, that was right after I’d graduated seminary…in fact, to my knowledge, the last thing that Michael Last did as Bishop of Western Iowa, was my ordination…and then he was out the door.

Two very important events in my life, overseen by two different pastors, and completed at the last minute…done just before they closed the door on one thing and moved on to the next. (pause) And in today’s story, there’s a little snippet that indicates the notion that Jesus is making a transition as well…listen to our opening verse again. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.

This is a bit of foreshadowing to the tail end of Luke’s gospel…for the closing verses of Luke highlight Jesus’ being taken up into heaven…and important event that was followed up his resurrection, which of course followed his death on the cross…all of which happened…in Jerusalem.

And so we hear that its getting on towards time for Jesus mission on earth…his work of redeeming humankind and renewing our relationship with the Lord…its coming to head…but before it can happen, well…Jesus has to get his tail to Jerusalem.

Up to this point, he’s mostly stayed around Galilee…hanging out in his home territory in the northern part of the region…of course he does get out and about as well…moving into various area to do his ministry…to perform the healings…to teach the masses…but now at this point…as we hear…Jesus decides that its time to head south…and if you’re familiar with the region, it explains a bit. Galilee is in the north, Jerusalem in the south…but to get from one spot to the other, you’ve got to go through Samaria…it was the central region, and so you either walked right through, or you went around.

And now here’s the thing…Samaritans and Jews…well they weren’t on the best of terms. Each group saw the other as outsiders…and even though they worshiped the same Lord, they did it differently and so neither group recognized the validity of the other one…and so lets just say that their interactions with one another…which only occurred in the instances that they absolutely could not avoid…were tense at best. (pause)

But this passage marks the switch. Jesus changes gears from what he’s been doing…and now he’s intentionally on the way to Jerusalem…it just takes him a long time to get there…we’re in chapter 9 now…he’s finally make it into town on the back of a donkey at the end of chapter 19…so we see that there’s a lot of interaction…a lot of ministry still going on as he’s on the way…but from this point on, everything that Jesus is doing…everywhere he goes…Jerusalem, is the end game…that’s the goal.

But boy, aren’t there some crazy events happening while he’s on the way? First the whole deal with the Samaritan village…just what’s going on there we don’t know…only that they refuse Jesus…we don’t know why, other than because he’s set on Jerusalem…but regardless…James and John decide that the best course of action…the best way to respond to this snub…is to ask permission to call down fire from heaven and consume the town.

Just what is going on in their heads is hard to say. This event does occur between two different times when Jesus sends his followers out, empowered, in order to heal and proclaim the kingdom…the first time around its just the 12, and it occurs shortly before this…the second time, it’s a larger group, and Jesus sends them out two by two into the villages that he plans to visit on the way to Jerusalem…and it would seem, that this particular Samaritan village is the first.

Now James and John…maybe they’re just jonesing for another chance to utilize a little bit of divine power that they’ve gotten a taste of…but regardless, Jesus turns around and rebukes them…he flat out rips into them…because he knows…that the Good News…the gospel…the coming Kingdom of God is going to be met with opposition…but Jesus doesn’t chose to condemn that…Call down fire? Heck no…let them be…we’ll head on to the next town.

Now maybe this is just a bit of foreshadowing…because once Jesus gets to Jerusalem…well we all know how much opposition he faces don’t we…it gets pretty dire…but even as he’s hanging on the cross…completely innocent and yet condemned to die…he didn’t call down fire on his captors…actually he forgave them. (pause)

And so, as we see, James and John put back in their place, Jesus and his followers continue…and then we hear of three quite random encounters that occurred somewhere along the road. (pause) Now just who these random three people are, we don’t know…some think based on the different statements that are present here in Luke’s account that it MAY have been conversations between Jesus and some of the disciples…but we don’t know. It could very easily have just been three random people that he encountered…that’s a pretty common theme in the gospels as well.

But what we do know, is that three people are given something of a harsh reaction as they express interest in being a follower of Christ. I will follow you where you go…You will huh? Well, that means that you will have no home…and you will wander. (pause) Another gets the invitation but says “Well first I need to go bury my father.” Let the dead bury their own dead. (pause) And then finally, I’ll come, but let me go home and tell everyone goodbye…Looking back is pointless. (pause)
Isn’t that a little weird…the way that Jesus has reacted in these three encounters?

Because aren’t there times when we face those same choices? I think we all like having a home to go to…a place to lay down at night. And there are times when we are called to care for our loved ones…and there are times when we need to grieve their loss…And likewise, we all have relationships to maintain at home…for our lives as Christians include relationship…so just what is Jesus really talking about here? How are we supposed to respond when we hear this?

Are we called to abandon everything? I don’t know about you…but I really don’t think so…and so what do we do with this? (pause) Maybe, what Jesus is talking about here…is priorities…and doing what we are called to do. And yes, sometimes that call is to be at home with the ones that we love…or to grieve the lives that are lost….but there are also times when we are called to go out and care for the needy…or times when we are called to visit the sick…and there are times when we are called to serve at a shelter…we all face countless choices of ways to serve the kingdom of God.

And the crazy thing about all of this…and what kind of seems to be going on here in the story, is the reminder that we simply are not capable of being all things to all people all the time.  Perhaps you are called to serve God over here…but if you are doing that here, well then something is being missed over there.

For any of my fellow geek culture nerds out there…guess what…you share this trait with Superman…because his greatest burden is that choosing to help someone means not being available to help someone else. (pause)
This is simply evidence of our flawed reality…that no matter how good our intensions are…we fall short… (pause)

And so this raises the question…if this entire passage is Jesus seeming to rebuke those who have expressed a desire to follow him…then where’s the good news? Where is the hope that we find?

And the good news lies in the simple action that Jesus makes right at the beginning. He turns his face to Jerusalem. Jesus willingly and intentionally goes to the place where he knows he’s going to be tortured and killed…and he does so because he knows that this is the only way to overcome the power of sin and death in this world…those powers that are present that hinder us…those things that tie us down…those things that ultimate isolate us from God and from one another.

That’s the good news…and remember this…Luke’s gospel more than any of the others shows us…time and time again…that Jesus will always stand with the marginalized…with the isolated…and we remember that in the end…when we have reached our last minute…on that day when each and every one of us faces our judgement…we need Christ to stand with us…and because of what he has done…because of the amazing love that he holds for each and every one of us….when we need him…he WILL be standing there with us…not because he has to…but because he choses to.

He has set his face towards Jerusalem…and in doing so…he has set his mind upon you…not expecting us to be perfect…to have every answer, or provide every service…not needing us to get everything right…but asking only to follow me…knowing that at times we will fail…but when we recognize it and ask his forgiveness…his grace is big enough to provide it….this is good news for all of us…because the last act that Jesus does as part of his ministry…its for you…YOU are the recipient of what Jesus does…quite literally in HIS…last minute. Amen.

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